The Woman Today
Marie Saltwick: Denfeld’s Uncrowned
By Paul Lundgren
In some ways, Marie Saltwick was as ordinary as
they come. She fit the mold of the classic 20th Century schoolteacher:
stern and detail-oriented, with a dry wit and that confident way
of staring down misbehaving students over the top of her glasses.
She lived in Duluth almost all of her life and
did nothing extravagant. She never had a new car. She seldom traveled.
She mowed her own lawn, even when she was eighty years old. No one
had any idea that she was a millionaire.
What people did know was that Saltwick led a life
of quiet generosity. She taught biology for forty years at Denfeld
High School, where she was always willing to put in extra time for
struggling students. At home, she cared for her older siblings and
the parents of some of her colleagues at Denfeld. She was a smart,
caring woman who wasn’t one to cause a stir.
Following her death in 2001, however, Saltwick
caused quite a stir. She had willed the majority of her unknown
fortune to the Greater Denfeld Foundation for student scholarships.
Her gift of $2.7 million allowed the foundation to up its annual
scholarship allocations from about $8,000 per year in 2000 to what
will likely be over $100,000 per year in 2005.
Because the scholarships are paid exclusively
with money earned from dividends and interest, the foundation’s
assets will remain at nearly $2.9 million, and only grow with future
donations. In the course of time, Saltwick could end up putting
more young people through college than she taught during her entire
A Humble Past
She was born in Duluth on January 20, 1908, the last of Andrew Saltwick
and Hilma Spetz’s seven children. The family lived at 4001
W. Superior St., where the West Duluth Perkins Family Restaurant
Marie’s sister Dorothy suffered from rheumatoid
arthritis and was an invalid from the time she was fourteen. Marie
was raised caring for her sister, something she did for most of
Marie graduated from Denfeld in 1925. After high
school, she attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where
she studied biology.
“There weren’t many women in science
in those days,” said Jean Endrizzi, a colleague of Saltwick’s
at Denfeld and a longtime personal friend and neighbor. “Marie
was an environmentalist. She was concerned about people’s
waste of materials and resources. Way back then, planting trees
and seeing that they were taken care of — the whole outside
environment — was exceedingly important to her.”
Saltwick received her teaching degree in 1929
and became a teacher and principle of a two-room schoolhouse between
Embarrass and Biwabik. She stayed there only one year, returning
home to Duluth to take a job at Denfeld in the fall of 1930.
During her first year at Denfeld, she taught math
and English, then switched to biology her second year. She was known
as a stern and demanding teacher who insisted that her students
perform to the best of their abilities.
“She follows a system and students learn
much,” reads the caption next to her photo in the 1958 Denfeld
Oracle, the school’s yearbook.
“Marie was very strict in her way,”
Endrizzi said. “She was demanding, but understanding. If a
kid had it, she expected him to perform. If he had lesser abilities,
she saw to it that there was a way for that kid to succeed as well.”
In the 1950s, Saltwick was one of the founders
of the Greater Denfeld Foundation, which was created in memory of
another Denfeld teacher, Lenora Snodgrass.
For many years, Saltwick also served as Denfeld’s
co-curricular activities chairperson. It was her job to check students’
grades and conduct marks to determine their eligibility for Honor
Ds, the awards given to outstanding students each year.
“In those days, the standards for getting
an Honor D were pretty exacting,” Endrizzi said. “Marie
spent hours checking students’ grades and nominations and
all those things so that the Honor D was given with great significance.
I called her ‘the uncrowned honor queen,’ because that
whole honor assembly and the attitude toward every student being
an honor student in some way was very important to her.”
Saltwick also loved to hunt and fish. “She
was little—5-foot-3, 5-foot-4 at the most—but sturdy
and strong,” Endrizzi remembers.
A Dedicated Caregiver
Marie moved to East Duluth in the late 1940s with her sisters, Alberta
and Dorothy. For many years, she cared for not only her invalid
sister, but also for the parents of her friends. When fellow Denfeld
teacher Ethel Gruetzmacher died of a heart attack, leaving an invalid
mother, Saltwick looked after the mother. When another Denfeld teacher,
Marjorie Schade, died of cancer, Marie looked after her mother as
well. “She was always a caregiver,” Endrizzi said.
Investments Provide Foundation
It’s unclear exactly how and when Saltwick accumulated her
wealth, but the general consensus is that she invested well and
was very frugal. Endrizzi said it was a stock tip from Denfeld band
teacher Lloyd Swartley that led to an investment that was likely
the key to Saltwick’s fortune.
Swartley was “quite a man with numbers and
money,” Endrizzi said. “He bought Polaroid early on
and convinced Marie to do the same. She was sharp and shrewd. She
knew how to invest and what to invest in. She knew what was going
Saltwick retired in the spring of 1971, at the
end of her fortieth year of teaching. She continued to serve on
the board of directors of the Greater Denfeld Foundation into the
Saltwick moved to Mount Royal Pines around 1991,
and shortly afterward moved to Twig House. Things had become difficult
for her to manage at home, and she was becoming forgetful. She died
of Alzheimer’s disease on January 22, 2001, at age 93.
At the time of Saltwick’s death, the Greater
Denfeld Foundation had assets of about $175,000 and gave out about
six or seven one-year scholarships each year, totaling about $8,000.
“That’s about all we could afford,” said Denfeld
Principal William Westholm. The foundation now gives out $2,000
four-year-renewable scholarships to between ten and twenty students
each year. The first recipients were members of the class of 2001.
Westholm, a 1966 Denfeld graduate, didn’t
have Saltwick for a teacher, but he remembers hearing from his friends
that she was “tough and demanding, but you really learned
biology from her. She was regarded as a top-notch teacher.”
“She loved Denfeld,
there was no doubt,” Endrizzi said. “Denfeld was the
only school that was important to her.”