Michael Rustad's Memories

Requiem for a Heavy Weight:
The Humboldt-St.Vincent High School

 

Humboldt and St. Vincent originally had separate high schools. Humboldt's principal school building was built shortly after World WarI. The building had fine wooden stair cases and even a bell tower. Humboldt'sschool was marred when some brain wave decided to take out the large windowsand replace them with glass blocks with odd little windows. This changemarred the lines of the classic old building and made it rather unpleasantfor the faculty, staff and students who could not look out the window. We were told that the cell block windows were to keep our attention.

I attended grades 1-12 in the Humboldt school My firstgrade class was held in the old building. Humboldt, St. Vincent and Noyesformed a consolidated school district in the mid-1950s and built a new additionaround1957. The year after I finished the fourth grade, several elementarygrades were moved to St. Vincent's school to alleviate crowding. The Humboldt-St.Vincentschool was crowded despite an addition built in 1957. The addition containeda gymnasium with three rows of bleachers, locker rooms, stage, music practicerooms, science lab and classrooms. The addition was well done and maintainedover the years thanks to a good group of custodians: Lawrence Burton, AndyHoglin and Dan Turner among others. The community was proud of its newschool building which gave the school and community a fresh start.

The history of the last Humboldt-High school begins in1957 when the community's school reopened after a hiatus of fifteen yearsin which the high school. The reopening of the school was an important eventin our small community. During the years that the school was closed, parentshad to make other arrangements for their children's high school. It wasdifficult, for example, for Humboldt boys to participate in football orbasketball because of the long commute to Hallock making extracurricularactivities a burden.

Humboldt students attending high school during the years1941to 1956 attended high school in Pembina, Hallock, or the Northwest Schoolof Agriculture in Crookston. My Father, Rustee Rustad, and his friendLyle Clow attended the Northwest School of Agriculture which was later transformedinto a University of Minnesota branch. In the early 1940s, the NorthwestSchool of Agriculture charged a reasonable tuitition, but it was far beyondthe means of many residents of Humboldt and St. Vincent. My father earnedhis tuition by tending the furnace. Many students found it a hardship toearn the tuition for high school or to commute long distances from home.

The Northwest School taught practical skills in agriculturescience such as farm management and agronomy as well as Latin, science,mathematics, German, history, English and the other subjects. My Dad tookme back to the Northwest School and showed me the dormitory and classroombuildings. When compared to Humboldt's school, it was a most impressivecampus. Many of the buildings were fueled by coal and his job was to makecertain that the furnace did not go out.

My Dad was quite a good athlete and played basketball beforeHumboldt's school closed. He tried out for the basketball team and madethe traveling team. The Northwest School of Agriculture played a much tougherschedule than Humboldt and Dad felt proud of being on the team. He toldme that he had some sort of conflict with the coach that placed a damperon his athletic success. The Northwest School of Agriculture would playjunior colleges as well larger high schools. My Dad was always a hard workerbut not a distinguished student at Humboldt school. The more rigorous curriculumat Crookston helped to develop his academic skills.

My Dad received his high school diploma in 1942 and enlistedin the Navy. He told me that he was somewhat distracted by the War duringhis senior year and knew that he would be volunteering after receiving hisdegree. My Dad's sister, Dorothy, attended Hallock High School graduatingshortly after the war. Most of the Humboldt kids attended Hallock HighSchool. In contrast, St. Vincent children frequently attended Pembina HighSchool. In 1939, St. Vincent's High School closed. St. Vincent parentscould simply send their kids over the bridge to Pembina, a much easier trek.

The opening of the Humboldt-St Vincent-Noyes high schoolin 1957 was a major achievement for Humboldt. The opening of a then stateof the art facility and a shining new gymnasium along with a fresh slateof new teachers was a major achievement for the School Board and for thecommunity. I was in the second grade when the newly minted high schoolopened. The halls were filled with kids. There were new bus routes tobe developed. There were no sports teams the first year but Humboldt soonfielded a full array of teams.

