Raising Kaine

How MU shaped vice-presidential nominee and graduate Tim Kaine

Table of Contents

In the summer of 1977, Tim Kaine and Marc Levinson were Summer Welcome leaders in the same orientation group.

Their lead staffer, Guy Conway, asked them, “Where do you envision yourself in five, 10, 30 years?”

“And Tim said, absolutely matter of factly, that he’s going to be president of the United States,” Levinson said. “Or, at the very least, governor of one of the 50 United States of America. And, sure enough, 30 years later, he became governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Kaine was one of 32 Summer Welcome leaders in 1977. As an orientation leader, he became friends with David Roloff and Marc Levinson. Photo courtesy of David Roloff

The other leaders in their ice-breaker group thought he was joking. Levinson, however, isn’t surprised that Kaine has been so successful, because Kaine is a “very matter-of-fact guy and a go-getter.”

“He was completely serious,” Levinson said. “He had a path set for himself early in life, and he devoted himself to public service and has stuck with it.”

MU was an important first step along Kaine’s path. Along with being a Summer Welcome leader, Kaine was a senator in the Missouri Students Association, a teaching assistant for an economics course and a member of two secret societies at MU.

“He definitely set the standard for a lot of things,” said David Roloff, who was a student coordinator during Kaine’s time as a Summer Welcome leader. “I think a lot of times, people started to follow his lead. So I think it was fantastic having him be one of the core group of orientation leaders who set the whole tone for the summer.”

Kaine graduated from MU in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He went on to earn a law degree from Harvard in 1983.

In 2006, Kaine was elected governor of Virginia. In 2013, he became a U.S. senator. And in the summer of 2016, 39 years after he was a Summer Welcome leader, he was selected to be the vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

The MU Kaine knew was shaped by the tail end of student activism movements surrounding the Vietnam War and the counterculture of the 1960s.

“In the mid-1970s, people were still wearing their hair pretty long, and there was still a fair amount of students’ activism being expressed around the exercise of student authority through things like the Missouri Students Association and the like,” said Jim Pfander, who was a TA with Kaine for the economics course. Pfander became Kaine’s roommate after they both graduated from law school years later.

In the spring of 1970, “college students spilled out of their dorms and classes and onto the Quadrangle in the wake of the Cambodian air bombing that Nixon had conducted,” said Pfander, who was a student at Hickman High School in Columbia at the time.

The shooting of students by the National Guard at Kent State University furthered the protest movements on college campuses, including MU, but the level of activism had decreased by the time Pfander and Kaine arrived.

“One way to kind of identify the end of student activism of that character is to look at the spring of 1974, which was the ‘spring of streaking,’ which became quite popular,” Pfander said. “That was right before I started school at Missouri in the fall of 1974. That suggests a certain relaxation of the student seriousness that had characterized life on the Missouri campus up till that point.”

It was in this relaxed atmosphere that Kaine started meeting his friends at MU.

Booches, or “Club LaBooche,” as Kaine called it, was Kaine’s restaurant of choice in Columbia, Roloff said during a September walk from his office in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Roloff is the director of marketing and strategic communication for the Mizzou Alumni Association.

At least once a week, Kaine and his friends would spontaneously run into each other on campus and hang out.

“That was back in the late ‘70s before there was Facebook, Snapchat and everything else,” Roloff said. “So you didn’t know where everybody was, so you became friendly with the people you came into contact on campus with. Changing classes, you’d bump into somebody and spend a couple hours at [The] Heidelberg together.”

Roloff recalls MU’s campus looking a little different than it does today. But, “Jesse Hall is pretty much the same as it was in the ‘70s.”

Roloff and Kaine had the privilege to climb to the top of Jesse Hall. Roloff, photo editor of The Maneater at the time, was doing a photo story on the dome. They walked to the north end of the top floor of Jesse where they entered through a room, which led to a spiral staircase and ladder up to the small balcony above Jesse.

David Roloff, who was photo editor of The Maneater, took Kaine with him to the top of Jesse Hall to photograph Jesse Hall’s dome. Photo courtesy of David Roloff

Roloff faced his camera toward him and Kaine, and they took a selfie atop the dome.

“So we photographed the whole thing and then it ran as a photo story in The Maneater,” Roloff said. “Even though Tim wasn’t in the photos [that ran in print], it was a fun experience to share with him.”

Before graduating from MU, Kaine put his initials in the dome as a tapped member of QEBH. In 2006, Roloff added his.

“I don’t know where his [are], but we are up there together again,” Roloff said.

On an August afternoon in Asheville, North Carolina, 93-year-old John Kuhlman attended his first political rally. Kuhlman, a former economics professor at MU, went with his wife to the rally with one goal in mind: to reunite with one out of the 40,000 students he had taught over several decades. The student who had stood out to Kuhlman during his time at MU? Tim Kaine.

