With every great professor there is a compelling story as to how they discovered their passion and where that passion led them. For Northern’s Professor of German, Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Lewis, the story of how she discovered her passion for German and the path it took her on is most certainly an interesting and winding history with so much more to go. Lewis began her college career at the University of Texas at Austin. She was originally a French and Art History major, even studying her junior year in France at Université de Paris, École Normale de Musique. When Lewis returned to the states to complete her senior year, she took German 101. Shortly thereafter, she added German to her list of majors and began a lifelong relationship with the German language. When asked what prompted this drastic shift in focus from one language to another, Lewis explains, “While I was in France, the French were concerned with the surface of things, impressionism, and not so concerned with what is underneath. French was mostly about style. Germans, however, say what they want. They go directly for the soul. It is a language that is directly emotional, honest, and unflinching.” This struck a tune with the young academic who completed her German major, among other things, at Auburn University (Auburn, AL) and later studied at Germany’s Universität Hamburg. After attending a number of other universities to earn her Ph.D. in Modern German Literature, and a Graduate Professional Certificate in TESOL, Lewis began focusing on her professional academic career. With positions ranging from teaching assistant to Northern’s Chair of the Department of Languages, Literature, and Communication Studies, Lewis has taught and assisted in a wide variety of classes at a number of different universities during her career. One of her main contributions to not only NSU but to the Aberdeen community as a whole was the creation of an elementary school level language program. Created and organized by Lewis, volunteers, community members, and students who had real world language experience gave their time on a weekly basis for a set period during the semester to teach elementary students various languages, such as Chinese, Italian, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Lakota. This after-school language program was initially held at local elementary schools, but it later moved to Northern’s campus. After becoming department chair in 2012, Lewis found herself unable to dedicate the time necessary to keep the program running and had to shut it down. She ends her time as chair this semester, and Lewis hopes that she then will be able to get this beneficial program up and running once more.
Over the years, Lewis has studied a fair number of languages, including these listed in order of fluency: English, German, French, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Middle High German, Dutch, Latin, Gothic, and Old High German. This ability with languages has led her to complete a number of written works. So far, she has published six novels, ten articles, and nine book reviews. Two of the novels are translations, one is an adaption, and two are original works inspired by past events. When asked why she would go to so much effort to translate entire novels, Lewis explained that it was a feeling it should be done that prompted her along. Many foreign authors, such as the major Hungarian novelist Zsigmond Móricz, are still fairly unknown because most of their work is not available in English. This leads to some of her future goals, all featuring Móricz. After waiting 15 years to translate his “Gold in the Mud: A Hungarian Peasant Novel”, Lewis wishes to continue translating his works and has two more in progress. She also realized that he does not have a page on The Literary Encyclopedia’s website, so she would like to write and submit a small biography about Móricz. Additionally, as Móricz has so little information about him available in English, Lewis’ ultimate goals is to write a full-length novel in English about his life. Though she dedicates much of her time to her on-campus and online classes and other academic pursuits, Lewis still manages to find time to raise her three kids, take care of her numerous pets, and enjoy her many hobbies, including gardening, volunteering, collecting stamps, creating beautiful needlepoint, and playing in the Aberdeen community orchestra. Not surprisingly, Lewis can play several instruments and has professional skills in jazz improvisation. Based on years of experiences, Lewis has some advice she wishes to pass on to her students, “Follow your heart. Embrace the idea of a universal education. The idea behind it is to be a whole person, not just a cog in the world of work. It is not just about get a job.” And of course, “Learn a second language and study abroad!”