Our first football team won every game, which was quitean achievement. Football games were played in a field near the DennisDiamond residence.

Many of the families had large families. Verne and SarahHunt, Mark and Joyce Baldwin, Bob and Dotty Boatz, Tony and Sophia Olsonawski,Andy and Joanna Olsonawski, had large families that were dynasty like. The Hunt family had at least one child for every grade, 1-12. The Baldwinswere the Kennedy family of our town, prominent but without scandals. TheDiamond family also was another prominent family from that era. The basketballteams had large numbers of players. Our "B" teams were oftencomposed of 30 or more boys broken into two units: a home and travelingsquad. There was no concept that a player interested in playing for a teamwould be cut from the squad. The vast majority of Humboldt and St. Vincentfamilies had records of raising children who achieved a great deal of professionalsuccess. The Baldwins are a prime example boasting of lawyers, professors,deans, executives, farmers, and professionals of many varieties.

The Boatz family also had its record of success with aNASA rocket scientist, prominent educator, a sales executive, bank employeeetc.

The Hunt family also had an amazing record of success withat least 12 college graduates who excelled in many fields. Ray Hunt, thelong-time and well respected Kittson County Sheriff, is the son of Verneand Sarah Hunt and at least partially a product of Humboldt school Therewere many other examples of large families where all members grew up tobe solid citizens.

My family had only four children: two boys and two girls. We felt quite jealous of some of the larger families in town. Having largenumbers of brothers and sisters meant that you were never lonely. I feltthat our family was rather undersized and used to lament that we could notfield a baseball team like the Baldwins or Hunts. It was the large andvibrant families that stimulated the rise of Humboldt-St. Vincent's school. The snake in the demographic curve was responsible for the golden age ofHumboldt-St. Vincent, 1957-1970. The school went into a slow decline from1970 to the early 1990s when the school closed.

The Minneapolis Tribune did a feature story on HumboldtSchool in 1986 because it was then the smallest school in the state andperhaps one of the smallest in the country. The decision to close the Humboldtschool was a painful one to the community. More than any other factor,the close of the school contributed to a rapid decline in the communityof Humboldt.

The present state of the building is deplorable. BethBoatz sent me a picture of a cat resting in the sill of a broken windowin the new addition near the Superintendent's Office. My 15 year old daughter,Erica and I visited the Humboldt school in the Summer of 1999. I wantedto show Erica the venue for so much of my intellectual development. Weentered the school building through the industrial arts room which we calledthe shop.

Shop class was not a happy memory for me. My first shopteacher was Rueben Ohman. Rueben was a family friend and was a gifted woodworker. Like many shop teachers, his hands were testimony to the hazardsof working with industrial machinery. Rueben or Ruby as he liked to becalled gave me a D+ in shop more as a courtesy to my parents. He was askedme how it was possible for me to have two left hands.

I detested shop class and once petitioned the school boardto take advanced math or science courses in place of industrial arts. Mypetition was summarily denied. The Humboldt curriculum was "one sizefits all." The products of my industrial art class were all mitigateddisasters. Walking through the shop, I thought of the leather purse thatI made as a project and the bread board project. My leather purse neededto be laced by a classmate who felt sorry for me in my sorry attempts tolace the purse. My bread board was composed of walnut and maple boardswhich were quite lovely if you over looked the very sloppy planing job thatleft the board lopsided. My bread board was not even close to being level. Rueben was right. I was a hopeless carpenter and had little aptitude forindustrial arts. I did learn block printing from him which was a life-longskill which saved me on many examinations.

We next visited the 6th grade classroom which I associatewith Dale Finney Miller, my favorite elementary school teacher. Dale wasan exceptional teacher with indefatigible energies. I believe that shewas the first teacher to believe that I had promise. I excelled in readingthat year and remember her outstanding course in Minnesota history. Mrs.Finney read us selections from Norse Mythology. I can still recall herstories about Thor. Our family's name was originally Thoresen so I tooka keen interest in her stories read with emotion and enthusiasm. Mrs.Finney was the perfect sixth grade teacher with the appropriate level ofdiscipline. Some of the old maps were still on the walls of the elementaryclassroom. The stuffed loon was long gone from the science room. Eachclassroom brought memories from school years but these were bittersweetbecause of the terrible condition of the school building.

As we visited each classroom, I recalled memories of thesense of energy in the Humboldt School. We visited the gymnasium whichwas quite dark and difficult to see. I had many happy memories playingbasketball and other sports in the gym.

The rope was still handing from the rafters which we usedin 7th and 8th grade class. I could never shimmy up to the rafters on therope like some of my more agile classmates. I remember hanging from myskinny arms from the rope never able to reach the top! I have writtenin earlier memory columns about the sports teams from those years. Whenvisiting the gym, I took my mind's eye back to wintry Tuesday and Fridayevenings when the Humboldt Huskies played team such as the Argyle Eagles,Lancaster Cardinals, Hallock Bears, Pembina Rockets, Stephen Tigers, KarlstadRabbits, or Badger Rockets. I can still smell the popcorn and feel theanticipation right before a big game. I can still see the bleachers fillingup with family and friends with Don Brown at the scorer's table and HaroldBorg directing the team.

I can hear the roar of the crowd cheering a John Iselyjump shot or a Richmond Cleem rebound or an athletic move by Chuck Surface. And then there were the cheerleaders, band, and the concessions stand.

The Tuesday and Friday night games drew the entire communityeven when the teams were very weak. The first basketball teams were fieldedin 1958-59 culminating in the strong teams from 1962-64. With the exceptionof the 1968-69 Huskies which was one of the strongest teams, Humboldt generallyhad losing teams. During my high school years, we generally were at ornear the bottom of the conference. We often had sockhops after the basketballgames which were the apex of our social life.

During my junior year, we received the sportsmanship awardgiven by the referees. This award was for the team that showed the mostsportsmanship during the season. I guess we were cheerful as we were trouncedby the stronger teams: Kennedy, Argyle, Hallock, Stephen. etc. In anycase, every player on our team received $2 for sportsmanship. I spent mysportsmanship money at Pearl's Inn. In those days, you could get a completemeal for under a $1.00: french fries (.25), hamburger or cheeseburger (.30)and pop (.10). Two dollars was a princely sum.

It was very difficult for me to see the gym in such a terriblecondition. The baskets had long since been removed. The stage where weperformed our class play was still intact. However, there were puddlesof water on the floor. You had to be very careful in walking through allareas of the school. The locker rooms were ransacked. There were old bannersstill on the wall celebrating the basketball team. However, it was difficultto visualize that this was the building which brought so much enjoymentto the community. The beautiful gymnasium built in 1957 with such highhopes, was in decay 42 years later.

I had similar memories going through the assembly room,speech room, library and other classrooms in the old addition. In the lastyears of the high school, the assembly room had been subdivided and muchof the character of the original building was ruined. I did enjoy visitthe home economics room and Mrs. Martha Robert's room where she taught typing. Mrs. Roberts was fond of teaching typing while playing big band music. To this day when I hear some of the big band tunes, I think of Martha Roberts. Her course in Office Practice was one of the most valuable courses in laterlife. I often attribute my finishing number 1 out of 550 in law schoolto the fact that I typed my exams. Mrs. Roberts would have been proud ofme when I typed my law exams. In law school, there is a premium on timeand having the ability to crank out 35-40 pages in 3 hours is a formidibleadvantage over handwriting an exam. I type in the vicinity of 100 wordsper minute which gave me a competitive advantage in getting materials downon paper. Given that my penmanship is doctor-like, typing examinationswas a necessity! I never received a grade above B+ from Martha Roberts. Martha helped me to get through my doctoral program at Boston College whereI also typed my comprehensive exams. Thank you Martha!

Humboldt-St. Vincent had a number of spectacular studentsover the years. We had some fine teachers: Bob Norton, Martha Roberts,Dale Finney, Roger Abelson, to name just a few. The ethos of the schoolwas serious and there was an expectation that we would attend college. Many of us did attend college. Many of my classmates outperformed in highschool. Our class had superior students who finished as National Meritscholarship finalists and semi-finalists. I was by no means anywhere nearthe top student at Humboldt.

I am now a professor of law and Director of High TechnologyLaw at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. I frequently find a wayto reminesce about growing up in Humboldt and attending school with only13 in my class. I often use argricultural examples in my sales and leasesclass to illustrate law and policy. I show my students pictures of Alvinthe beefalo that was raised by my brother-in-law Jim Moris. My book: TheConcepts and Methods of Sales, Leases and Licenses is loaded with referencesto my boyhood on the farm. This book has become somewhat of a hit amongmy law students who enjoy hearing about Humboldt: the weather, farm animals,crops, etc.

Most Easterners do not have a high opinion of the educationalinstitutions in the Upper Midwest. Many are stunned when they hear thatI was not even at the top of my class. I finished 4 out of 13! I havewritten before that I felt that the academic talent at Humboldt-St. Vincentwas very strong. Decades later, I feel that there were gaps in my earlyeducation. We did not have foreign languages, computers, or expensive scienceequipment. However, we did receive a solid foundation in the basics.

Our school's undue emphasis on speech helped me becomea strong oral advocate in law school. I received a debate scholarship incollege, skills honed in high school

We next took a tour of the elementary classrooms and sciencelab. The science lab had no equipment other than the black lab tables andfixtures for bunsen burners. I took a look in the backroom where in 1965,I kept a watchful eye on the embryo development of a turkey. My turkeyembryo project was a study which culminated in the birth of a live turkey. This science project was under the supervision of Roger Abelson. Vandalshave very destroyed some of the beautiful wood in the science lab. Thereare a few beakers and laboratory materials, but very little equipment leftin the room.

As I walked the halls of Humboldt-St. Vincent high schoolfor the last time, I thought of many memories of pep rallys, speech tournaments,basketball games, sockhops, ham suppers, and cheerleaders. During the yearsbetween 1957 and 1967, Humboldt-St. Vincent was a center of excellence. Our school was a speech and debate powerhouse for many years. We hadan excellent music department with a number of students with unusual talent: Cynthia Baldwin, Margie Clow, Cleo Wang, Garyle Stewart, Linda Stewart,Leslie Turner, to name just a few.

There was a buzz in the hallways in 1957. The reopeningof the school was a "fresh start" and the School Board was ableto hire a number of excellent new teachers. There was a sense of communityin the halls of Humboldt-St. Vincent: Purple and White, Fight!, Fight!,Fight!! The sports teams were not the center of school pride. I thinkit was the speech program, music program, and many other activities. ThePTA was one of the most active and vital organizations in the County.

The school was the center of the town. The 1960s werethe heyday of the Humboldt School. As we approach the millenium, the Humboldt-St.Vincent building has been given a death sentence. The building will nolonger be standing in the next century because it is slated for demolition.The building contains asbestos and the removal costs will be significant. Dust to dust, the school building will soon be only a memory. The deathof the school building does not signal the death of the school which isalive and well in the minds of former students, their children and theirchildren's children. Even though the town of Humboldt is now a shell ofits former self, the sense of community has a continuing vitality.

Thanks to Dennis Matthews' web site, former Humboldt-St.Vincent classmates are reestablishing ties that were long dormant. Humboldt'svirtual community is stronger than ever.

 

ontinuing vitality.

Thanks to Dennis Matthews' web site, former Humboldt-St.Vincent classmates are reestablishing ties that were long dormant. Humboldt'svirtual community is stronger than ever.