Mr. Magnusen, the Narrative
Artist's Statement for The Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2009
Mr. Magnusen, (image of the painting below) the subject of my painting, shares many of my same memories. We grew up not far from one another In S. California and later attended the same high school. It was in high school that I fell in love with Dennis G Magnusen. That love story was put on hold for some 30 years.
In 1967 Dennis was drafted by the US Army, and subsequently went to Vietnam in 1968. Circumstances and follies of youth would cause us to follow separate paths.
While in Vietnam Dennis was strongly affected by the children he saw there. Children were never meant to experience war, he told me years later. He decided that he wanted to do his part to change the world. Real change in any society begins with the children, was Dennis' mantra, so he became a teacher. He worked with gang zone high school kids in the evenings and intermediate students in the afternoon. Grades of F's and D's were bought up to A's and B's. Mr. Magnusen reached beyond his own expectations, leading kids to an understanding of their own worth, thus opening doors to their potential futures. He created a surf club and got the community to help. He was often featured on local TV and newspapers as someone who was making a difference in children's lives. Dennis also became a Mentor teacher, lending help to other educators. Being somewhat of a rebel he advised fellow teaches of ideas that reached beyond standard textbook techniques.
Sadly the ghost of Vietnam took away Mr. Magnusen's strength in the form of Peripheral Neuropathy, caused by Agent Orange. By 1990 he was too ill to continue his beloved teaching career. It broke his heart. Seeking rest, relief from stress, needing a special place to deal with the physical pain that comes with Small Nerve Fiber Neuropathy, he relocated to Hawaii. Hawaii has been his solace and a cool breeze when memories of who he once was for kids becomes faint.
About three months ago Mr. Magnusen was contacted by a former student. Amy had been looking for him for eighteen years. She had heard he had died from Agent Orange complications, but still hoped that she would find him. You see, Amy became a teacher and she wanted to find Mr. Magnusen to tell him how much he had affected her life. While working on her Masters in Literature, Amy wrote a paper describing the most influential person in her life. That person was Mr. Magnusen. Amy called to tell Mr. Magnusen that she wanted to make a difference in this world too. For a teacher there can be no greater reward.
As for me? I found Dennis once again after 30 years, through a miracle of circumstance, but that I guess is another story.
by Kathy Ostman-Magnusen /Copyright 2009