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Iowa mourns: 'He's just really sort of set an example of intellectual curiosity': Roald Tweet remembered as a mischievous, curious man
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Iowa mourns: 'He's just really sort of set an example of intellectual curiosity': Roald Tweet remembered as a mischievous, curious man

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Roald Tweet, 87, a longtime Augustana College professor known for his personality and many accomplishments, could be remembered for many things.

He served 18 years as head of Augustana College’s English department; occupied the Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities; and received a Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence Award and the Studs Terkel Humanities medal.

He also authored several books — “History of Transportation on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers,” “A History of the Rock Island District Corps of Engineers, 1866-1983,” and “The Quad Cities: An American Mosaic.”

Tweet died in November of COVID-19.

After retirement from Augustana, where he taught from 1960 to 1999, the English professor/scholar was on WVIK, the Quad-Cities National Public Radio affiliate, hosting "Scribble," a show with former state Sen. Don Wooten, featuring Iowa and Illinois writers, and discussions about poetry and Quad-Cities history. He also wrote and voiced a radio series, "Rock Island Lines" about Quad-Cities history.

His son, Jonathan Tweet, spoke with pride about Roald winning the Illinois Humanities Council's Lawrence W. Towner Award in 2001 for his work on "Rock Island Lines."

“He was a historian expert on the region. What Rock Island was like, what Bettendorf was like. ... He wrote a book about the history of the Quad-Cities, a really interesting history of the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi," Jonathan said.

Jonathan said his father had a mischievous streak. Roald once had a weight-loss challenge with a student. Roald secretly wore a lead belt for most of the weigh-ins but didn't wear it for the final weigh-in, so he'd appear to lose a lot of weight even, as legend has it, he lost very little and made little effort to even try.

The loser was to be thrown in the slough on the college's campus in Rock Island, Illinois, though that never happened.

That was Tweet’s sense of humor and willingness to help a student, in his own unique way.

“He was like: that is funny, but it’s also kind of a practical joke on the student he was betting against," Jonathan said.

As a father, Jonathan said, Roald freely shared his interests and encouraged the interests of he and his wife, Margaret's, three kids, sons Jonathan and Randy Tweet, Rock Island, Illinois city manager, and daughter, Gretchen O’Brien. 

“He was interested in showing us how to do crafts or showing us how to draw or write things. He was creative and he was a teacher, so he did a lot of teaching us and encouraging us," Jonathan said.

But Jonathan noted, his dad's interests didn't always lead the way.

"He pointed me to things that he wasn't interested in, but I would be. So, in 1977, he showed me the students at Augustana playing Dungeons and Dragons. That was years before it became really popular. It wasn't his thing, but he was curious about stuff even if it wasn’t in his bag. And he could tell it was something I liked.”

“Now I have made a career on the sorts of games he showed me that Saturday back in 1977,” Jonathan said. “He was interested in developing my interest even if they weren’t his."

Jonathan is a game designer by trade, based in Seattle, and author of a children's book about evolution.

“I went into business selling tabletop role-playing games after college, then moved out here after college to work for Wizards of the Coast. Then I worked at Dungeons and Dragons, the No. 1 tabletop role-playing game, the one that started it all.”

Roald's sense of humor and support of his kids was also reflected in what may be the only bumper sticker he ever put on his car. Randy was a U.S. Navy pilot and his dad put a bumper sticker on his car that read, "Fly Navy."

Randy also recalls a photograph from when he was younger, following his dad around in the old college gym, as he flew one of his model airplanes.

Randy grew up in the 1960s, and he remembered his dad, "always had this weird group of students hanging around."

"People that sort of hung around him also were interesting," Randy said. "He was a guru."

Some students lived upstairs for the summer in the Tweet's attic, he recalled.

The family had its share of pets, Randy recalled, until Mrs. Tweet essentially said, "no more."

It's easy to see why as you read the list — a raccoon, a South American raccoon, a spotted and a striped skunk, a fox pup and coyote pup, flying squirrels, a tortoise, cats and dogs, various birds, a salamander and an iguana. 

"He liked all that odd stuff," Randy said. "His passions outside of teaching were flying model airplanes and plants. Animals were sort of a side gig."

Ultimately, he was an Augustana man, where he taught for four decades. 

“He was good friends with the president, (Thomas) Tredway, good friends with the minister, Swannie (Rev. Richard Swanson). They were a trio, highly regarded college people," Jonathan said.

He loved teaching. Even after he retired, he continued to teach a class or two.

"But he would teach the freshman writing class that most of the professors don’t want to teach because it’s too boring," Jonathan said. "They wanted to do stuff on literature or whatever, but he really liked working with students' essays, help freshmen understand how to write better.”

He was an innovator who had a positive effect on Augustana’s writing center and helped get it going in a positive direction, Jonathan said.

But really, his curiosity set him apart, Jonathan said.

“He's just really sort of set an example of intellectual curiosity.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to Americans who have died from COVID-19. She joined other House members on the Capitol steps yesterday, hours after the death toll officially hit 400,000. In a statement, Pelosi called the death an unfathomable loss and criticized President Trump's virus response as a failure. 

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