Educator who wrote ENMU’s alma mater remembered

Eastern New Mexico University’s school song was written by a professor who learned to play the violin at age 6 and worked for the Department of Education into his 90s.

A. Bruce Gaarder died at 98 July 1 in Arlington, Va.

“He was always the educator,” said Ingrid Kauffman, Gaarder’s daughter. “That’s what he got his big joy from.”

Gaarder taught high school and college classes, including at Eastern New Mexico University and Louisiana State University. After 12 years at LSU, he moved to work at the U.S. Office of Education, now the Department of Education, from 1959 until his retirement in 2006 at age 94.

Much of his work was in bilingual education, Kauffman said. Gaarder spoke Spanish, French and English.

“I guess he felt it was very important to maintain the (native language) skills of the students who had another language besides English,” Kauffman said.

At Eastern New Mexico College, now ENMU, Gaarder taught Spanish. He also took students on trips to Mexico and wrote the alma mater around 1938.

Ernest Gutierrez, who was Bruce Gaarder’s student and part-time secretary at ENMU, called him a fine man.

“He was very pleasant, and he was very busy,” Gutierrez said.

As a child, Gaarder’s family was poor and his life was hard, Kauffman said. He was 6 when his father taught him to play the violin.

After his father died and his mother remarried, the family played at dances. He eventually taught himself to play piano and had an unbelievable memory for song lyrics, son Conrad Gaarder said.

Kauffman said her father expected his children to live to high standards and helped them whenever he could.

Conrad Gaarder said his father was disciplined and had integrity in everything he did.

“I think he held a lot within him,” Conrad Gaarder continued.

A. Bruce Gaarder’s children came to know him through long discussions, but he didn’t discuss personal topics, Conrad Gaarder said.

Greta Kauffman, Bruce Gaarder’s adult granddaughter, said he decided to teach her to drive when she was 12. Living in the Washington, D.C., area, they went to the Pentagon parking lot to practice before he gave her piano lessons on weekend mornings.

Bruce Gaarder’s British car was difficult to start, but both he and Greta Kauffman were proud when she could show her parents her new skill, she said.