Denfeld News

April 19, 1998
Duluth Budgeteer News

Dell Daedo's successes were built one brick at a time
By Dick Palmer

He was a young boy with a mission and a responsibility. His mother directed him to be the janitor of the local family church in Greysolon Farms. He also kept the church wood stove going so the water didn’t freeze. For that, he earned 25 cents per week wages but his mother made him put that quarter into the collection basket every Sunday morning.

He was almost out of high school before two teachers pushed him toward a lifetime career that influenced thousands of people.

Dell Daedo was born on May 17, 1909 in Vancouver, Canada. His grandparents and father immigrated to America in the 1880s from an oppressed Germany and settled in Duluth.

When Dell’s father Rudolph was 18, he left Duluth to seek his fortune in Alaska. He accumulated some money and started a restaurant with a partner who turned out to be wanted by the Canadian Mounties. Rudolph terminated that partnership quickly, sold the restaurant and, with $20,000 in his pocket, returned to the United States, settling in Everett, Wash., where he became a salesman for the United Cigar Co.

He met a nice girl by the name of Opal, married her, and in due time Dell entered the scene as their first and only child.

The family went back to Canada and returned to Everett when Dell was about 6 months old. There just wasn’t time for lasting friendships. They then moved to California and Dell has some vague memories of that interlude. The year was 1914 and dad became the manager of a hotel in the Riverside area right on the beach. Dell was only 5 years old, but he remembers watching Charlie Chaplin making silent movies and some of the classics featuring the French Foreign Legion.

Opal always wanted Dell to become a doctor. He didn’t, of course, but he is notably credited for “saving plenty of lives” throughout his 40-year tenure in education.

Dell’s grandparents remained in Duluth throughout his early years and, in 1918, the family returned to Duluth for a visit. The war in Europe was nearing an end, but Dell’s vivid memory of his early days in Duluth was the 1918 fire that devastated the area. He also remembers Armistice Day celebrations.

Rudolph agreed to stay on in Duluth and Dell attended Cobb Elementary School. He developed a word problem that carried on throughout his life. If he could not pronounce a word, he would choose another word to get his point across. In later years, his students would applaud when he graciously managed to escape embarrassment by changing a word to make his point.

In those early days in Duluth, the Daedo family moved to a developing settlement called Greysolon Farms. Rudolph bought a house on cedar posts, 20 ft. by 20 ft. There was no well and no electricity. For the next several years, kerosene lamps, plenty of wood cutting and chores galore kept Opal and Dell busy. Rudolph was out and about earning a living selling magazines, but he was never really successful in Duluth. It was a different environment altogether and a fast talking salesman had his hands full in conservative northeastern Minnesota.

In 1923, Dell entered the ninth grade at Duluth Central. At first, those memories were clouded with frustration and some bitterness. For one thing, he lived out in the country and most of the kids he attended Cobb School with didn’t continue on to high school. Central posed a loneliness that had followed him through most of his early life. He didn’t like school at all, although he loved literature and history. As a loner, he went to the neighborhood library as often as possible.

For the first three years at Central, he did as little as possible; the days were long and the nights longer. He really was a good student but it wasn’t until his senior year that he found that out for himself.

Central teachers Mr. Bergum and Mr. Wilkins saw to that. They recognized Dell’s talents and continually complimented him on his work. Dell was properly motivated and his grades improved considerably.

He graduated from Duluth Central in 1927. Mom hoped to borrow some money on an insurance policy to send him on to college. The insurance people said Dell had a high school education and that was sufficient. They turned her down.

Dell worked for a while at the Duluth Showcase Co. in West Duluth, the predecessor of Coolerator, earning 35 cents per hour. The job didn’t last long and he was laid off on the promise of being recalled. That never happened.

He worked some for his dad and got involved in a state-sponsored drama program. His confidence began to build and he decided to enroll at Duluth Normal School (the predecessor of Duluth State Teachers’ College and UMD). Tuition was $3 per quarter.

He continued to work part-time for his dad and attend school, and when the Minnesota Legislature allowed Duluth Normal to become a four-year school, Dell accepted the challenge. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in education.

Of course, jobs were scarce during the Great Depression. Dell had met Verna Davidson at college and she was the girl for him, but marriage was out of the question without a job.

Verna had a job in teaching, but Dell was sick with ulcers and ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for treatment. He eventually returned to Duluth, and, after a period of frustration, something finally happened.

James F. Taylor, the legendary principal at Denfeld High School, needed someone to monitor an all-day Friday study hall. Dell took the job and earned $5 per week. It wasn’t much, but he was desperate. Taylor liked Dell and invited him to attend faculty meetings.

At one such meeting, Taylor announced that he needed an ancient history teacher and there were none available in the area. Dell volunteered and began earning $25 per week. Still, marriage was not on the horizon because Rudolph drowned while fishing and left nothing for Dell’s mother.

When it was contract renewal time, Dell’s salary was set at $1,020 per year. He and Verna were married on June 10, 1935 in Hibbing. She had to quit her teaching job, because in those days only one job per family was allowed in teaching. Dell’s mother lived with the newlyweds in a Duluth apartment.

Dell took graduate courses at the University of Minnesota and taught a number of high school courses including ancient history, literature, personal efficiency and economic sociology.

Mr. Wiener, the assistant superintendent of schools, gave Dell a job teaching summer school at Central and he shortly became summer school superintendent. Taylor also wanted Dell to become assistant principal at Denfeld but he didn’t have a master’s degree, so he was named dean of boys until he was able to qualify, and was then appointed assistant principal.

Dell remained at Denfeld until June of 1945, when he was asked to become principal at Washington Junior High School.

In 1948, Dell returned to Denfeld as principal. He remained principal until 1963 and then became director of secondary education for the Duluth Board of Education. Following a heart attack in 1972, he retired. His wife Verna was also ill and for the next few years, medical concerns dominated Dell’s once active life.

He and Verna purchased a home in Sun City and enjoyed ten years together in their retirement home. After 54 years of marriage, Verna passed away in 1989.

Today, Dell has a deep affection for the Lakeshore Lutheran Home and St. Ann’s where Verna’s mother and Dell’s mother spent their final days, respectively.

For a few years, Dell lived alone in Sun City and returned to Duluth in the summers, staying at UMD. He met Marjorie Jonasson in 1990. She was a widow and visited a girlfriend in Sun City during the winter months, returning to Boise, Idaho during the summer. Marjorie was an elected county treasurer who retired after 20 years of uninterrupted service. They were married in 1992, retaining residences in Arizona and Idaho. They are members of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Sun City.

Dell was a past president of the Rotary Club of Duluth, a board member of the Duluth Community Fund, and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, Duluth Council of Churches, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and the Red Cross Council. He also taught men’s Bible study for 25 years.

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