Robert Waller shares novel insights at UNI

It has been 12 years since "Bridges of Madison County" author Robert Waller has visited his alma mater. Coming back to the University of Northern Iowa stirs memories of teaching economics in Seerly Hall and interacting with students, which he deemed open and polite.

"I remember teaching in the Great Reading Room," said Waller. "The president's office used to be my office back in the day; it was a little smaller of course."

Waller was invited to UNI as part of the Presidential Lecture Series with his presentation "What the Rivers Taught Me."

Robert Waller

"Bridges of Madison County" author Robert Waller greets fans after his presentation at UNI.

Originally from Rockford, Iowa, Waller came to UNI, then known as Iowa State Teachers College, in the late 1950s where he received his B.A. in business education in 1962 and M.A. in education in 1964. He joined the UNI faculty in 1968 after getting his Ph.D. in business from Indiana University, and in 1977 became a full professor. Waller taught in UNI's College of Business Administration for more than 20 years, serving six of those years as dean.

With such an extensive background, it's a wonder how Waller had time to write his famous essays and novels. But we all know that he found time and went on to write the best-selling novel "Bridges of Madison County," which sold more than 12 million copies and was made into a major film. In addition, Waller wrote numerous novels, collections, essays and music.

"I started with personal essays, just wrote down my thoughts," said Waller.  "It was something fun for me, I wrote to relieve the stress of work and everyday life."

Inspiration for his nature-filled romantic work came from the places he traveled to and the songs that played in his head.

"I would have ideas and images that just wouldn't go away," said Waller. "The key is to get out there, get out there and see the images."

A passion that has followed Waller from the classroom to his now simple life is economics. It's a subject he feels UNI students should be aware of and it's a theme readers can find hidden in the plot of his novels.

"Economics prepares us for the issues that face us today," said Waller. "Not everything can be done for everyone, everywhere all the time. It's the notion of scarcity."

That "notion of scarcity" leads Waller to live his life around the value of small increments.

"I got to where I am today by taking small steps and working hard," said Waller. "I remember studying for a test while getting my Ph.D. The test was in August; I started studying the December before. I did a little bit each day. Test day came; I was calm and actually kind of excited. Some of my classmates were so nervous they passed out, but I got through it. I passed that test because I worked hard and studied in small increments."

Working hard is something Waller still does to this day. The itinerary for his visit to UNI was packed with presentations, meetings with students and organizations and tours of campus. But, don't think he doesn't find time to relax. In his down time, Waller can be found on his farm in the Texas Hill Country. He'll be standing by the river fly-fishing as he ponders, "What the Rivers Taught Me."