Local View: From whales to weddings, fictions make life fun

From the column: "Numerous websites ... discuss whale watching in Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Ontario. Some charter-boat companies even advertise whale-watching excursions!"

Contributed photo / Dave Berger spotted and took a picture of this print of an unlikely scene hanging on this hotel room wall on the North Shore. The original painting was by James Meyer.
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Recently, I was taking a vacation with my family on the North Shore. One evening after a long day of hiking and sightseeing, I relaxed at our resort and noticed a curious painting in our condo. It was a beautiful woodblock painting by James Meyer entitled, “Whale Watching at Split Rock.” The painting depicts a person in a small boat watching a humpback whale breaching way above the surface of Lake Superior, just below Split Rock lighthouse.

I thought to myself, how can a marine salt-water mammal survive in freshwater? Well, they cannot. But that does not stop people from fantasizing about whale watching in the Great Lakes, apparently.

In fact, there are numerous websites on the internet that discuss whale watching in Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Ontario. Some charter-boat companies even advertise whale-watching excursions! One Facebook site claims to be the home of the Lake Michigan Whale Migration Station on Beaver Island in the northern section of the lake.

Such fictions make life fun.

During my career in education, I encountered many fun fictions. A few years ago, for example, I bought a T-shirt from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, featuring a large football. It read, “EVERGREEN” and “UNDEFEATED SINCE 1967.” Of course, Evergreen has never had a football team, so has not lost a game after being founded in 1967!


Contributed photo / Dave Berger got the joke immediately when he spotted this T-shirt for Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, which hasn’t had a football program since its founding in 1967.

Another of my favorite fictions is the faux University of Okoboji. It was created in 1975 by brothers who owned a clothing store in Milford, Iowa, to help increase sales. This school has an official seal that claims it was founded in 1878 in the Okoboji Lake area of northwestern Iowa. Over the years, the activities surrounding this fabricated university have grown. In addition to being able to choose from a large selection of University of Okoboji school-clothing apparel, it is also possible to take the “official” school-entrance exam online. One of my favorite tidbits is that KUOO Radio in Spirit Lake, Iowa, calls itself the official on-campus radio station and sponsors the annual football game between the University of Okoboji Fighting Phantoms and Notre Dame each Sept. 31. (September, of course, has only 30 days.)

A few months ago, two of my former students contacted me with a request to be their officiant for their marriage ceremony. The couple met in my class years ago and have been dating ever since. While I was honored to be asked to preside over the solemnization of their wedding vows, I told them I would have to do research to find out if it was legally possible.

I discovered I could become a wedding officiant if I received an ordination from a religious organization. A colleague of mine suggested the easiest path would be to get ordained by the Universal Life Church, or ULC, as he had done years ago. The ULC is the church that grants the largest number of ordinations online.

I proceeded to the ULC website and became an ordained minister in less than 10 minutes. The ULC was founded in 1962. In the last 60 years, it has ordained more than 20 million ministers, including Barbara Streisand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lady Gaga, Adele, Sir Ian McKellen — and me.

To become an officiant with the state of Minnesota, I had to file a “Certificate of Filing for Marriage Officiant” with my county. The county required that I include “Credentials of Ministry” and a letter declaring my good standing from a religious organization. The ULC provided me with both documents.

As an ordained minister with the ULC who is officially registered with the state, I am now legally allowed to preside over wedding ceremonies. This is a case where fictions are so intertwined with reality that they become non-fictions.

My former students are far from being alone in having a friend or family member serve as their wedding officiant. According to The Knot wedding-planning website (, 51% of couples had friends and family serve as their officiants in 2020, up from 37% in 2015.

On Labor Day this year I proudly officiated at a beautiful and elegant wedding ceremony for my former students at Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul.


Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for 37 years. He is now a freelance writer, wedding officiant, and a regular contributor to the News Tribune opinion page.

Dave Berger.jpg
Dave Berger

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