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Matt, Jim, Mike, and Penny Langland

Matt, Jim, Mike, and Penny Langland show their Gopher spirit at the 2004 San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon.

Generation U

University of Minnesota draws a family to its Twin Cities campus

By Trish Grafstrom and Steve Anderson

June 23, 2006

For a California kid who's never experienced winter in the upper Midwest to come to the University of Minnesota, he needs a way to cope with the cold. Wool socks and thermal underwear are a good start. But what he really needs is something to warm up the inside: Gopher spirit pumping through his veins.

"While growing up in San Diego, my dad talked about the University of Minnesota and of being a Gopher fan," recalls Jim Langland, B.S '74. "In 1962, he took me to the Rose Bowl game in which the Gophers beat UCLA 21-3. The excitement in that game cemented my decision to go to school at the U of M without ever having experienced a Minnesota winter."

Yet, it was more than a Rose Bowl victory that turned Jim's blood maroon and gold. You might say it was genetics. Spanning four generations across almost 90 years, the Langland family counts more than a dozen U of M graduates in its family tree.

It started with Bert Langland, Jim's grandfather, who graduated from the University's College of Pharmacy in 1920. Bert and his wife, Gertrude, felt thankful for the excellent and affordable education he received. They wholeheartedly supported their sons attending the U. Harold, father of Jim, earned both his bachelor's (1944) and master's (1946) degrees in chemical engineering.

Between earning those degrees, Harold found time to go bowling. It was good that he did, because that's how he met his future wife, a U nursing graduate named Cecilia Biernat. Harold and Cecilia valued their educations and although work took their family to California, they carried their Gopher spirit with them, eventually instilling it in young Jim.

Expanding the U family

Once on campus and living through Minnesota's winters, Jim's Gopher spirit started to wane. Then, during his senior year, he sat next to an attractive co-ed in a developmental biology class. "We started to get to know one another and he told me he hated Minnesota," recalls Penny Sugden (who is now Penny Langland), B.S. '74, M.D. '80. "I told him he hadn't done anything fun to enjoy winter." She challenged Jim to join her cross-country skiing and winter camping.

Jim discovered he liked Penny, Minnesota, and winter. When in training to be doctors, they both had the opportunity to do rural medical rotations. "We chose a practice in Thief River Falls because it was as far north as we could go," Jim says with a laugh.

Although the Langlands settled in Thief River Falls, they have traveled regularly to Minneapolis to attend Gopher sports events with their two sons or to visit friends and family. They speculate that the Gopher gene was passed on to their son, Michael, who chose to attend the Carlson School. This spring, he became the 14th U of M graduate in the family.

"We are proud of our son and feel blessed to have had parents who passed on their strong educational values," say the Langlands. "To celebrate our deep connections to the U, we created two scholarships in honor of both sets of parents."

Now, the family legacy at the U will grow to include recipients of their generous scholarships. But if those future students go bowling or start chatting with a biology classmate, they should be forewarned: It just might lead to their own family of Gophers.