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UMN Morris Legacy Spans Four Generations

Sue Dieter
Publication date: 
October 7, 2021

Four generations of the Rentz family at the time of Connor's birth

When Connor Rentz ’21 was in high school, contemplating where to go to college, he knew he wanted to get out of his hometown of Duluth. But he also wanted to stay in Minnesota, so he applied to both the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Morris campuses. Ultimately Connor decided to attend Morris. “The smaller size and more intimate feel of Morris would be the better fit for me.”

When he graduated this spring with a double major in chemistry and philosophy, Connor was the fourth generation of the Rentz family to have earned a degree from UMN Morris.

Connor’s parents Mike Rentz and Leslie Clapper-Rentz graduated from UMN Morris in 1994.

The year before Mike and Leslie graduated, Mike’s grandfather, and Connor’s great-grandfather, Delmar R. “Bud “ Rentz, received his bachelor’s degree from UMN Morris.

Mike’s father, Steve, was the first in the Rentz family to attend and graduate from UMN Morris. “I graduated in 1970 after graduating from Morris High School in 1966. My wife Wanda (Kopel) Rentz was part of the UMN Morris class of ’71, but did not graduate until 1972,” Steve shared. “We were married during college, and, when I went into the service, she accompanied me. When I was sent on deployment, she returned to Morris and completed her studies. Interestingly, she was able to complete some of her classes ‘remotely’ while we were living in Mississippi.”

Steve shared that his father, Bud, always intended to go to college, but those plans were interrupted by World War II. But he remained determined and started taking classes. “I am sure in the early ’90s as a 65 year old small business owner, he brought an interesting perspective to his classmates and challenges to his professors. I remember him saying that he was always grateful to my brother, John, for tutoring him through some of the required classes. His goal was to graduate before his first grandson graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris.”

John graduated from UMN Morris in 1988, and had his father as a classmate in his modern grammar class during his senior year. He remembers that when his dad took a geology class, his mom, Colleen, was able to tag along on the field trips. “The course culminated in a pool party for the class at our home. I teased my dad that he was worried about me throwing parties at our house while I was in college and in the end it was him who he had to worry about.”

John also noted that his dad had earned some credits through the University Without Walls program before he started taking in-person classes. ”Who would have known UMN Morris was one of the original virtual universities?”

Further, John is grateful that his parents were strong supporters of the campus throughout their lives. Bud served as one of the three original members of the West Central Educational Development Association (WCEDA), a citizen action group that lobbied the state legislature in the late 1950s to establish a college campus in Morris. “Indirectly Connor’s degree is realizing [my dad’s] vision to support UMN Morris to create leaders like Connor, who will lead and create a better world for future generations.”

Other members of the Rentz family have attended UMN Morris, including Connor’s uncle, Brian, his great-uncle Paul, and a cousin, Leslie. So Connor has heard many stories about his family’s adventures in college.

His parents both spoke fondly of their time at the Morris campus, specifically mentioning late night stops at Don’s for grilled cheese and milkshakes as well as the ‘all you can eat’ buffet at Pizza Hut.

Connor’s legacy experience at UMN Morris includes taking classes from the same faculty as his parents and uncles.

“Both of my parents took OChem from Nancy [Carpenter] when they were here as biology students with chemistry minors. Although when I asked Nancy about them she seemed to remember them being much better OChem students than they said they were. While they weren’t huge fans of OChem as a subject, they both really liked Nancy, and were very glad that I was able to take some classes from her before she retired. On a similar note, I found out Seung-Ho Joo, who taught my Intellectual Community course (War and Terrorism) my freshman year, was one of my Uncle Brian’s favorite professors when he was a student here.”

Connor says the story of his grandfather, Steve, both attending and helping to construct parts of the campus is a family highlight. Steve filled in the details: “While attending UMN Morris I worked at the local concrete plant and delivered concrete to the now ‘old’ science building, Humanities Fine Arts building, the PE Center, the boiler plant and other projects that were constructed at the time. I remember days of delivering a load then parking the concrete truck in the parking lot while I ran to a class then went back to work. Ray Lammers (my adviser) told me that I would be the only guy in the history of the school to graduate with a degree in concrete.”

Connor has stories of his own to share when the family conversation turns to UMN Morris.

“A few particularly memorable highlights of my time here include the various field trips for my Chemistry of Sustainable Energy class, taught by Nancy Carpenter. One time we toured a coal power plant in South Dakota, and another time we toured a waste management/recycling facility somewhere in the area. Both of those were way more interesting than one might expect, although the smell from the recycling facility was exactly what one would expect, and then some.”

Connor summed up his tenure as a UMN Morris student, saying that his experience definitely exceeded anything he would have been able to expect as a high school student. “The faculty and staff are incredibly caring, friendly, and knowledgeable, and I graduated with a great group of students. The small class sizes and intimate feel of the campus facilitated both my academic and personal growth far more than I could have known, and I am extremely grateful that I made the decision to attend the University of Minnesota Morris.”

His grandfather, Steve, echoes those sentiments, “We are especially proud that Connor decided to attend UMM and become a fourth generation Rentz to graduate.”