Amherst Magazine

Eric Lee Walgren '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

Unfortunately Eric does not have an Olio photo, either in 1962 or 1965. (After recovering from his skiing accident, he graduated in 1965.)

Eric Walgren '62, died August 23, 1998
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In Memory

We have suffered the loss of another fine classmate, Eric Walgren. This sad news came in the form of an obituary notice in the Hampshire Gazette reporting that Eric died of cancer in Amherst on August 23,1998. His surviving family includes his mother, Margaret Walgren, his son, Sean, his daughter, Erin, and his brother, Doug. We want his family to know how much Eric was loved and admired by the Amherst Class of 1962. As the obituary pointed out, Eric was a lawyer, political activist, artist, poet, and farmer, living most of his adult life in the greater Amherst area. There will never be another like him.

It was a mere forty years ago that we gathered as a Class in Amherst, not knowing what to expect or what our classmates would be like. Eric was an instant campus celebrity, known for his fiery, independent spirit, wide-ranging intelligence, infectious good humor, and sometimes unusual activities. Rice Leach, Eric's dear friend and roommate, provides more detailed recollections below.

Those of us on third-floor Morrow fell immediately under Eric's kindly, eclectic spell. At one point during the first semester, we helped Eric seek a simpler life by removing all the furniture from his room and laying down a sparse blanket of straw on the floor. This worked well for Eric, at least for a time; others of us who tried it had less satisfactory results. Morrow dwellers were in constant danger of being challenged to "belly rumbles" by Eric. This painful game consisted of standing toe-to-toe with Eric and punching each other in the stomach as hard and rapidly as possible until someone gave up; rarely was it Eric. The only way to win at this was to try to weaken Eric with laughter, then attack.

Eric attended our 25th Reunion, and while most of us had not seen him for many years, and he had taken a different road, everything seemed the same. The older, gentler Eric was every bit as engaging, affectionate, challenging, funny, and bright-eyed as the eighteen year old who joined us in 1958. At the Class dinner in Valentine, our 1962 questionnaire results were presented. One category involved political affiliations. It was reported that there were "x" Democrats, "y" Republicans and "z" Independents in the Class. At this point in the dinner, Eric rose, politely interrupted, and added that our Class also had "one Communist," then sat down. There was a strong, spontaneous round of applause. We will really miss him at future reunions.

—FRED L. WOODWORTH '62

Eric Lee Walgren came to Amherst from Mount Lebanon High School by way of the US Army where he had done six months active duty. Early in his freshman year he became well known as the guy who rappelled down the dorm wall to go to Valentine for breakfast. His reputation became forever engraved in the memories of those who saw a photograph labeled "The Nobel Savage" in the Amherst Student after the Wesleyan game in Middletown. It was Eric, a member of the freshman football team. He had taken part in an unsuccessful assault on their goal posts and was covered with mud, holding his shirt in one arm and gesturing to the defenders with the other. This loyalty to the cause and tendency to challenge authority stayed with him as long as I knew him. His nickname "Eric the Rat" developed on the third floor of Morrow dormitory. I cannot recall who named him, but I think it was Fred Woodworth. In any case, Eric liked it and it stuck. I had several classes with him including freshman English, which he really enjoyed, and a history seminar where he routinely distracted the instructor, Mr. Bisson, by sitting in the front row and drawing nudes on those maps we had to complete. Another truly memorable classroom performance was when he demonstrated how to prepare popcorn in our required public speaking class. As the popcorn was popping, he imitated Arnie Arons by developing a mathematical formula for the force of each pop. The last line of the formula indicated that there was always a bit of retained energy, which he clearly demonstrated by lifting the top off the skillet and letting that last pop scatter popcorn all over the room.

We were roommates at the beginning of our sophomore year. He got a chance to have a room in Valentine Hall and needed roommates, so Charlie Stender and I joined up. He was a serious student and a hard worker when the subject interested him. He was concerned about the well-being of his friends and was always willing to help them. He was interested in people and enjoyed challenging assumptions.

He dropped out of school following a skiing accident early in 1960 but stayed in Amherst. About that time, he purchased his lot in Belchertown for the grand sum of eight hundred dollars, bought an old barn, and moved the timbers and lumber to his lot where he designed and built his home. During this "sabbatical," he met and married Penny Dunbar, worked different jobs, was a regular at Psi U on Saturday nights, enjoyed skiing and motorcycling, and announced the birth of two children. A few years later, he returned to classes and graduated with the Class of '65, but his heart was clearly with the Class of '62.

We kept up with each other over the years, mostly by linking up at reunions or during visits to campus. Most of the time we talked about what had occurred during our time at Amherst and didn't go into much detail about daily life. I have many fond memories of Eric. He was clearly a character, but he was also a very good friend for nearly forty years. He was the kind of friend you can run into after a ten-year absence and start right up where you left off. I will miss him.

-—RICE C. LEACH '62

Here also is some information from the February 10 2007 issue of the Daily New Hampshire Gazette------

Eric Walgren was an Amherst College graduate, a lawyer, a carpenter, an organic farmer and an anti-war activist. His court challenge of Amherst's election calendar still influences the town's politics today.

Known as "Eric the Rat", he was a leader of a student strike at the University of Massachusetts in 1970. That same year, he co-founded a branch of the Universal Life Church, which broke off in 1977 and was renamed the Nature Church, St. Cyr [Nature Church High Priest] said.

He took his nickname himself because "his face was kind of rat-like and he used to scurry around," said the late Christopher Zentgraf, a former high priest of the church, after Walgren's death. He liked to scrounge like a rat, and built the building destroyed in last week's fire largely from discarded materials, St. Cyr said.

He lived in the building, growing most of his own food, and raising pigs, chickens and goats, St. Cyr said. It was also used for ceremonies and potlucks by the Nature Church.

In 1972, after losing a race for Amherst's Board of Selectmen, he challenged in court the board's decision to hold the election during UMass intercession, when many students were out of town.

Although Federal Judge Arthur Garrity declined to overturn the election results, he said that in future elections the town should not put the special burden of absentee ballots on a certain class of voters. It is now accepted practice that Amherst elections don't take place when students are out of town.

In 1998, Walgren was still making waves. He came to a protest dressed as Uncle Sam and carrying a tattered, upside-down American flag, "as a symbol of the cancer of empire in our government," according to the Amherst Student. He died later that year, of cancer.

---NICK GRABBE (Daily New Hampshire Gazette reporter)

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