Vibrant math prof, alumna remains loyal supporter for past 50 years

Shelda Warren has always had a problem sitting still.

Her mother sent extra work to keep her occupied as a first grader in Borup, Minnesota. Now, in her 90s, she plays bridge, volunteers and sings in a community choir (when there’s not a pandemic).

But for nearly 50 years, she poured much of that extra energy into education at MSUM – her own and that of students of all ages.

Warren started at Minnesota State Teachers College in the fall of 1945, just as young men were beginning to return to campus after World War II. She knew she wanted to become a teacher – one of a handful of “appropriate” professions for a young woman at the time.

It suited her personality.

“There aren’t that many professions where you can talk all the time,” says Warren who went on to major in mathematics and physical education.

Math always had been easy for her. She loved knowing that if she got the right answer, she must be doing the problem right. The discipline also rewarded her desire to take things apart to see how they worked.

In college, she earned extra money by selling bicycles that she rebuilt. She also designed bunkbeds that gave her and her roommate more room. Likewise, mathematics gave her a chance to take apart numbers and reassemble them.

Physical education, too, was an easy decision for the young woman who always felt the need to run. Even though there were no formal sports for women at the time, she loved being active.

College was eye-opening for Warren who grew up in a small community in a household without a television.

“I learned an awful lot … and much of it from living in the dorms,” she says.

As an undergraduate, Warren took a class from Gen King, chair of the biology department. On the final exam, King wrote to Warren: “You did well in the course, but I know you have a great deal more potential. Do something with your life.”

After teaching at schools in the region for a couple of years, Warren returned to MSTC. She became one of the first three students to earn a master’s degree in 1955.

With King’s encouragement, she also applied for a job at the Campus High School. That fall Warren was offered a position to teach mathematics and girls gym. King also offered her a place to live. The two women remained housemates until Warren met and married her husband, Red.

During these years, Warren met many of the university’s key personalities whose names now dot the buildings on MSUM’s campus. She either had them as professors or as colleagues. In many cases, she taught their children at the campus school.

Among those she took classes from was Flora Frick, who taught in the physical education and German departments. Frick had a no-nonsense personality that demanded respect. As Warren recalls, she “didn’t give a lick what someone might think of her and was not shy in letting them know.”

Warren worked in the campus school until 1964 when she transitioned to the college’s mathematics department where her husband also taught. They taught together until he died in 1973. Their daughter, Dona, followed in her parents’ footsteps and now teaches philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

Warren retired from MSUM in 1993, but her influence on the campus didn’t stop. To encourage young people to enter the classroom, she established an endowed scholarship for students who choose to study math education.

“I wanted to make a contribution that would linger,” she says.

As for herself, now in her 90s, Warren continues to teach. Until the pandemic struck, she taught math to adults who want to finish their high school degree.

And she relishes one aspect of growing older: the memories. To this day, she can still imagine scenes involving the kids. Her principal. Her colleagues. Her instructors.

“I don’t need a camera,” she says. “I can visualize it all.”

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