A wild guess

Alumnus N. Marbury Efimenco translates his political science degrees and a career in foreign service into a fellowship for international relations graduate students

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In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, a young man of modest means from upstate New York was looking for an affordable university situated someplace where he could get work to pay his way. Fortunately for future political science students, he found the University of Minnesota.

Three degrees (all in political science, all from the U of M) later, he launched an academic career teaching international relations, which led to a career in the U.S. foreign service, to stints in India, Germany, and Foggy Bottom, and to published reports that he was a CIA agent (he says no).

This summer, that young man, N. Marbury Efimenco, turned 93. From his home in the District of Columbia, where he has lived in retirement since 1976, Efimenco reminisced about an interesting life, credited his U of M education with getting him launched, and backed that gratitude with a multi-million-dollar fellowship gift to help political science graduate students who are interested in international relations.

A life of travel

Efimenco had never been to Minnesota before enrolling at the University as a freshman. He received a B.A. in political science in 1937, followed by an M.A. in 1938. While he was teaching at the Twin Cities campus during his graduate school years, Efimenco became friendly with another young graduate student/instructor named Hubert H. Humphrey Jr. Humphrey often prevailed on Efimenco to cover some of his classroom obligations so the future Minneapolis mayor, U.S. senator and vice president could speak to party groups and civic organizations.

Efimenco worked on Humphrey's first campaign for office, when he narrowly lost his bid to be mayor of Minneapolis in 1943. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1942, Efimenco moved on to a career in teaching. First he taught at Lake Forest College outside Chicago, then at the University of Michigan, where he specialized in international relations with a particular interest in the Middle East. During his Michigan years, research took Efimenco to the Middle East for a year, living for months in tents and mud huts in the Kurdish regions on the Iraq-Iran border, to Baghdad, and down to Oman and Saudi Arabia.

(No longer living with the bounds of a diplomatic role, Efimenco says that the Bush administration policy in Iraq has been "utterly insane." He favors a loose federation among the regions dominated by each of Iraq's three main population groups--Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. "The Ottomans had it about right," he says, referring to the arrangement that prevailed in the centuries before World War I.)

After his Mideastern adventure, Efimenco says, "I just came to the point where I had had enough of lecturing on the theoretical, abstract aspects of international relations. I decided that probably I should be out in the field, taking on the practical aspects. So I joined the Foreign Service."

Originally assigned to Iran, which would have fit in well with his academic specialty, Efimenco at the last minute was sent to the city in India then referred to in the United States as Bombay (now generally Mumbai). As a cultural affairs officer at the Bombay consulate, Efimenco arranged a tour for jazz great Dave Brubeck and his combo around areas of India that had never heard a lick of jazz (and he got to tour with the band).

His assignment was cultural relations, but Efimenco got involved in a couple of cloak-and-dagger adventures, one involving a Chinese defector, which led to rumors that he was a covert agent. One Bombay publication that sought to identify U.S. spies listed him as a CIA operative. He says he never worked for the agency.

His second foreign posting was to the U.S. embassy in the Indian capital of New Delhi. This was early in the Vietnam period, and Efimenco's assignment often required him to speak to Indian groups about U.S. policy there. It was a tough sell, he recalls. Most Indians opposed the growing U.S. military role in Southeast Asia, but his audiences listened and expressed their views politely, which contrasted with what he saw from antiwar protesters on his visits back to the States.

Efimenco's last two foreign postings were to Hamburg and Bonn, Germany. He was in Bonn when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and recalls being moved by the long line of young Germans who materialized outside the consulate, holding candles. His last assignment, based at the State Department's headquarters in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood known as Foggy Bottom, was to recruit African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and especially Native Americans into the Foreign Service. (His State Department supervisors had trouble believing how little interest he found on Native American reservations in a career representing the U.S. government overseas, he says.)

Choosing Minnesota again

Efimenco retired from federal employment in 1975 and has engaged in a bit of political work since. Because of some (smart and lucky) real estate investments he made decades ago, he found himself with a substantial net worth. He and his late wife, Theodora (Teddy), had no children. He spent some time "thinking about what to do with the money."

It came down to a choice between the University of Michigan, where he did most of his teaching, and the University of Minnesota, where he did most of his learning. "I decided that Minnesota had given me a great boost," he says. Recalling programs given by famous artists on campus, symphony concerts, and the Gopher football team--three-time national champions during his undergraduate years--he chose Minnesota for his bequest, just as he had chosen it for his college years way back in the Depression.

Efimenco has contributed more than $1 million over recent years to the N. Marbury Efimenco Graduate Fellowships and established a bequest of several million more. Eleven Effimenco Scholars have been named since 2000, allowing these graduate students to concentrate on international relations research--the area Efimenco himself has spent a lifetime studying, learning, teaching, and living.

Looking back through all those years to that time when he was looking for a promising place to work his way through college, what was it that made Efimenco come to Minnesota, a school and a state he had never even visited? The question gives him a moment's pause, then he replies: "A wild guess."

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on November 14, 2008 12:32 PM.

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