By Rita Maisel
This story began when Darryl Dahl was going through some old papers at the farm where he is the fourth generation planting and harvesting crops. This land had been his great-grandfather’s and more recently owned by a great-aunt, Louise Dahl. I only knew Louise after she had moved to the Osnabrock home but did remember she had been interested in a lot of things so was not surprised when Darryl brought in some of the treasures he had found. Included was a formal printed invitation in elegant fonts inviting “Yourself and friends to be present at the First Commencement Exercises of the Milton High School at the Opera House Friday Evening, June the second, nineteen hundred and eleven, at eight thirty o’clock”.
With current classes preparing to graduate next month the 1911 invitation seemed a perfect story about a long ago graduation. With apologies to the Milton Centennial Book Committee, many of whom were Milton High School graduates themselves, it appears this invitation and some other programs Louise had saved did not surface when the committee was compiling their excellent book. I do know from personal experience that compiling graduation lists (after another school fire) involved piecing together saved souvenirs, reading various versions of old newspapers and asking many questions with a wide variety of answers. The completeness of this invitation indicates it is genuine even though the listing of Milton graduates in the centennial book begins with the year 1914. General information is that high school at Milton was initially only two years beginning in 1889 and more advanced courses were added when teachers with additional training were available. Alex Falconer, B. E. Groom, a young man later known as Judge Grimson, Joseph Powells and others are remembered as “educated teachers”.
My guess is there was a commencement exercise for Milton High School that year, and quite possibly some of the people receiving diplomas went on to college while others took up area teaching jobs, began businesses or possibly got married. Here are the details of that 1911 event. Baccalaureate was held May 28 at the M. E. Church at 8 p.m. with Rev. G. H. Richardson speaking. He was also pastor at that church. Latin must have been a subject offered because the class motto was “Calamitas eis uibus accepit” which might just translate to something involving a calamity so maybe it is just as well we don’t know the meaning. Class colors were purple and gold and the class flower, the American Beauty rose.
Graduates listed are Inga Marie Koppang, Lloyd Vincent Reilly, Mabel Gudrun Dahl, James Walter Taylor, Blanche Mildred Green, Rolf Halfdan Prom, Minnie Gunhilda Welo, Herbert Conrod Axvig, Gladys Lenore Helgesen and Iver Musgjerd. These are relatively familiar names: a carpenter named Koppang had built at least one Milton school, Lloyd Reilly was the son of the postmaster, we think Blanche Green married the son of a Langdon lawyer, Rolf Prom’s father was a banker, Minnie Welo married Marvin Green, Herb Axvig and Gladys Helgesen were son and daughter of political men and most of them have family histories in the centennial book.
The faculty listed in the program included R.M. Proust, principal and coach of the boys and girls basketball teams, a football team, an oratorial team and director of class plays from 1909-1916. Other faculty were Lenna M. Styles, Ida Rudd, Wanda Cooper (grades three and four and music) and Christine Richmond. The spelling of their names changed slightly in other parts of the history book. The Board of Education included Gustav Breeke, W. E. Dahl, Christ Ofstedahl, W. J. Leaf and R. B. Laing. The school put out an annual in 1910, and the centennial book includes pictures of teams from this era that the book committee could not identify.
It is possible that the 1911 date was a misprint and should have read 1912 because another of Louise’s programs is from a Milton High School play given March 25, 1912, along with students who might have been underclassmen. At the 1912 performance the orchestra performed four numbers: “Irish Colors March,” “Overture Le Diademe,” “Over the Waves Waltz”, and “Under the Double Eagle March” vaguely remembered as Kaiser Wilhelm’s national anthem until World War I when his armies were our enemies, and the song was withdrawn from concerts in America.
