Advocate for culture, language retires
Jan Kurtz says no one should live in a one-dimensional world.
“If all they know is Brainerd or just their backyard, you’re living a one-dimensional life,” she said. “The reason you travel is to enrich your life.”
That’s part of the reason she helped start Cultural Thursdays at Central Lakes College (CLC) 15 years ago.
Since 1992, Kurtz has pumped cultural education through the minds of CLC students. Now, she’s retiring.
Cultural Thursdays — what she’s best known for — became an official CLC event 15 years ago. It began in the classroom, with instructors volunteering to share their travels to a small group of students. It ballooned into a large community event that pulled in speakers and travelers from across the world.
“It gave students a chance to see that travel was in their grasp,” Kurtz said. “It gave community a chance to network.”
Kurtz’s Brainerd career started in 1982, teaching Spanish at Brainerd High School (BHS). She taught at both BHS and CLC for about five years before heading to the college full-time in 1992.
The move was in an effort to create two new courses at the college: “The Many Faces of Mexico” and “Cultures of Latin America.”
It was with those classes that Kurtz wanted to touch on racial issues that otherwise get overlooked. She wanted to reach out to students who otherwise wouldn’t have taken a foreign language.
“Language and culture are about living, feeding the soul,” she said.
Kurtz was inspired to spread her love of culture to others because of what it has done for her.
People she’s met. Places she’s been. They all wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for language.
So many people are missing out and they don’t realize it, Kurtz said.
“We’re not stupid, we’re just ignorant of things until something’s pointed out,” she said.
So Kurtz decided to be that person to point it out.
The full impact Kurtz has had on students in the Brainerd lakes area is hard to measure.
In the classroom, she saw for herself the lights going on in the eyes of students who understood the importance of what they were learning.
“My hope is that I’ve changed views from judgement and prejudice to interest,” she said.
While Kurtz sees her time spent spreading culture as worthwhile, she’s disheartened by languages being cut in schools.
“I’ve spent my whole career on this and I see it dwindling,” she said.
Cultural Thursdays will still continue with Kurtz’s retirement, thanks to staff of the Resource Center for Cultures and Languages of the Americas.
But Kurtz’s last Cultural Thursday was in May, with a show called “Fun Foreign Fotos,” where she shared her favorite photos from her travels with the audience.
The decision to retire wasn’t hard.
Sure, Kurtz loves students and the classroom, but she also knows how big of a world is out there. How much she has yet to see.
“I need to be fed,” she said. “I hope that doesn’t sound selfish.”
In retirement, Kurtz doesn’t have many big plans mapped out. Perhaps she’ll write a book, and she’ll still hold talks about culture.
Traveling is definitely in the near future.
“I’ve spent tons of time being an advocate. It’s time to live it,” she said.