March 11, 2007
restored to ’20s elegance
By Matthew R. Perrine
Like all good Denfeld graduates, Joe Vukelich loves his alma
mater — so much, in fact, that he’s been there for the
last 18 years.
“It’s just a given when you go here
that your brothers or sisters had fun here, your parents had fun
when they were here and you just look forward to it,” said
the government, economics and world history teacher, estimating
that at least a quarter of the school’s staff once roamed
its majestic halls as students.
The Budgeteer caught up with the class of ’77
graduate, who penned the book “Come Back Home: A History of
Denfeld High School” in 1995, to talk about the school’s
legendary auditorium, which is in the final stages of a costly 10-month-long
“You go in and you’re thinking, It
all looks just … clear. You can tell it’s been dusted,
painted and spruced up,” Vukelich said of the project that
covered everything from a new roof and polished-up chandeliers to
new curtains and a fresh paint job.
He said those involved did a “good job”
of returning the auditorium to the grand splendor it enjoyed during
the ’20s and ’30s.
Built in 1926 with the rest of the school, the
$25,000 auditorium would go on to host a slew of national names,
including — but definitely not limited to — Johnny Cash,
Richard Nixon, Liberace, Ed Sullivan, Andy Griffith (in the Broadway
play “No Time for Sergeants”), Nat King Cole, the Grand
Ole Opry, Johnny Mathis and Jesse Ventura, Vukelich joked, “when
he was popular.”
“We didn’t so much as ‘get them’
as it was one of the only available places for a star to come —
and big enough to sit enough people,” he said, explaining
that the DECC wasn’t built until 1967, leaving pretty much
only Denfeld Auditorium and the Armory to play host.
Vukelich also said that Denfeld’s auditorium
was built on the corner of 44th Avenue West and Fourth Street so
it would be easily accessible to the public.
Along with the school’s domineering bell
tower, Vukelich said the auditorium is a must-see stop on every
tour he gives there.
“It’s like going to England and not
going to London,” he joked.
One particular tour, with the class of ’53,
effectively illustrates the love affair between the school’s
former inhabitants and its de facto landmark.
“I went to open the door and let everybody
in, and one woman, Barbara Humphrey, came scooting through,”
Vukelich said. “She just ran up onstage, threw her arms out
and her head back and twirled around. She said, ‘I’ve
waited so many years to come back here and do this.’
“Those types of things are not an exception.
That’s pretty typical of people with the tower and the auditorium.
They love seeing it. They never get tired of it.”
Unfortunately for this year’s graduating
class, the only event they’ll enjoy in the auditorium is graduation.
They missed out on the lavish makeup the auditorium traditionally
gets during Maroon and Gold Day (the Friday of homecoming week).
As expected, the seniors grumbled about being
the only class to have to celebrate that special event in the school’s
“Nobody could say, with a straight face,
that not being in the auditorium was OK,” Vukelich admitted.
“You can’t replace a venue like that.
“Other schools might have (special events)
at the DECC, but we don’t want to leave. It’s like,
‘Hello, we’ve got the auditorium.’”
He said one of its main draws is its ability to
create an “aura of class.”
As such, he struggled to pick a favorite aspect
of the 1,900-seater.
“It’s like having four children: Which
one do you love better?” Vukelich said. “The pipe organ
is amazing. It’s got pipes that go all the way up the side
of the stage. That’s like a story and a half of pipes behind
there. When that pipe organ is being played, it’s just gorgeous,
and you can even feel it.
“It just reverberates with such power.”
Grand reopening celebration to feature
A grand reopening celebration for the Denfeld
Auditorium will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17.
The show, “On the Silver Screen,”
will feature music from classic films performed by the Arrowhead
Chorale and the Denfeld Concert Choir and Solid Gold Show Choir.
Cost is $12. For more information, call 628-4863
or visit www.denfeldalumni.com.
Dr. Stanley R. Wold, who is conducting the Arrowhead
Chorale, said the night’s performance wasn’t originally
intended as a grand reopening celebration.
“Arrowhead Chorale was aware that the Denfeld
Auditorium would be completed near the proposed concert date, so
we ‘took a gamble’ that it would be completed,”
he said via e-mail from Miami, where he is attending the national
convention of the American Choral Directors Association. “...
The (Denfeld) alumni association contacted us to discuss their festivities
and we thought it was a great idea.”
For those who won’t be able to attend the
program at Denfeld, it will also be performed by Arrowhead Chorale
at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16, at UMD’s Weber Music Hall.