The school history in the Milton book is a bit vague about some of the years because. as the school and its reputation grew, a smaller school was replaced by a larger one, and the larger one burned April 7, 1919. There are a few names which sound like Milton residents in the Langdon High School graduation lists, with one of the most notable that of Marguerite McKay (later Mrs. Bird) who came to Langdon to work for her room and board and complete high school. As it happened a cyclone hit Langdon in May of 1909 causing her to miss her final exams so she did not get her diploma until 1910. Historians have much appreciated her story of the cyclone and visiting with her in person years later.
One of the interesting details about the 1912 class play program and another program for a 1914 performance is that both events list Kathleen McLaurin, Lucille Reilly, Laurie Sunderland, Merle Walsh and Violet Watson as not only cast members but the 1914 graduates “of the first four-year class”. There are some additional programs from class plays in the material Darryl brought in, and one is a play presented in 1917. The cast of characters included Karl Plain, Minnie Campbell, Gladys Livingston, Lela Sunderland, Valerie Peterson, Tordis Dahl, David McCullough, Vincent Sweeney, Orland Tollefson, Gordon Tollefson, Orval Greer, Joe, McCulloch (spelling from the program) and Paul Prom.
While the centennial book lists no graduates in 1917, Louise had saved a program from commencement exercises held at the Opera House on June 7, 1917. Listed on the program were the invocation by Rev. J. Aarthun (Lutheran pastor), salutatory by Ruth Green, a duet by Mrs. Gustuson and Miss Wilkins, oration by David McCullough, a reading by Lela Sunderland, an essay by Tordis A. Dahl, the class history and prophecy by Gladys Livingston, the valedictory by Gudrun Ottem, a solo by Mr. B. Prom, the presentation of diplomas by Mr. H. E. Qualheim and the benediction by Rev. J. Bendelow (Presbyterian pastor). Rev. Bendelow and his family were relatively new immigrants from Aberdeen, Scotland, and served several years in Milton where his daughter, Olive, met and married Ben Eagelson. In later years Olive lived in Langdon.
The commencement program for yet another Milton High School class had been saved from the graduation held Friday, June 5, 1925, at possibly a newly constructed Star Theatre which still functions for community events like the summer children’s theatre presentations. The graduates include some people readers will recall so we want to include their information as well.
The program opened with an invocation was by Rev. R. Johnston followed by the salutatory by Harris Berg, the commencement address by W. M. Wemett, the valedictory by Nina Dahl, selected songs by a high school trio and special numbers “Bells of the Sea” and “The Wind at Night” by the high school Girl’s Glee Club. L. A. Christianson presented the diplomas. Receiving those diplomas were Gilsi Halldorson, Minnie Ehrhardt, Sigrid Olgeirson, Irvin Olson, Nina Dahl, Victor Ofstedahl, Percy Johnson, Tommy Plain, William Wild, Margaret Grimson, Allie Mathiason, Harold Sunderland, Anna Jonason, Myrtle Johannason, Pearl Throndset, Marian Paulson and Harris Berg. The 1925 class colors were old rose and grey, the class flower was the rose, and the class motto (no translation needed) was T0-DAY DECIDES TO-MORROW.
By 1925 there were active high schools in Osnabrock, Langdon, Hannah, Munich, Cavalier, Park River and Nekoma. The Halldorson, Olgeirson, and Johannason names on the Milton list indicate some students might have come from Mountain or Gardar. Marian Paulson came from the Concrete area, and others might have been from Osnabrock Township whose high school was known to be a two-year school. Marian Paulson went on to study teaching but continued to sing as well and by the 1930s had been hired to teach at Langdon, a school whose board minutes reflect the economy of the depression where teachers did not get raises and seemed to take a reduction in salary each year. Nevertheless, Marian met her husband in Langdon and is remembered for many years in Langdon choirs and hundreds of students who met her as Mrs. Hamilton.
The family stories were delightful, and I hope readers did find the names of people they remembered or would like to learn more about. Currently there are several students at Langdon Area High School who have noticeable Milton roots as well as shared long ago history. Special thanks to Darryl for sharing the information and to Louise, no longer with us, for keeping the long ago programs.