Horace May Elementary staff, students celebrate 50 years as Huskies
Hundreds of Huskies -- Horace May Elementary students and faculty -- paid tribute to the school’s 50th anniversary in the school’s gymnasium on Friday morning.
BEMIDJI — Hundreds of Huskies, Horace May Elementary students and faculty, paid tribute to the school’s 50th anniversary in the school’s gymnasium on Friday morning.
Throughout the morning, students sang songs that have become staples of the school, intently watched a video presentation on the school’s history, met some special guests including retired teachers and school board members, and capped off the celebration with an all-group photo.
Among other guests, family members of the school’s namesake had a chance to reminisce on May’s impact that remains to this day.
“You could tell that he loved kids and they remember that, too,” May’s son Terry said at the event. “He would’ve been so proud of this legacy.”
The opening stages
Born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Horace May played baseball for Minneapolis North High School and then for the Minnesota Gophers. May moved to Bemidji after World War II to teach physical education and coach Lumberjacks baseball from 1948 to 1971.
Opening in 1972, Bemidji named its newest elementary school at the time after May following his death on Sept. 10, 1971.
According to former fourth-grade teacher Max Boyer, the school’s current location was not the first pick when the district began scouting locations.
“My dad owned 280 acres just east of (the current Horace May Elementary) and if you’re at the intersection of Oak Hills Road and Highway 71 and you look east, you look out on top of a hill,” Boyer detailed. “That’s where the first Horace May was going to be.”
He added that the district acquired 20 acres from him and 20 acres from Ira Batchelder on which to build the school, but once construction plans were submitted to the state, they were denied because there were three pipelines running through the area and a school was not allowed to be built within a certain distance of a pipeline.
Such a re-route led to the school’s construction where it’s located today.
Enrollment was initially open to students in grades K-6 with staffing made up of principal Alice Otterson, 13 teachers, custodians and cooks.
“The students of the new school will come mostly from the Nary and Carr Lake schools, which will be closed after the current year and from the former Guthrie school, which was closed about two years ago,” a March 1972 issue of the Bemidji Pioneer reported during the school’s construction.
“Additional overflow students from Lincoln School in Nymore will make up the majority of the rest of the students, although a small number of students currently attending Central and J.W. Smith Schools may also attend the new school.”
The school’s “open school concept” was praised by a school facilities planning expert from the State Department of Education according to the Pioneer.
“Basically, the open school concept means that the rooms are not of conventional four walls and one door design, but rather open on two sides,” the Pioneer reported. “One side of each class area for grades 3 through 6 opens into a centrally located resource center and library while the other open side faces an adjoining classroom.”
School Superintendent Ray Witt credited the school’s design for enhancing the educational experience for students and preventing distractions from other students, visitors and activities.
“The building itself is located on a 40-acre tract of land, about a third of which is taken up by the building and playground areas. The remainder is wooded and it is possible that nature trips and hikes will be arranged in the woods,” the Pioneer reported. “The wooded setting also provides an excellent view from each room of the building.
“In the words of Witt, ‘the exterior skyline of the building is one of the cleanest I have seen.’”
Finding the school’s identity
According to the video presentation, once the school opened, the sixth-grade classes and their teachers decided the school needed its own colors and a mascot. The school voted for red and white and chose a husky for the mascot.
“The husky was chosen because of its specific character traits,” the presentation narrated. “Huskies are team players and are happy, friendly, energetic, loyal, smart, fun-loving, trustworthy, strong, hard-working dogs. These are all qualities we love to see in Horace May students.”
In 1976, the school gathered to celebrate the United States bicentennial on the newly-formed trails and learning stations that had been created with the help of the sixth graders and their teachers.
“This work empowered students and inspired many to make trails at home,” the presentation said. “In the mid-1980s, a team of teachers formed the grounds committee and began a decades-long effort to establish a 50-acre outdoor classroom which students and staff are still enjoying today.”
The school’s signature sign with its Husky logo was designed in 1995 and lasted for 28 years before a new sign was recently installed in honor of the 50th anniversary. In 1996, Robert McKeown composed the official school song “At Horace May,” which students gleefully sing each week throughout the school year.
Reflecting on several other facets of what makes Horace May what it is — its annual second-grade plays, all-school art projects and Dr. Seuss birthday celebrations — the school has certainly hosted its fair share of history throughout its semicentennial.
“You’ve helped to create a rich history at Horace May that will not be forgotten,” the presentation left off. “Congratulations on a fabulous 50 years and remember, once a Husky, always a Husky.”
Memories of May
May’s indelible impact on education was apparent throughout conversations of the morning.
Along with Terry, May’s daughters Carolyn and Nancy received special recognition ahead of the program and took in the energy that permeated the school walls.
“If he were here and wandering around, he would be in awe of everything,” Nancy said. “I think he’d be just grinning from ear to ear.”
Following in their father’s athletic footsteps, Terry, Carolyn, Nancy and May’s other son Thomas were all involved in sports and also kept alive a family affair of music.
“Terry was into wrestling and (Carolyn and I) were into golf. Thomas was in baseball,” Nancy detailed, “so we all had our thing. It was just a good childhood and I’m glad that he chose a profession that he did because he enjoyed it.”
Though May remained busy, he always made time for his loved ones.
“He had so many things going on with sports, but he always had time for us and always participated in our activities,” Carolyn said, “and he was such a good athlete himself. He put his heart and soul into coaching.”
Principal Kathy Van Wert attended Lincoln Elementary as a child and had May as a physical education teacher. She recalls May giving his students extra chances at earning their Presidential Physical Fitness Awards so that every student would eventually have one.
“I think we were only supposed to get three chances and he would say ‘do it again. I know you can do it,’” Van Wert said. “It was so encouraging. He was a great teacher and just a wonderful person.”
Over the years, Nancy mentioned that she and her siblings have received letters from former students regarding their memories of May.
Such an event to honor his memory and the school was fitting to commemorate the past 50 years and look forward to the future.
“We’re so appreciative of all the efforts and the energy put into this program,” Carolyn said. “It’s a great school, and it’s a real tribute to his memory.”