In Memoriam: Professor Emerita Kaaren Grimstad

Kaaren Grimstad, who specialized in Old Norse sagas, retired in 2013. We mourn her loss.
Kaaren Grimstad
Two of our emeritus professors and one alumna have written the following tributes.

From Ray Wakefield

Kaaren Grimstad's sudden and unexpected death has left her former students, her friends, and her colleagues deep in shock. That her death is so keenly felt is a tribute to her gifts for mentoring and friendship. After completing her doctoral work at Harvard University, Kaaren joined the Scandinavian department at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s. For more than two decades, she taught medieval Scandinavian language, literature, and culture in that department.
In the 1990s, an administrative decision imposed a merger on German and Scandinavian faculty, and Kaaren and I became colleagues. We discussed how we might make something constructive of this unwanted merger and decided we should work collaboratively. Over the twenty-plus years before our retirements, we did just that, collaborating on teaching, research, conference presentations, and publications. Our success was a revelation to both of us.
During this same period, Kaaren struggled with an injury to her vocal cords, and her silences were interpreted by some as a form of withdrawal. Her students, however, experienced Kaaren's increased energy, joy, and playfulness in the classroom. She always cared deeply about her students and wanted them to share her abiding love for medieval Scandinavian culture.
Kaaren and her partner, Fred Franklin, enjoyed listening to and performing early music. They were also fans of Wagner's Ring Cycle, often traveling long distances in the summer months to take in new productions. During a research leave in Iceland, an Icelandic newspaper published an interview with Kaaren in which they referred to her as "a world-famous Old Norse scholar." After that, Kaaren sometimes jokingly referred to herself as "world-famous [pause] in Iceland!" From now on, Kaaren will continue to be world-famous in the hearts and minds of her former students, friends, and colleagues.

From Monika Zagar

Kaaren and I go way back. She was the first faculty member at U of M who invited me home for lunch. That happened in 1994 when I interviewed for a tenure-track job in Scandinavian.

When I started teaching, Kaaren offered support, advice, and a rare sense of humor. We didn't always approach issues and problems exactly the same way but we defended all things Scandinavian with passion and with a mighty effort. We labored together on teaching materials, worked on definitions of minors and majors, collaborated on organizing conferences and meetings, we chose guest speakers. Kaaren, a solid, lucid scholar who hated bragging, was always ready to give a lecture in my class or enlighten me—a modernist—on medieval intricacies. We became very good friends.

Because we lived in the same neighborhood in St. Paul we met often, shared a cup of tea, a movie, or a walk. Baked many a turkey for dinner, had endless discussions about books, music, Scandinavian noir, academia. Kaaren's partner, Fred Franklin, and my daughter Lena enjoyed a game of tennis and we all enjoyed a good laugh. Kaaren added a bit of flair to our relationship when she treated me to a fancy dinner at Frost for my full professorship.

But foremost, Kaaren was a principled person, direct and honest, without a hidden agenda, who I loved dearly. Still do. After we both retired we corresponded regularly if not terribly frequently. We saw her and Fred in the fall of 2021 when Al and I visited Minnesota. We sat in Kaaren's lovely apartment, admired her Icelandic watercolors, shared some scones and a glass of wine. She and Fred struck me as old and spry and witty and happy. We enjoyed each others' company very much. We parted by saying, till next year! I will miss her.

From Jana Schulman

It’s been more than a month since I heard that Kaaren had passed away in her sleep and she has been on my mind since I heard the news. I remember Kaaren in many and varied ways: as my dissertation advisor from whom I learned how to be an advisor to my students; as a friend who introduced me to Moomin trolls and tried to convince me to try riding Icelandic horses; as a colleague who contributed to a collection of essays I edited; as the author of an edition and translation of Völsunga saga that I use in my own teaching and scholarship.

I recall my first year at the University of Minnesota when Kaaren, Hans Fixx, and I translated the chapter on women and inheritance from the thirteenth-century Icelandic law code, Jónsbók. We were a class of three. She encouraged me years later to translate the entire text, which I did, but might not have done without her urging. I remember her excitement when she and Maria Bonner were working on their articles examining the dialogue in Hrafnkel’s saga as well as her love of hedgehogs.

She will be missed.

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