The Haunting History in Foss Center’s Halls
Sarah Burke, features editor
When David Lapakko opened his mailbox one morning in 1983, he had no idea that he would receive a letter implying that he was damned to hell.
Lapakko, a Communications professor at Augsburg, was living with his now-wife Helen in their home in St. Paul when they received an anonymous letter. This letter threatened that God did not approve of them living together before marriage and it seemed to imply he and his wife were going to hell. The couple was shaken by the unsolicited letter.
“It was spooky because when you went out the door the next day you kind of wondered if there was going to be someone there waiting for you. It made our dwelling feel very unsafe.”
According to Lapakko, the St. Paul newspaper had a section detailing marriage applications in Ramsey and Hennepin county in which he and his wife were mentioned. Below their names was the address that they shared in St. Paul. That may be how the writer had gotten their home address and known they had been living together prior to getting married.
Though it can not be completely proven, it is assumed the writer was Elroy Stock, a former Augsburg student who had taken to writing anonymous letters to people who he believed weren’t acting in a way God intended. There were hundreds of recipients, one even being the former Augsburg President Charles Anderson, who has mentioned to the Washington Post that his letter involved his Black daughter-in-law.
The Washington Post notes that many of his comments noted Scripture as to why interracial marriage was ungodly, such as, “Satan is on a rampage to destroy God’s races,” and “A dog breeder would not think of producing mongrel dogs, so why should the human race be mongrel?”
Elroy Stock attended Augsburg University before working for West Publishing Co.. He donated $500,000 dollars to Augsburg in order to build a place to house the Communications and Drama departments, in which one wing would be named after him. After Augsburg found out about the letters, they removed his name from the building. Though Stock attempted to sue the university, the only remnants of Elroy Stock’s financial contribution lay in the singular plaque hidden near the TV room.
Now, it is a common joke within the Communications department that the “ghost” of Elroy Stock still lingers in hopes of achieving vengeance for removing his name from the Communications wing. Though this ghost conspiracy is taken lightly, Communications professor Bob Groven reminds us that the racism displayed by Stock is far from light-hearted.
“As we discuss Elroy Stock and how to deal with the plaque, we must be careful not to minimize Stock’s racism or the hurt he caused. Stories of his ghost are only a way to remind people that although Elroy Stock is dead his brand of bigotry is very much alive. And any discussion of how Augsburg deals with the Stock plaque must be seen in the broader context of racism in America, both past and current.”
We may laugh when the lights flicker on and off, joking that old Elroy is at it again, but we need to acknowledge that this silly ghost story is rooted in the true story of a man who firmly believed in spreading hate. His plaque is a reminder of how we continue to grapple with a past that is inherently racist and hateful and try to move past these fear-mongering ideologies. This ghost story represents a reckoning with a history that continues to haunt us many years later.
https://mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive//ctapun/0204/1673.htm –info on court case
https://www.sctimes.com/story/opinion/2015/12/17/all-kinds-hatred-can-haunt-hurt/77428686/–someone’s personal experience receiving letter
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