Denfeld News

July 27, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

94-year-old Denfeld alumna recalls high school history
By Sarah Horner

History was made at Denfeld High School this week.

Elna DeHarpporte, the school’s oldest known living female graduate, stopped by her alma mater with family members for a tour Thursday afternoon.

There could be older graduates still alive, but at 94, Elna is the oldest female the Denfeld Alumni Association has been able to reach.

“I think there were about seven older in our database, but all of the listings were out of service or disconnected when I called them,” said Joe Vukelich, a teacher at Denfeld who often leads alumni on tours. “Elna is by far the oldest graduate I’ve led on a personal tour.”

A 96-year-old man from Arlington, Va., is the oldest male graduate the association has been able to reach.

DeHarpporte, who graduated from the school in 1931, arrived with two of her three children, a few grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After graduating from Denfeld, DeHarpporte moved to the Twin Cities, where she lives today.

A wheelchair was on hand in case Elna got tired during the tour, but she walked while her two great-grandchildren played with the chair.

Vukelich led the tour, stopping first at the Denfeld Auditorium.

“I can see myself walking down that aisle,” DeHarpporte said about graduating in the auditorium. “I didn’t have family here, but I had some good friends.”

Joy DeHarpporte, Elna’s daughter-in-law, said Elna lost both of her parents when she was 9. She lived with a family near Denfeld and worked for room and board.

“She eventually found her own place so she could stay at Denfeld,” she said.

Elna DeHarpporte joked about doing stretches on the stage for a class with a girlfriend, which eventually led to whistles by some boys and a teacher shooing them away.

“She has a great memory,” said Michelle McCurdy, Elna’s granddaughter. “She always remembers everyone’s birthdays; she still bakes and she does crossword puzzles all the time.”

Elna DeHarpporte pointed out where she thought her locker used to be and told stories about pep rallies and getting good grades, except in typing class, because she was too nervous, she said.

Most of the building looked as she remembered it.

“Except the new addition, and the football field, I don’t remember the fence around the football field. But I suppose you can’t expect everything to look the same,” she said.

She even gave a rendition of the Denfeld fight song after a luncheon in her honor in the cafeteria.

“She used to make us sing that every time we drove up north,” said her son Jim DeHarpporte. “Even her grandchildren know that song.”

In the cafeteria, Elna was presented with an honorary “D” pin for Denfeld and got a chance to look at her old yearbook.

“That’s me,” she said, pointing at her picture. “I think I washed my hair that day.”

The tour ended at the clock tower. Vukelich said the staircase is filled with signatures of past graduates. Elna was too tired to walk up and sign her own name, but her family walked up and signed in her honor.

Elna, who was originally named Elina but changed it when people kept mispronouncing it, wanted to make sure the signature was the same as it was back in her high school days.

“Write Elina,” she said.


[The News Tribune published this follow-up story on August 3, 2007]

Getting older

Since the Duluth News Tribune ran a story July 27 on one of Denfeld High School’s oldest known graduates taking a tour of the school, several older graduates have come forward.

Ninety-four-year-old Elna DeHarpporte of St. Paul was featured in the story.

“The article is really helping us find some of our missing old-timers,” says Paul Lundgren, one of the Denfeld Alumni Association’s board members. E-mails and phone calls from other graduates so far have bumped DeHarpporte back to the No. 7 spot on the list.

“Our database is kind of sketchy because, well frankly, it’s kind of hard to keep track of over 25,000 people,” Lundgren says. “So, we can never really say for sure who the oldest graduate is. But announcing who we think are the oldest known graduates is helping us sort out the records a bit, which is nice.”

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