Alum returns to Spearfish nearly 90 years after graduation

Berdelle Johanna Johnson Christiansen, Class of 1930, returned to Spearfish to visit her alma mater during spring commencement. Pictured here, Berdelle visited Wenona Cook Hall, the woman's dormitory she stayed in on campus, during a campus tour.

Berdelle Johanna Johnson Christiansen, 103 years old, is living a fulfilling life with family and a teaching career. She recently fulfilled another goal - returning to Spearfish to visit her alma mater.  

The BHSU campus has certainly changed in the 88 years since Berdelle graduated from Spearfish Normal School in 1930. When Berdelle visited in May, she took a tour of the BHSU campus and Spearfish, dined with Dean of the College of Education Dr. Sharman Adams and three education graduate students, and attended a 50-year reunion banquet at the Joy Center. She was also introduced and received an emotional standing ovation at the 2017 Spring Commencement.

"I enjoyed all of it. I just enjoyed being at BHSU. It's nice to have the experience visiting an area or location where you came from," said Berdelle.

Berdelle was born on her family ranch near Ellingson, S.D., on Nov. 16, 1913 and grew up on the family homestead in Perkins County near the North Grand River. She graduated from Spearfish Normal School (Black Hills State University's original name) at the age of 17. She started her teaching career in Mud Butte School in the fall of 1930.  After seven years of teaching in South Dakota, Berdelle moved to Seattle where she was married.

She returned to teaching when her children began to grow up. She later operated a head-Start school on the local Quinault Indian Reservation. "Teaching was my 'true calling,'" Berdelle commented.

Berdelle worked in Washington for 19 years before she retired at the age of 65. Today, she still lives by herself in Tumwater on a lot she bought when she was 83 years old.