July 27, 2007
94-year-old Denfeld alumna recalls high
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
“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,
Most of the building looked as she remembered
“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 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
“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]
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.”