Denfeld News

July 31, 2009
Duluth Budgeteer News

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 loyal.

“Denfeld Hunters
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 donations accepted).

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 home.

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 inductees.

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.”

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