A special tribute
Dr. St. John Robinson
November 11, 1943 - March 12, 2018
The spotlight this month is dedicated to the memory of St. John Robinson, who led the Modern Languages department at MSU-Billings for 35 years. During that time, I, along with many of our MALT members, passed through his classroom and found a professor who was knowledgeable, engaging, encouraging, and a trusted advisor. Many of us were also lucky enough to be able to call him our friend. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share my thoughts not only with all of you in my February blog post, but also with St. John, surrounded by his family as he courageously faced the end of his life. This month’s spotlight will allow a few of my colleagues to express their thoughts about how St. John helped to shape the educators that each of us has become.
Lisa Marie Skov - Lockwood Middle School
“I would have known St. John Robinson 30 years had he lived until August. There was never a dull moment in class with him, nor at gatherings with classmates and his family. He absolutely RELISHED conversation, food and drinks. People were definitely his thing. When I would go to him with a problem either with classes or life, he would say, “confiésate.” WE always had a good laugh about that. I respected him so much and he was proud of me and what I have done with my life. That means the world to me. He was the smartest man I will ever know and I will miss him terribly.’
Tana Luptak - Shepherd High School and Middle School
“St. John was my Spanish professor at MSU-B from 2010-2013. I am blessed to have had him as a professor, mentor, and friend. I loved going into his office for chats and meetings and admiring all the books on his shelves. He was the one who introduced me to Spanish history and culture and led me to my passion for learning about the Spanish Civil War and Segovia, Spain. Everything I loved about Spain started with his class. He pushed me to learn more and become better at my Spanish skills. To say that he has impacted my life is an understatement. The last time we saw each other was in Livingston for a World Language teacher conference and I remember being so excited and honored that he came, sat with me, learned with me, and gave me his insights. He will be greatly missed, but will live on forever in our hearts and Spanish programs.”
Thomas Regele - Modern Languages Chair, MSU-Billings
“Throughout my career, I have never had a colleague who was so experienced and knowledgeable, so easy to work with, and who was so well versed in all aspects of Spanish language and cultures. He shared his vast knowledge and expertise with many, and his dedication to his students was truly remarkable. I am most grateful for the time we had, and we will deeply miss him.”
Kristi Schell - Billings Senior High School
“I didn’t know [St. John] as well as the Spanish teachers, but I know how much he influenced all the language teachers. Whenever I was lucky enough to have a conversation with him, I was amazed at his enthusiasm and knowledge of language. He was so influential in our community and will be missed. What an amazing man.”
Mona Whiteman - Hardin High School
“I knew St. John for 34 years. It took me three trips through two different colleges to graduate. I took several Spanish literature classes from him and whenever I had trouble with the stories or doing the assignments, he was always willing to help me. When I returned to MSU-Billings in the fall of 1998, he was my academic advisor and helped me immensely over the next two years until I graduated. He was tough when he questioned me on my Senior Defense paper, tough, but also fair and helpful. Thank you, St. John for everything!”
Teresa Mountains - Billings Senior High School
“[St. John] gave generations the love of Spanish language, literature, and culture through his passion for teaching and helping so many others. He made me even prouder of my heritage. I used to call him the “walking set of encyclopedias.” I revered his passion and kindness for immigrants. I learned so much history, literature and even more knowledge and love for the Spanish language. He is already greatly missed and my heart, thoughts, and prayers continue to be with his family.”
Linda Boyer - Young Families, Billings, MT
“I met St. John one summer after I applied for a job teaching Math at EMC [now MSU-Billings]. He made such an impression on me that I didn’t follow through on the interview and waited for a Spanish position to open that fall. We taught together for 5 ½ years. The conversations, the learning, the laughter, the arguments (ok-discussions), the Spanish Club activities made those years so valuable and so fun. There was rarely a question he couldn’t answer. He was an amazing man - strong, intelligent, articulate, generous. I will always treasure the times I shared with him.”
Maribel Schaff - Billings West High School
St. John was such an inspiration to me, inspiration of kindness, compassion and support. His knowledge of literature was amazing. One time I didn’t have time to read a book we were reviewing and I tried to B. S. through it. He caught me in the lie, but he never confronted me. He was not mad, he found the situation quite funny and he was gracious enough to give me a second chance. He made a huge impact on my teaching life. BE compassionate!
Stephanie Naftal - Bitterroot Botanicals, Red Lodge, MT
For two years St. John was like a lifeline for me at MSU. At the age of 40, doing the dual grad school and Spanish teaching certification, I was surrounded by students I had little connection to and who, for the most part, I would never see again. Loving everything Latin, I tried to absorb every word he said in class and gravitated easily to his office between classes to chat about travels and language and culture. Those interactions became a friendship that I valued well beyond graduation. My last visit with him was another memorable video snapchat - reading from one of his books of poesía and complaining about the lack of female authors, sitting quietly, and wishing him well on his next journey. A moment I will cherish forever.
Linda Jones - Billings Skyview and MSU-Billings
I was lucky enough to work for St. John for seven years when I first came to Billings, then another seven years after I retired from School District 2. It’s difficult to describe him because he always seemed bigger than life while also being very approachable. His intelligence, curiosity and scholarship were intimidating. I can’t think of anyone who more impressed me with these qualities. It was such a privilege for me to be able to hang around and listen to, and be part of conversations with him. His memory seemed faultless. Any obscure question a student might ask (in the days before Google, especially!); I would take to St. John. He could always answer it. Sometimes I looked for questions, just to see if he could handle them. Of course he could! One year, a few of the Billings Spanish teachers asked him if he could teach an evening class so that we could get some credits for recertification and some practice speaking Spanish. He taught the class in my dining room. It was a literature class. It had the comfortable feeling of colleagues getting together to discuss subjects we loved and didn’t feel so much like a class. St. John was one of a kind. I am so happy that I was able to know him.
I am certain that there are many similar stories from many more of his former students and colleagues. He touched all of our lives in a very important way and I will always be so grateful for the influence he had over my professional life. Thank you for everything, St. John. It was a pleasure to have know you!