Dr. Tom Lifvendahl
Kalin J. Reed
Interviewed by Stephanie Geaslin
Sitting in a hand-built gazebo designed and constructed by himself, Dr. Tom Lifvendahl, projects calm and serenity. He calls this his favorite space in the whole house. His home and garden is a little world of tranquility.
Dr. Lifvendahl was born in the north side of Chicago, but was raised in the south end where he was very involved with the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) at his public high school. His parents were both teachers of art. His mother was a high school teacher and his father was a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. Lifvendahl discovered his own love for teaching at an early age when he instructed classes his junior and senior years at school. He also discovered competitive marksmanship. He explains, “My sport was not football, I was too small. It wasn’t baseball, I was too slow. Shooting was perfect for me.”
After graduating from high school in 1963, Lifvendahl went into the Marine Corps. He was going through boot camp when he received his draft notice. He was to be involved in the Vietnam War as a radio operator. During his time in the Corps, he saw many places, starting with California and then Okinawa where he was part of the anti-tank unit. He finally made his way to Vietnam from Okinawa. Made up of young Marines, his platoon had no idea what to expect. He recalls first getting to the shores of Vietnam, expecting to come off the boats like the films he had seen of the World War II Normandy landing. To his surprise, there was no opposition at all, “There were all these Seabees walking around in shorts, look like surfers! […] We were so embarrassed!”
Dr. Lifvendahl's service ended in 1966 after which he went to Thorton Junior College in Harvey, Illinois. Thereafter, he chose to go to a small liberal college in Rockford, Illinois, a bit removed from the protests that were happening at the time. In 1970, the day after he graduated, he married. He started working as a teacher at Oak Creek Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Then, he moved back to Chicago and started a job at an advertising agency. In 1991, Lifvendahl went back to school, this time to Northern Illinois University, for a doctorate with a cognate in Human Resource Development.
Dr. Tom Lifvendahl came to Milwaukee in 1996 because he was hired to serve as the curriculum director at the College of Business at Cardinal Stritch University. He has been working there ever since. When first looking for a home in Milwaukee, he searched for an area that resembled where he grew up in Chicago. He found Sherman Park, a neighborhood that he describes as “a welcoming community.” When he moved in, he knew he wanted to be politically active, so he went to the Sherman Park Community Association on Fond du Lac to become a member. Three years later he was on the board. He has been living in his current abode for around 15 years.