Denfeld News

May 26, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

When 3 high schools become 2 in Duluth, what will they be called?
Opinon by Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board

The fuse was lit a little less than a month ago. Students had gotten together to talk about the day Duluth’s three high schools would become two. They worried, understandably, about losing their school identities and what might become of their colors and mascots when Central closes and East moves into a new building.

Should Denfeld undergo change, too? The question was asked.

Denfeld freshman Holly Lind was among those who immediately answered: “We don’t want to go down without a fight,” she declared.

When the question was asked again a day later at, the fuse reached powder and the issue exploded. “In a two-public-high school system,” our online poll queried, “should Denfeld change its name and colors?”

While far from the most pressing issue related to the red plan, what to eventually name Duluth’s surviving high schools demands consideration and discussions that promise to drip with emotion. The issue cuts at the way we see ourselves and how we identify our community. Few other red plan decisions will be as personal.

So should Central’s proud past be allowed to fade into history? What about Ordean’s? East’s? Denfeld’s?

Tough questions.

But there’s one clear answer. With respect to history and with an eye on uniting — rather than further dividing — Duluth, our newly expanded western high school could continue to be called Denfeld and our new eastern high school Ordean.

There’d be no east then, or west.

Just one Duluth. With two high schools, their names paying tribute to the pioneers who set aside land for learning and laid a solid foundation for quality education.

Albert L. Ordean was just 26 when he arrived in Duluth in 1882. He founded Merchants National Bank, was head of First National Bank, was director of Great Northern Railroad, had lumber interests and organized Stone-Ordean-Wells, a wholesale grocery.

He also bought the land where Ordean Middle School now stands at 40th Avenue East and Superior Street, snatching it up after Northland Country Club laid out six holes there but then abandoned the design.

Ordean donated the land to the city for recreational purposes, and the site was long known as Ordean Field. When Ordean died in 1928, at age 72, he left money to the city for recreational equipment at the field bearing his name. The city built a stadium and field house and, in 1954, transferred the land to the school district. Ordean Junior High School opened in 1956.

The site can forever bear the Ordean name as a lasting tribute to his generosity and his role in developing early Duluth.

Just as the Denfeld site can always boast the Denfeld name in honor of Robert Eduard Denfeld, Duluth’s schools superintendent for 31 years, from 1885 to 1916. Duluth’s impressive growth during the era saw seven schools become 34 and Denfeld earn a statewide and a national reputation as a visionary educator.

He opened the first night school in Minnesota and started the state’s first free-textbook system. In 1907, he was appointed to the state school board and was elected its president.

On the national stage, he was secretary, and later president, of the National Education Association. In retirement, he traveled the country, lecturing about educational innovations.

Support to preserve and celebrate the legacies of Denfeld and Ordean in no way is meant to suggest the histories, traditions and accomplishments of Central and East be spurned. East can bring its hockey and other trophies, memorabilia and keepsakes to its new campus. Space can be found for a display. Histories can be written, including athletic, academic and other achievements.

Central’s rich history already is being preserved in the “1890s Classroom,” a space on the first floor of Old Central filled with knee-length cheerleader skirts, bolt-down desks, yearbooks and other artifacts. No reason additional items couldn’t be saved and displayed from Central’s final campus.

The past reminds us who we are and where we’ve been. Its value is in its lessons. Duluth’s surviving high schools can be symbols of where we’re going, their names not only a tribute to history but also beacons into a future Duluth that no longer is divided east from west.

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