July 31, 2009
Denfeld celebrates history, graduates
By Jana Peterson
The back of Joe Vukelich’s T-shirt tells
the true story of a high school whose graduates are exceptionally
Young and Old
Will Forever Be
Maroon and Gold.”
On Saturday, Aug. 1, Denfeld students, alumni,
friends and family will celebrate two things: 100 years of a high
school in West Duluth and the remarkable people who make up the
Denfeld Hall of Fame.
They’ll celebrate past and present inductees
to the Hall of Fame from 2 to 4 p.m. in a ceremony in the school
auditorium, then, Saturday night, they’ll boogie to music
from the 1940s to today during an all-class dance in the Denfeld
gym from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Both events are free to the public (with
However, early Tuesday afternoon, several members
of the Denfeld Alumni Association were still taking care of some
last-minute details for Saturday’s ceremony.
“We want to do it right this time, so people
will say — when it happens again — that it’s a
great event to go to,” said board member Dick Swanson, class
of 1966. (Swanson is joined on the board by men and women from every
decade from the ’40s to the 2000s.)
While the board has selected 10 alumni to enter
the Hall Saturday, in its first hall of fame ceremony, the group
is also making good to the previous 29 inductees by introducing
them (or a representative) and giving each one a plaque to take
Another plaque will remain at the school, and will eventually hang
on a wall to be named after the renovation work is complete, likely
2012. Those plaques display the name, photo, class and a short biography
of each hall of fame member.
Vukelich, who graduated from Denfeld in 1977,
revels in the details of the coming event, from the stories that
he will tell about long-ago graduates like Wally Smith to the surprise
he has planned for Saturday’s ceremony.
“All I can tell is that it will take place
right here,” he says to the other board members, pointing
to a spot at the center of the stage. With the exception of Swanson,
who is in on the secret, the others have no idea what their president
has been planning.
It will be the most elaborate Denfeld Hall of
Fame celebration ever, as well as its most diverse class of new
That’s because the first two classes inducted
into the Denfeld Hall of Fame — in 1966 and 1970 — were
all males and all athletes or coaches. The third class, in 1996,
included female athletes and several school administrators. This
year’s Hall of Fame inductees are male and female, athletes
and business people, teachers and philanthropists.
“We wanted to broaden the criteria,”
said Anna Montgomery, class of 1979.
They selected 10 people from a list of 146 recommendations,
on the basis of criteria such as professional accomplishments, military
record, community involvement and philanthropy.
“There are people [on the list] who lived
like they were making $5,000 a year, then left millions to the school
when they died,” Swanson said. “Other people, in the
business world, have taken their education and accomplished a lot.”
Some of those people even mention Denfeld teachers
when sharing their success story.
“[David] Karpeles listed three teachers
that taught him how to organize,” Vukelich said, referring
to the 1952 graduate who said money he made selling real estate
made it possible for him to follow his passion for collecting historical
documents (which now fill nine museums). “Apparently that
whole organization thing worked out well for him.”