There is a quote – “the i in illness is for isolation and the beginning of wellness is we.” The author is unknown, but it could have been written by Arlo Levisen. Arlo serves as President of the Grant County Historical Society. He believes life is about making connections and history is a record of all those millions of connections. He also believes connections make life more joyful when things are good and more bearable when they are not.
Arlo was recently diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Diffused Large B-Cell Lymphoma. He is speaking out about his illness to reach others coping with the same disease. He wants to share experiences in the hope all who suffer will find strength together and he imagines they will discover ways to remain positive and see the humorous side of life. It’s a great idea as Arlo has an amazingly contagious laugh.
In one of his more serious moments, he said, “I have been told this form of cancer is aggressive and fast-growing, but also, depending on the person, its speed is somewhere between a snail and a Porsche. They say it is treatable and survivable in about 90% of the cases.” He believes he will beat it, but he has studied people and history too long not to realize everybody dies. Still, he avows his illness is an opportunity – a bridge to others not a wall of isolation.
Arlo’s journey to becoming President of the Historical Society began, along with his love of history, when he was a young boy. “My mother was a teacher in Grant County for 40 years and she talked about history often. As a third and fourth grade student, I spent hours at the public library after school while she prepared her lessons. I would check out 10 books at a time and read at least one book a day. I mostly read biographies and history.”
He attended junior high and high school in South Shore where he devoured even more pages. He was named the best reader two years in a row and earned a medal for reading the most books in the county. As an eighth grader, he read 200 books. He still finds time to read a good yarn or delve into thick volumes on world wars and pioneers, but he now purchases most of the books he reads and keeps them for reference. He estimates he has over 1,000 books in his home library – most of them about history.
Before he obtained his Masters of Education degree and became Superintendent at the Grant-Deuel schools, he earned a B.A. in history and elementary education. He never taught history, though, and says it was “just for fun”. Although learning about history from a book was fascinating, once he discovered traveling and how it made history come alive, he was hooked. Since the day he and his wife, Paulette, were married in June 1967, they have explored the world through museums. During their almost 50 years of marriage, they have visited about 20 museums every year. One trip included stops to 24 museums in the western United States.
At the top of the list of Arlo’s favorite trips, is a trip to Russia to visit his daughter, Kellen, and her family who were living there. Arlo and Paulette explored the city and the KGB Museum in Moscow, but decided the famous Novodevichy Cemetery, also in Moscow, was their favorite. The cemetery exudes a park-like ambiance, dotted with small chapels and life-sized monuments. Today, the cemetery holds the tombs of Russian authors, musicians, playwrights, poets, political leaders, and scientists. Chekhov, Khrushchev, Prokofiev and Stalin’s second wife are all among the 27,000 people buried at Novodevichy.
Stalin’s wife’s grave is unusual as it is enclosed in glass to prevent vandalism, but Arlo’s favorite monument there is a life-sized sculpture of a woman standing in front of the grave of a child holding her head in her hands. Paulette favors a life-sized sculpture of an opera singer holding a scarf. The scarf gets changed regularly.
If you are acquainted with Arlo, you already know wherever he goes and whatever he does, it’s his goal to “keep living life to the fullest and never taking one moment for granted.” You have seen his eyes shine when he talks about the value of handing down information and stories to the next generation. You have witnessed him connecting, always connecting – in the present and to the past. You are also probably not surprised Arlo is answering questions and writing a column about history for a modern digital newspaper. You might even recognize he sees today’s news as tomorrow’s history.
Click here to to submit a question about the history of Milbank and the surrounding Grant County area to be featured in Arlo’s column. Or, if you would like to connect with him regarding your illness and recovery, contact him by clicking here.