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On Mortality


Milton Stewart Yergens [1949–2022]

It’s time for an end-of-the-year assessment of changes that have occurred during 2022. There have been two especially happy events, both connected with my retirement from full-time teaching. One took place in April, a gathering at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead of a hundred and fifty well-wishers. The second more recently, a more limited group of grads from the late 1970s who think some more prominent recognition was appropriate. I have been humbled by each. The third event is equally humbling and not necessarily at the other end of the emotional spectrum: the passing of yet another friend who should have outlived me by many, many years.

There is rumored to be fine print at the bottom of our birth certificates: that everyone who passes before us is required to be older, significantly older. Twenty-twenty-three will be the 20th anniversary of two close friends leaving us, within weeks of one another: Cecil Elliott, colleague, mentor, friend, and someone who was, in many ways, Cecil’s protege, Dennis Colliton, who was also colleague, advisor, and friend. Cecil was 80 years old; Dennis was 50 and left without warning. So, as I reflect on this anniversary, there is another name to add: Milton Yergens [1949–2022].

Agincourt wasn’t even a fantasy when Cecil and Dennis passed. But the project profited mightily from fourteen years of guidance by our friend Milton. Honorary citizenship is far too little acknowledgment for the quality and the quantity of Milton’s contributions, so many of them that I’ve long ago lost count.

Several people of my acquaintance have been written into the Agincourt narrative, each of them in a very specific way and with the intent to memorialize them in ways that only I will sense and understand. Milton’s case is quite different, however. His hand is everywhere; his contributions manifold and compounded many times over. The proper way to remember him here hasn’t come to me yet. But it will. Because it must.

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