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11/11/2008 Where are they now? Elliot Tenofsky

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Students never knew quite what to expect from Elliot Tenofsky, professor emeritus of political science.

He has been known to sing scat solos during law class, stamp papers with an image of his face and insist the state of North Dakota does not exist.

Some things never change.

During 28 years at Linfield, Tenofsky developed a renowned style of teaching recognized by generations of Linfield students. He wove a love of literature and music into political discussions and encouraged students to examine issues from new perspectives. His classes tended to be intense, yet informal, much like Tenofsky himself.

Tenofsky joined the Linfield faculty in 1975 with a bachelor's from Northeastern University, a master's from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, and spent nearly three decades at Linfield before retiring in 2003. He continues to be a presence, returning to the college with wife, Sandra '83, for lectures, concerts and theatre performances. Both are retired and live in McMinnville. With an office in Pioneer Hall, former home of the Linfield theatre, Tenofsky missed only four performances during his tenure.

Much like his classes, a conversation with Tenofsky is anything but routine.

"Just write it down," he said. "Let people decide for themselves."

So we did.

Typical day: Normally when it's morning I awake and say, 'uhggghh' and go back to sleep. Later I get up, stumble into clothes, make coffee, toast a bagel, read the newspaper. Then I go back to sleep. Then I wash my body, do the crossword puzzle, read or go shopping or make something out of wood. Much better than this. [He knocks the table.] Then at a certain point I make dinner, we eat dinner, then I'll watch a news program. Usually McNeal Lehrer, but it's not called McNeal Lehrer, but I still call it McNeal Lehrer. And then I read, and I read some more, and I read some more. Then I go to sleep.

Travel: We went to Newberg once. Well, we didn't actually get there. We were getting the bends so we turned around and came back. Actually, we have traveled a good deal. We've been to Australia, Argentina, Spain, Greece, Canada and Saturn.

Second career: I always thought that teaching was performance, so with a wonderful premonition that the whole economy would go south, I had to come up with a new line of work. I decided to become a performer. I did radio programs. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The things I tried to do somehow didn't catch on, although I was convinced they were absolute dynamite. Juggling. Magic. And the tricks I did. Juggling anvils while blindfolded on a tightrope over Niagra Falls on fire.

War experiences: I took part in the great Saskatchewan war. The U.S. lost the great Saskatchewan war during the last five years. We invaded Saskatoon, but they beat us quite badly and drove us back over North Dakota, which everybody knows doesn't exist. Housewives with rolling pins, school children with spit balls. It was a huge military disaster. I was wounded.

Favorite part of teaching: Going home at the end of the day. [Then more serious.] I like the idea of learning with the students. That doesn't happen always, but when it does, it's magical. It happens so infrequently that I can remember the times. I like insights, when students see something that I have never seen before. That's wonderful.

Passing time: I've gotten older, of course. To me it feels like yesterday.

Contact Tenofsky at