When it was my second semester/quarter/whatever it was then, I’d been told “don’t take Retzlaff!” For freshman English. I guess she was tough. But, she had the only class available, so I ended up with Hazel Retzlaff for English 102 or 103–whatever. I wrote a paper for Hazel’s class. I don’t even remember the subject, but in red, she’d written how she disagreed with me, but gave me an A anyway. Apparently, I made some fairly good points.

After the unfortunate incident of my freshman year (someday, I’ll write about it all. It’s only been 26 years. I’m not quite ready yet). I’d missed several days of Hazel’s class. A counselor suggested I go speak with my professors, so that’s what I was doing. Tuesday, 1:00, I met with Hazel. The first thing she said was, “Does anyone ever tell you that you look like Marilyn Monroe?” I told her that yes, I’d heard that.  She said, “but you really do!”

I thanked her. Then, she asked why I was there. I told her I knew I’d not been in class enough and explained to her the unfortunate incident. She listened quite intently. She told me it wasn’t my fault and that my paper was brilliant. I thanked her and left. I believe I wrote one more paper and showed up to class for the final. I somehow, magically ended up with a “C” in her class.

After that year, and seeing a GPA of 1.93, I knew I needed to stop and regroup. I quit college and moved to St. Paul with a boyfriend. After two years waiting tables and being treated like that’s all I could do, I made a visit home. I happened to be at the mall and Hazel was there and walked right to me and said, “Julie! How are you?  What are you doing now? Are you in school?”

Embarrassed, I told her I’d left school at the end of freshman year and had moved to the cities and was waiting tables.  “Are you writing?” She asked. I laughed. No. I wasn’t writing. I was happy to be a waitress. I was happy and this was just what I did now. She lowered her voice. “I hope one day you realize you need to be in school. School is the best place for you. And no matter what you choose to do, I hope it involves writing. You really are a good writer. You need to be writing.”

I went home to the cities and back to my life there, but I never forgot her words. Eventually, I left my boyfriend-which was difficult; left my home and moved in with my mother–which was more difficult. I went back to college at 24 and took every class I could with Hazel Retzlaff. 

We had several meetings and she just wanted my opinion on different things. I always gave it to her straight, and while she didn’t always agree with me, she always seemed to enjoy talking with me. At that time, she was the director of the Women’s Studies department. She said I should get a minor. I told her I didn’t fit with the other women’s studies minors. I liked being a woman. I just didn’t like how women are treated. I had blonde, curly hair halfway down my back, shaved my legs, wore make up. I was out of place in the women’s studies classes. She still wanted me there; said I belonged there. And so, I went as “all me”and had my share of discussions. And, even in my senior year of college, when my apartment building ended up in a fire, I went to talk with her about the fire and how I’d lost everything including my papers I’d written for her class. I got a “C”. Somehow, a C from Hazel was better that the majority of A’s I got.

At a time when my parents weren’t there for support; when my life was turned upside-down as a freshman and again as a senior; Hazel believed in me and told me so. She is the reason I’m still here, trying, writing, working. One person was all I needed to believe in me; and to tell me where I belonged. I graduated with my women’s studies minor. It may be more important in my life now than my major. I learned a great deal. I wasn’t always accepted by the other minors, but I was always accepted and encouraged by Hazel.

I used her full name hoping one day, she’ll Google herself and read this. 

And I wrote this hoping you don’t write anyone off. Life is hard. Some are harder than others. But, it’s no reason to give up on anyone. In fact, it just means they’re stronger now. Don’t judge the outside until you learn the inside.

That’s all.

One thought on “Hazel

  1. I also had Hazel Retzlaff as a professor in several classes. She had an amazing ability to connect with others, and her Protest Novel class was the best I’ve taken to date. I hope she understands how deeply she affected so many of her students.


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