Both Kaine and Pfander started their paths at MU as journalism majors. After taking Kuhlman’s introductory economics course, both changed their minds.

“Many people who sat in on his Econ 51 class found themselves drawn, as Tim and I both did, to more study in econ,” Pfander said. “So Tim and I both drifted in that direction.”

Kaine and Kuhlman had not met since Kaine graduated from MU in 1979. Kaine had gone on to become a lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, and Kuhlman had moved across the country, first to New Mexico and then North Carolina.

On that August afternoon, they met again. Kuhlman and his wife were two of the many who waited in line at the rally to take a photo with the vice-presidential candidate.

Former MU professor John Kuhlman reunited with Kaine at a campaign rally in Asheville, North Carolina, on Aug. 16. Photo courtesy of John Kuhlman

“I found myself face-to-face with Sen. Tim Kaine, and I said ‘Tim, do you know me?’" Kuhlman said in an email. “He said, ‘Yes, you are John Kuhlman.’ After 40 years, he knew me. So I had my picture taken with a future vice president of the United States.”

“At age 93, life doesn't get much better than that,” Kuhlman said.

In a recent email to Roloff, Kaine wrote about the impact his studies at MU had on him.

“My time at Mizzou was very important in forming the public servant I am today,” Kaine wrote.

Kaine’s time at MU was short — he graduated summa cum laude in three years.

“Tim really buckled down on his studies,” said Levinson, who met Kaine during their time as 1977 Summer Welcome leaders. “He wasn’t a party guy and he really concentrated strongly on hitting the books.”

Not only did Kaine devote himself to reading textbooks; he also delved into literature.

Kaine introduced Pfander to a number of authors: Dorothy Day, Robert Coles, Walker Percy, Franz Kafka and Vladimir Volkov, to name a few.

“He always had a big stack of books by his bedside, and he was always plowing through them and happy to recommend books,” Pfander said. “I think about a lot of the things that he really woke me up to in my own reading life.”

Even though he was well-read and very smart, Kaine’s friends said once you got to know him, his humility showed.

“You could tell he was extremely smart, but in the kind of way that wasn’t sort of in your face,” Roloff said. “[He was] sort of a humble kind of person. I just remember an instant liking of him.”

Not only did his peers see him as a genuine person, but so did his professors.

“Although I have no memory of specifics, he was a good student — not just in terms of his grades but also in terms of his contributions to the university community,” Kuhlman said. “I saw Tim as a good student but also as a very good human being.”

This humility served Kaine well in his involvements in campus organizations, such as Summer Welcome.

“He was just a really engaging person,” Roloff said. “He really, truly did care about people, whether if he just met you for the first time or got to know you as a really good friend. He was just one of those people who was truly interested in you. So I think a lot of the students who had him as an orientation leader got an extremely good first impression of Mizzou.”

Tim Kaine helped David Roloff found SIMA, an organization rooted in friendship. Photo courtesy of David Roloff

A few months after their Summer Welcome experience, Roloff formed a new club on campus with Kaine’s help. Roloff named it SIMA, the French word for ‘friends’ spelled backwards.

“We sold friend-o-grams for 25 cents,” Roloff said. “In the Union, you could come fill out a telegraph-looking piece of paper, write your friend a statement about how much you value them and appreciate their friendship. And then we would hand-deliver those on campus. We had guest lecturers on friendship and just taking good care of people you know and different activities through the years.”

Kaine and Roloff also spent a good deal of time in Read Hall because of their roles in student government. Kaine served as a senator for the Missouri Students Association Rules Committee, and Roloff was chairperson of the Special Events Committee. MSA was located on the second floor of Read Hall.

Roloff, Kaine and other students also spent time in the courtyard between Read and Gentry halls.

“We all took breaks and wanted to just get outside for fresh air,” Roloff said. “We would sit on these benches, which look like they haven’t been changed since the ‘70s.”

Because of his focus on academics and various roles in campus organizations, Kaine was “tapped,” or inducted, into two secret societies, Omicron Delta Kappa and QEBH.

When Kaine was not busy with academics, reading books or staying involved on campus, he was playing sports.

“A few of the things that strike me about Tim is that he’s a good athlete and he likes to play,” Pfander said. “We used to throw the football around a lot, and we used to hit golf balls and we used to hit tennis balls and, you know, all the sorts of things that people do. I don’t remember running any foot races with him, but he was always in pretty good shape.”

Above all, Kaine was known for being a respectful and altruistic friend.

