Andy Terpstra: We lived the American dream
Andy Terpstra began his studies in dairy science at UW-Madison in 1966 and earned his bachelor’s degree four years later. From his first morning on campus, there seemed to be a protest every day.
“I considered those years of protest kind of like a black eye on the university,” said Terpstra, today 69 and semi-retired on his 1,200-acre family farm near Delavan.
“Over my years in Madison, I tried to avoid all the protests. Because it offended me. They want to shout you down, disrupt activities, take over the buildings,” he said. “It’s not a democratic way of doing business. It was their way or else.”
He grew tired of the leaflets published by far-left groups that were slid under his dorm-room door. He felt “disturbed” when the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture tried to make a speech to an overflow crowd in Ag Hall, only to be shouted down by protesters who disagreed with the U.S. presence in Vietnam.
The secretary’s speech “has nothing to do with the war,” he said.
Terpstra was the first American-born member of his family. His mother and father grew up “very, very, very poor” in Holland, he said; under Nazi occupation his father was forced to work in factories and oil fields.
After World War II, Terpstra’s parents immigrated to the United States and began to work their way up from the bottom. After many years, they could buy their own dairy farm.
“We lived the American dream,” Terpstra said. “I worked alongside my dad. I worked full-time since I was 12.”
In Europe his parents “had lost their freedom. So it was instilled in our family — the precious benefits of freedom. We love this country. We love the United States,” he said. “I’m the first one in my family to have a chance to get an education. My parents got no education.”
Terpstra didn’t like campus protestors’ portrayal of the U.S. as “the evil empire.” He didn’t like having to walk past soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets on campus when the National Guard was called in.
“During my last month on campus, it got so bad, the university went to a pass-fail system,” he said. “Classes were disrupted that much.”
“I’m a farm boy. I was very ignorant. I had to pay my own way through school. I had to give every ounce of my energy for my studies and my work. I had no time for a social life, no time for side activities, no time to get involved in any sort of demonstrations. I had to concentrate on my studies, period.
“Meanwhile, Uncle Sam’s breathing down my neck. One little slip-up, your grades fall, you’re out of school and Uncle Sam is waiting for you” with the military draft. “I had no time for this monkey business.”
Despite the anti-war movement, Terpstra’s four years at UW-Madison “were some of the best years of my life,” he said.
Two of his childhood school classmates, he said, died in Vietnam.