A day for Dillon: Bemidji's newest school officially dedicated to Gene Dillon
BEMIDJI—Family, friends, fellow Navy veterans, and the staff and student body at Gene Dillon Elementary packed the new building's gym Wednesday to honor longtime School Board member Gene Dillon, who passed away shortly before voters approved funding for the school that now bears his name.
Interspersed with the Pledge of Allegiance and a musical number by the Bemidji High School Band, a series of sometimes-tearful speakers described Dillon as a kind man who was dedicated to his faith, his family, and to schools here and the children whose lives were shaped in them.
"If my dad were here this morning, he would be the first to say that he does not deserve this honor," Mark Dillon, one of Gene's sons, said at a podium next to a portrait of his late father during Wednesday's dedication.
"Dad, since you are present here today, this event and this magnificent school are the way that Bemidji says that they love you, they respect you, and they appreciate what you did for the children of this community for many years. And by giving this school your name, they want you to continue to influence the young people of Bemidji for generations to come."
A handful of Gene Dillon students told attendees how excited they were to be in a larger school, and for the science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) classes offered there.
Family members, staff, and students will put dozens of mementos—class photos, school T-shirts and so on—into a time capsule, which is set to be displayed near the elementary's front entrance before it's buried on the school grounds this spring.
District officials mingled afterward in the school's brand-new cafeteria. Darlene Dillon, Gene's wife, was among them.
"I thought he was a very special man," Darlene Dillon said. "I was amazed seeing how many people here, that they loved him."
The tech-laden school itself offers considerably more space for all of Bemidji Area Schools' fourth- and fifth-grade students and a sizeable chunk of its districtwide special education programming. The 870-something students there are organized into "houses," which are then split into two pairs of two classrooms each.
Former Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Jim Hess, who retired earlier this year, said the decision to name the school after Gene Dillon was easy.
"Many of us in the school district worked with a wonderful, humble leader who always wanted what was best for students," Hess said. "He coached youth sports, he served our country proudly in the Navy, and he always had time to talk about issues, especially over a piece of homemade pie at the Minnesota Nice Cafe.
"I'm proud to have known Gene Dillon and to have served with him in Bemidji Area Schools. It is most fitting that this school is named in his honor."