In 1953, a young man was dropped off at Selvig Hall. He was placed in a dorm room with three other guys he didn’t know and said goodbye to his parents, knowing the only way he’d be able to reach them was by writing a letter or placing a collect call with the dorm phone. This young man was Allan Brandli (1953-1957) from Warroad, Minn. His father and a few aunts and uncles attended the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA), but Brandli had never seen campus until he was already registered.
He remembers it being a primarily male environment at the time, with 100 boys in his graduating class and only ten girls. Campus looks different now, as there used to be a faculty dorm and a pool, with no sidewalks in sight.
The school year was based on a farmer’s schedule, from October to March, with a project during the summer. He took specialty classes like welding and carpentry along with regular subjects such as English, math, and history. He also became the assistant editor of the school newspaper. Senior year, he took an aeronautics class taught by Gene Miller, M.A. During the spring, Miller brought each student on an individual flight. This was an opportunity to witness a plane in action where they flew over the Crookston area and got a tour of the city. Brandli considers this a standout experience from his time at NWSA and something he remembers fondly. He also enjoyed his typing course because he has been able to use that skill all of his life.
Within a month of graduating from the NWSA, Brandli joined the Navy on April 27, 1957. He spent four years on active duty as an aviation electronics technician and spent time aboard an aircraft carrier as an electronics instructor in San Diego, Calif., and in the reserves. In 1958, Brandli was a crew member on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington VCA-20. He stated, “We were in Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day 1958. As a tribute to the 1,177 sailors and marines that were killed when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, they had 1,177 of us spell out the Arizona on our flight deck. I am one of those who is standing in the ‘R’. You can see the remains of the battleship Arizona in the water alongside us. This was before the current memorial was built and Hawaii was still a territory.” Brandli retired as a Navy commander after 26 years of service. Within that time, Brandli attended Concordia Moorhead, where he earned his bachelor’s degrees in physics and education, the University of Nebraska for a master’s degree in physics, and the University of Houston for his master’s in business administration. In 1967, he had the rare opportunity of working for NASA Mission Control at Johnson Space Center during the Apollo program. He joined their engineering directorate and worked on the onboard computer system for the space shuttle. He worked on development and testing, and got ready for the first flight, Apollo 11. This enabled him to work with computers at the forefront of technology. It was the first time a vehicle could land back on the runway, and this technology was developed during his time there. Brandli is filled with pride knowing what is going on with space now is built upon what he contributed to in the 1980s. After that, he worked with international space until the early 1990s and retired in 1994.
Along with his intensive education and career path, he raised a family. It was a joy for him to educate his children as they grew up, going through fun activities such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Since retiring in 1994, he and his wife have been living in Liberty, Texas on three and a half acres of land. Both have become active in the community through various programs, such as AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the Rotary Club, and have been part of the Texas Master Gardener program for the last 20 years.
Brandli recognizes how his agricultural background from NWSA has been beneficial for him as they educate others about “growing green” through the Texas A&M Extension office. It has all come full circle, as Brandli went from being an Aggie at the NWSA to being an Aggie as a member of Extension at Texas A&M. Brandli also worked at the local library for 20 years during story time, where he would read a book and lead a craft for young kids, who know him as “Mr. Al”.
As for hobbies, Brandli enjoys applying the skills he learned at the NWSA and practices carpentry, woodworking, gardening, and photography. He also continues to work with technology. When he was learning technology as it was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, he didn’t know how it was going to be used. He now has his iPhone, iPad, iMac, and television that allows him to access the whole world from out in the woods in southeast Texas. This past March, Brandli’s daughter and her two daughters moved in with him. It’s been a while since he has lived with so many females, and it has been a fun adjustment as they came from city living. This living arrangement allows Brandli to help them experience living in the country and learn the importance of agriculture. This is another area where he feels his life has come full circle, as he got these same learning experiences as a young man at the Northwest School of Agriculture.
Written for the Spring 2021 Torchlight e-Newsletter.