In 2002, William Charles “Bill” Beyer stood before a group of graduating students at Mount Senario College in Wisconsin and told them, in his commencement address, his philosophy on life.
Hoping to do good authentically, he told graduates, “is as close as I can get us to the only practical vocation, the only calling that works lifelong. We set out from here to do the good that each of us can do uniquely and that the world needs.”
Beyer, who died earlier this month at 75, spent his life as someone who, in casual conversation as well as in dedicated service, lived up to his ideals. He was the type of person who found every human interesting and whose gaze never left your eyes as he listened to you, said his daughter, Kerstin Beyer Lajuzan. She said that when her father was speaking to you, you were the only person in the room who mattered.
“He was such an incredible listener, and so good at engaging anybody,” she said. “When he was paying attention to you, the light was shining on you.”
Beyer grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago before his parents moved to the suburbs. He always wanted to escape the city, and when he graduated from high school, he did, to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he became the first member of his family to attend college. It was in Iowa where he met his future wife, Margareta, and where he nurtured a lifelong love of nature.
He got his Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Minnesota, and his family would put down their roots in the Twin Cities. Beyer worked as the coordinator of pre-major advising for the U’s College of Liberal Arts before taking a job as director of education, collections and programs at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Beyer Lajuzan believes that his job as an academic adviser for students trying to find their way was an apt metaphor for the way he approached life — with an infectious enthusiasm.
In one of her last conversations with her father, Beyer Lajuzan talked about a recent “On Being” podcast, where the host, Krista Tippett, was discussing parenting, and how people tend to think about a parent as a carpenter who shapes and molds children. But the better analogy is the parent as a gardener, nurturing the children and helping them grow. Beyer Lajuzan had called her father to thank him for being a parent-gardener.
Beyer’s love of nature endured. He was particular about his garden at the family’s home in St. Paul and would mow around wild daisies in his lawn. With a few friends, he invested in a grove of maple trees in Wisconsin and would go there in spring to tap the trees, then make his own maple syrup, which he’d give as gifts.
Bruce Karstadt, president of the American Swedish Institute, said Beyer always served as a mentor to those he worked with. “He loved to be with people,” Karstadt said. “He loved sharing stories. He wanted to know what others were doing. He was not a person who sat on the edges of a gathering, observing. He was an active participant, always wanting to be in the thick of it.”
Beyer appreciated life, whether it was with his big laugh in conversation or while dancing to Swedish folk music with his wife. That was Karstadt’s final and lasting memory of Beyer, an image of grace and tenderness.
“We loved to talk and reflect on what we could give to this world, how we can be better as people,” Beyer Lajuzan said. “He loved to hear things I was thinking about and working on and thinking through. He was so engaged in our lives. You can take that for granted when you have it. I never took it for granted, but I wish I could have had it longer.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include daughter Emma West and four grandchildren.
Services have been held.