April 19, 1998
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.