As the world remembers Betty White for the indelible mark she left on entertainment, Minnesota's St. Olaf College is remembering the time the legendary actress paid a visit to the campus and even hung around for a couple days.
Any Golden Girls fan can probably guess why she was there. St. Olaf, of course, is the name of the small (and fictional) Minnesota farming town where Rose Nyland — White's character on the hit show – grew up.
Rose's absurd, slightly loony stories about life in St. Olaf were a running gag on the series and came to define the character — so much so that the acclaimed choir from St. Olaf College, located in Northfield, got to visit the Hollywood set of Golden Girls during their 1989 West Coast tour, according to a 2012 St. Olaf Magazine article by alum Susan Hvistendahl.
It happened to be Betty White's birthday, and the choir treated the actress to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" in four-part harmony.
It must have made an impression on White, because three years later in May 1992, she returned the gesture by making a trip to St. Olaf College.
The two-day visit was a "whirlwind of activity," including a session in which White regaled the school's theater majors with stories about her acting career, Hvistendahl wrote.
Before leaving the campus, White told students that the visit had changed the way she thought about her famous Golden Girls character:
“I feel like I’ve been seeing St. Olaf from the inside. It will make a whole difference in my Rose characterization, I can assure you. I won’t be as tentative. I will be surer-footed, because you really understand where Rose is coming from, and she really is coming from your values.”
In a letter to the article's author, White remembered the trip fondly, telling the author that she was "a little apprehensive" about it at first:
Thanks so much for your nice letter. I remember my visit to St. Olaf very well. I was a little apprehensive, as I was afraid they would resent the fact that Rose wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but they couldn’t have been warmer and more welcoming. To this day I have my Uff Da cup and shirt.
I remember meeting an exchange student from Germany who told me a story that made me laugh. He said that when he told friends that he was going to go to school in America, at St. Olaf College, they would say, “Oh, Golden Girls!” He would say no, and explain that St. Olaf was a school famous for its magnificent choir! And then they’d say, “Oh, we didn’t know the Golden Girls sang!!”
Please give my regards to all on your beautiful campus, and keep up that wonderful singing.
Warmest regards, Betty
In case you're wondering about those St. Olaf stories, TV LAND has taken the liberty of compiling them all in one convenient (and hilarious) YouTube video:
White died on Friday, December 31, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday.