The story begins, like so many stories from Lyle Lieder, with a car. It was 1943 and Lyle, then a senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, was standing on the side of the road, thumbing a ride to see his fiancée, Betty, in nearby Waseca. He visited her each Wednesday, and "hitchhiked every other week to save money," he tells us. On that day, a brand new black Ford pulled over, and Lyle slid in. On the drive, Lyle talked about his plans: to finish college, marry Betty and attend Boston University School of Theology. "Have you ever thought about teaching?" the driver asked him. "We need teachers over at Shattuck."
That's Shattuck St. Mary's, a private boarding school just down the road in Faribault, Minnesota. And though he hadn't considered teaching, Lyle decided to visit the campus to learn more. When he left, Lyle had an offer to teach for a year. It would mean rearranging his class schedule at St. Olaf and require him to take summer classes to graduate. It would also mean adding more to a schedule that already included pastoring two small churches. But in exchange, Lyle would receive room, board and a $1,500 salary. He and Betty talked it over and decided it was an opportunity worth taking.
It was also an opportunity that would put him in contact with some notable names, including Geordie Hormel, grandson of Hormel Foods founder George Hormel, and Marlon Brando, who was a senior at the school when Lyle arrived. (Brando, whose father had also attended Shattuck, would be expelled before graduation.)
But here at In the Loop, we were most interested to learn about two other students he encountered: Ned and Charlie Mayo, grandsons of one of Mayo Clinic's founders, Charles H. Mayo, M.D. The boys, then in 7th and 8th grade, were "a delightful little pair," Lyle tells us. "I liked them both so much." The feeling was apparently mutual, as the young Mayos extended an invitation to their teacher. "They wanted me to come see Mayo Clinic," Lyle says. So one weekend he packed the boys into his Dodge Coupe and drove to Rochester, where his young charges became their teacher's tour guides. "We spent a whole Saturday at the clinic," he tells us. "They showed me all around. We saw about 10 operations that day." They spent the night at the boys' home — Mayowood — where Lyle "slept in Grandma Mayo's bed. It was so tall, there were steps to climb in." He tells us it was a "fascinating" trip, filled with "all kinds of stories about their grandpa." (Including one about a pet chimpanzee that slept in a bathtub.)
After Lyle finished his teaching contract at Shattuck, he and Betty married and moved to Boston as planned. They'd eventually make it back to the Midwest, where he ministered to United Methodist Church congregations throughout northwest Iowa for 41 years. Along the way, he's also ministered to cars, buying, fixing up and selling close to 200 antique vehicles, a hobby he writes about in his book, My Life Behind the Wheel.
Recently, one of those vehicles — a 1938 Packard Eight Sedan — brought Lyle back to Mayowood, where he also met up with another old friend. The car was featured in a Heritage Days event that drew more than 2,000 Mayo staff, family members and guests to Mayowood, including one of Lyle's former students. "Charlie is 87 now, but he still introduced me as his 8th grade teacher," Lyle says with a laugh. He tells us Mayowood, and his former student, remain "exactly the way I remember."
If you'd like your own glimpse into Mayo history, consider touring Mayowood for yourself. Special Christmas tours run through Dec. 17. Then remember to leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.