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  • Writer's pictureGerald Tindal

Day 39: Dear Phil and Penny

Updated: Sep 25, 2018


I hope you don’t mind having my daily letter to you displaced by a letter to Phil and Penny Knight. I also write a letter to James McIntosh, an incredible donor who has joined Phil and Penny in funding my endowed professorship for the past decade. Each fall I write to them on the importance of this support: my gratitude and thanks for their generosity that provides opportunities and affords accomplishments. I have leaned the letter to Phil and Penny because of our similar loss: A beautiful son who was laid to rest far too early just as he was hitting stride and cadence.

Dear Phil and Penny,

Each fall quarter, I write a letter of thanks for funding my endowed professorship. Normally, this letter provides me an opportunity to update you on my accomplishments, acknowledge the support from you for the opportunities these funds provide, give you a glimpse into my world which is so different than your world. This is not a normal year, however, so this is not a letter of my accomplishments. This year, my letter is about my son and all sons and daughters who have been laid to rest by their parents. Your son, Matthew, 34 years old. Our son, Karsten, 28 years old. Like you, we were given the news unaware. Unexpected. A whisper in the theatre for you and a call at Clear Lake for us. Both parents now living with no ability to spend more time with them, give them a hug, replay the day, plan another day, be silly, hang out and just be. The suddenness of their deaths caught so fast that disbelief and despair are just around the corner and lurk in every moment while each day plays out. But the strong belief in them, in families, in friends, in people, gives a bridge back. So this year’s letter is about Karsten’s accomplishments interrupted but his legacy maintained.

Karsten died in a horrific car crash on August 14, 2018. Just 39 days from the writing of this letter. Each day, I write a letter to him. This is the 39th. In my letters, I spend time with his presence collected over the 28 years with him in our family, a close family transposed from Minnesota to Oregon for a professorship in special education at the UO. The distance from our origins pressed the need to stay close.

As all stories unfold, the beginning is actually before the beginning. Through a needle threaded so finely, the beginning is with your meeting all the endowed Knight Professors at the UO in the Special Collections of the Knight Library. May 4, 2016. I was given an opportunity to have someone join me in listening to a conversation with you and Mike Schill, an event in the Robinson Theatre following the Knight Professor gathering. To join all the athletes at the UO. Listen in. Understand your world. Move forward. I asked Karsten to join me. He grew up drawing Nike shoe designs rather than completing school assignments. He was an athlete and needed to be with athletics and sports. A powerlifter. A footballer. In a chance encounter with a friend and colleague, Mike, Karsten met Mike’s friend and colleague, Dennis, who recommended he apply for the UO Sports Product Management (SPM) program in Portland. His application was an impressive display of focus and commitment; he was admitted with the 2019 cohort, soon to graduate. His year with this program was nothing short of spectacular. His calling. In moving to 38 Davis, we had the chance encounter to meet Ellen, a loving, commanding force with commitment to this program. Full of spirit. Driving the program. SPM is a family and since Karsten’s death we have received the most heartfelt messages of his presence from classmates and faculty who are now part of our family. Karsten will join the graduating class with a posthumous Master’s Degree this spring.

So now, our life is different and my own commitments distilled to but two goals at the UO: Supporting the SPM program and ensuring my own professorship in the COE is continued. It’s time to retire and do good for the world. Give back. Be present with Karsten and others who will continue my work dedicated to students with disabilities. Follow your lead in giving back.

We’ve funded a scholarship in the Sports Product Management Program: Karsten Tindal Memorial Scholarship and seeded it with an initial investment. You have given so much to the UO and we also need to do this. We look forward to working with Ellen and the incredible cast of top caliber people she has in this program. We simply want to be at the side of our son as he would have been: in the program and beyond. With people pushing human boundaries of performance through the smart design of all things athletics and sports. We need to see the world through Karsten and keep his legacy alive. We have established a website honoring him, giving voice to our love of him and providing an understanding of the heavy burden his death has created in our life. I publish my letters to him there (

I also have begun a campaign to secure a tenure track professor position who can take over my research shop. To give voice and standing for students with disabilities everywhere they are served in education. The critical work I have been doing for 35 years needs to continue and the UO cannot afford to let slide an opportunity for hiring a tenure-track professor to carry it on. Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities need access even in the absence of capabilities to hear, speak, see, move. Students with learning disabilities need to be able to learn. Read. Compute. Communicate. Participate. Teachers need to be effective. On their game, much as athletes in their performance. My life’s work is with this small research shop of incredible people changing the way education includes students in our schools, particularly those with disabilities. We publish our accomplishments at our website, Behavioral Research and Teaching (BRT),

So this letter is not about my accomplishments over the year but about my commitment to two legacies for Karsten and BRT. To give back as you have done all these years. Ensure the world doesn’t move on without a presence and commitment to be better. Perform. Improve. And marvel at the possibilities. Because we can.

Gerald Tindal

Knight-Castle-McIntosh Professor

College of Education – UO

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