“He’s the kind of guy that you miss when you don’t have enough access to him because he was an important person in my life in terms of shaping my own choices and encouraging me, by his example, to be a better, more engaged, more thoughtful, more ethical person because he did live his life at a very high level and maintained very high standards,” Pfander said. “And that has, inevitably, a tendency to shake the people around him, I think.”

Since freshman year at Rockhurst, Kaine has stayed in touch with high school friends.

Kent Immenschuh met Kaine during their freshman year at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri. Immenschuh studied at Kansas State, but they still kept their friendship alive.

“Back then, as long ago as that was, it was long-distance telephones and actual letters,” Immenschuh said. “We would write each other, and we did stay in touch."

Kaine graduated from Rockhurst High School in 1976. Photo courtesy of Rockhurst High School

During the summers of their college years, Immenschuh and Kaine would hang out as they did in high school.

After college, Immenschuh remained in the Kansas City area, while Kaine, after graduating from Harvard, moved to Virginia and the Washington, D.C. region. But they continued to communicate with each other.

A notable moment for Immenschuh was his daughter’s wedding, which was held in D.C. Immenschuh invited Kaine and his wife, Anne. Years earlier, Kaine was the best man at Immenschuh’s wedding.

“It was very fun to see two-thirds of the people there had no idea who Tim was,” Immenschuh said. “They just knew him as a friend of Kent’s. And there was a third of the group that were all from the Washington D.C. area and they were looking around like, ‘Why is Tim Kaine here? Do you know why Tim Kaine is here? Who knows Tim Kaine?’”

But Kaine was used to that, Immenschuh said.

“So they were all young Washington, D.C. professionals, and they were all pretty starstruck that Tim Kaine was in the room,” Immenschuh said. “He is the kind of guy that mixes well with all of that. With the stardom, with people not knowing who he is. It didn’t matter to him.”

Immenschuh reunited with Kaine and his wife on Oct. 14 for their Rockhurst Class of ‘76 reunion.

“I had [a] lot more time with Anne than with Tim,” Immenschuh said in an email. “There was quite a celebrity crush. About 100 of the 200 grads of the class of ‘76 made the reunion.”

Longtime friend Kent Immenschuh traveled with Kaine on the campaign trail the week of Oct. 16. Photo courtesy of Kent Immenschuh

The following week, Immenschuh joined Kaine on the campaign trail.

“I flew into Miami and met the campaign there,” Immenschuh said. “We did rallies and appearances in Miami and Palm Beach, then flew to Richmond, Virginia. The next day, we went to Hartford, Connecticut, and then to New York City."

Their friendship has spanned decades and multiple states, but it still comes down to the little things.

“We have remained close friends throughout our lives,” Immenschuh said. “It’s just always great to speak to him. We still send each other playlists and talk about sports and other things. We have become really friendly with each other’s families.”

Pfander’s kids also “think the world” of Tim Kaine. Pfander, his wife and their children once spent a weekend with Kaine and his wife at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in Richmond.

“We had just a lovely time,” Pfander said. “My children remember this with great fondness, and they’re huge Tim Kaine fans.”

Kaine stopped at the Pfander home in Evanston, Illinois, a few years later.

“[Kaine] was up on the North Shore doing his politicking, and he stopped by our house and sat at the kitchen table and just had my kids rolling, you know, telling stories and that sort of thing,” Pfander said. “They’ve been huge Kaine partisans ever since, and they’re watching the election with great affection, as am I.”

Pfander and Kaine don’t often see each other, but they still communicate by email from time to time. They usually see each other when Kaine visits Chicago, and most recently, Kaine made a campaign stop there in mid-September.

“I was able to sneak off to this event just last week and spend some time with Tim in a fairly crowded setting at a place here in Chicago where he had dropped in for just a very quick visit to say hi to supporters and that sort of thing,” Pfander said. “So that was great fun, and we got a quick opportunity to catch up and find out what the kids are up to and that sort of thing.”

Marc Levinson, who was a 1977 Summer Welcome leader with Kaine, poses for a picture with Kaine in 2010. Photo courtesy of Marc Levinson

Decades after being Summer Welcome leaders together, Levinson and Kaine finally caught up again, too.

“When he became governor of Virginia, David Roloff let me know that this was indeed the same Tim Kaine that we had gone through Summer Welcome [with] together,” Levinson said. “And I had sent him a note of congratulations, and he responded. And we have been in touch ever since.”

After reconnecting, Kaine invited Levinson and his wife to visit him at the governor’s mansion. Since then, Levinson has also met with Kaine during a few trips to the U.S. Capitol.

“He has always been extremely gracious,” Levinson said. “[He’s] one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet in your life. And should he and Secretary Clinton be elected, he will make an amazingly good vice president of the United States of America.”