Monday, April 6, 2009

Don Emblen, Glen Coffield, and William Stafford by Kim Stafford

"How did you meet William Stafford?"

This past week, I had a chance to visit with a gentleman named Don Emblen, an old-time friend of William Stafford living in Santa Rosa, California. I asked Don how he had first met William Stafford, and he told the following story...

Don and his wife Betty were living in southern California after World War II, in a house Don had built, and one day they saw a notice in the public library for an unusual venture, the "Gruntdvig Folk School," run by Glen Coffield on the slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Don was a Navy man, and Glen had been a conscientious objector at Camp Angel on the Oregon coast, and had started Grundtvig as a place to change the world.

Don and his wife decided to take the plunge and join the cause. They rented out their house and headed for Oregon. When they arrived they were surprised to see that the house where Glen resided was an unfinished shack anchored to four huge firs that swayed in the wind, and it was cold, and there was no food. At this point, Betty realized she was pregnant, and Don announced to Glen that he was going to personally construct a room warm enough to keep his wife comfortable.

The rent money Don and Betty had brought from California was the only thing keeping Grundvit School alive, and Don felt he was entitled.

For some reason, this struck Glen, the ultimate idealist, as “soft,” and he refused to let comfort be part of the plan. Things started heating up, and eventually, Glen and Don decided they had to duke it out to settle matter. The Pacifist and the Navy man repaired to a clearing in the forest, raised their fists, looked into each other’s eyes—and burst out laughing.

Friends again, they decided to continue construction, which turned out to require scavenging from abandoned lumber camps nearby. One day they found a battered baby buggy in a camp dump, and used the flimsy chassis to drag salvaged boards up the mountain to the shack. Glen was thrilled with their success that day.

But the small party of idealists was starving. The rent money was gone, and Glen had no resources at all. Enter William Stafford, visiting his old friend Glen, and carrying a ham—a whole ham. Everyone feasted.

Don’s last memory of Glen was that the tall idealist had broken his leg, and was sitting in pain beside a sack of wheat in the remote shack, eating the kernels one by one.

Don assumed Glen had died there, until I told him no—Glen eventually headed south to the Bay Area, and ran a theater company, wrote symphonies, and continued to personally transform the world.

How many other stories of William Stafford’s life and times are waiting for us to ask a saint from those days, “How did you know this man?”

Kim Stafford


  1. Kim Stafford visited Don Emblen at the very last minute, alas. Don passed away on the morning of April 24, 2009. He will be sorely missed here in Sonoma County.

  2. Don was my first creative writing teacher, back in 1965. This must be the last public record of an event in his life.

  3. Thank you very much for writing, success