'Celebrity' sightings

Monday, April 3, 2006

The Minnesota Choral TheatreFor many students, the Alnwick experience has included a face-to-face encounter with Prince Charles or the Duke of Northumberland's family. Others have been at the castle during filming of one of the many movies shot there.

"I was one of the lucky ones who studied in Alnwick during the filming of the first Harry Potter movie," said Marisa (Adler) Vette '01, Sauk Rapids. "The Quiddich scene took place right outside my bedroom windows. Once I returned home I saw the movie seven times because different people wanted me to go with them to point out in the theatre interesting tidbits in the film."

When "Robin Hood" was shot at Alnwick some students were hired as extras. For the movie "Elizabeth," Joe Herzberg '00, Minneapolis, was an extra in a crowd scene. He spent eight hours in the field behind the castle, repeatedly cheering for two minutes, then sitting for 20, followed by screaming "You filthy swine!" and sitting for another 20 minutes. "When we were filming a scene at the gate they told us not to talk because our American accents were ruining the takes. After all of our hard work they cut both of the scenes we were in. The only good that came from it was some really good pictures of me in tights." And a memory worth sharing.

Another memory was shared by Al Neff '86 '89, Denver, whose Alnwick adventure included a different sort of celebrity encounter. On one extremely rare sunny day, he settled into his "incredibly perfect view of the castle, being warmed by the rare English sun" and lost himself in writing to his girlfriend. Unfortunately, this perfect spot also was in the Duke's park, off-limit to students.

"I heard something behind me and turned to see an older gentleman walking with a cane, smoking a pipe and coming toward me," Neff said. He knew he was where he wasn't supposed to be, but thought he could explain things to this man, likely a grounds keeper. "I smiled and said hello, following with 'it's okay that I'm here, isn't it?' He said, 'Well it looks like you're here now anyway, doesn't it?' He added, 'You must be one of the students from the castle' and asked me how I liked living there. My enthusiasm came naturally." After polite conversation about travels, experiences and rainfall, Neff asked if the gentleman lived in Alnwick. He answered, "Oh yes, I live over there" pointing with his cane to the castle. 'I'm your landlord.'"

Neff wrote "your grace," the 10th Duke of Northumberland, a contrite letter of apology for trespassing and whatever lack of etiquette he might have displayed. Neff thanked him on behalf of the students and added that he was glad he hadn't let the fence stop him.

Years later, when he received his SCSU master's degree, the keynote address at commencement was given by a representative of the Duke, who pulled out and read from Neff's letter. He ended with the part about the fence, pausing and saying with great gravity and conviction, "He didn't let the fence stop him." It's a message Neff now shares with his own students about climbing imaginary fences in their own lives.

Some encounters at the castle were of a more ethereal kind. The "person" Wendy Lemke '87 '88, St. Cloud, remembers best wasn't a student or a faculty member, but a ghost. "Those who lived in Diana, as well as the locals, have come to know her as the Grey Lady," said Lemke, who has revisited the castle and written a book that alludes to her experience with the spirit whose presence many other students have felt over the years.

Stephanie (Haiden) Maresch '87 '89, Lock Haven, Penn., did not write about the spirit of the Grey Lady, but about the spirit of adventure she found within herself at Alnwick. She was 26 and had never lived on campus or interacted much with students. "Attending the Alnwick program was the first thing that I had done on my own," she said. "... I firmly believe that I would not be the confident, self-assured person that I am today without the Alnwick program."

Chelse Schmitt, St. Cloud, who will graduate in May, echoes the sentiments of so many other Alnwick alumni who are grateful for an experience that can never be matched. "How many people can actually say they lived in a castle?" she said. "Words can't explain how my life, personality and thoughts have been affected. There isn't any other class in college that can prepare you, teach you and be as outstanding and enjoyable as studying abroad in Alnwick."

In preparation for their reunion Aug. 11-12, alumni of the Alnwick, England, study-abroad program were invited to submit favorite memories and photos from their experience.

This story reflects some of the comments included in the dozens of enthusiastic responses from participants eager to reminisce about their transcendent coming-of-age experience at "The Castle." Although there is not room on these pages to include all of the stories and photos, all are published in their entirety at www.stcloudstate.edu/studyabroad/alumni.

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