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WHAT'S IN A NAME: Bemidji elementary school names honor 3 men

A longtime superintendent, a baseball coach and a school board member inspired the names of three elementary schools in the Bemidji Area School District.

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A longtime superintendent, a baseball coach and a school board member inspired the names of three elementary schools in the Bemidji Area School District.
Pioneer photos
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Editor's note: This is part of a 20-story series titled "What's in a name?" completed by Pioneer reporters for our 2022 Annual Report. Read more of the section by clicking the embed at the bottom of this article.

A longtime superintendent, a baseball coach and a school board member inspired the names of three elementary schools in the Bemidji Area School District.

James Wilford Smith became principal at what’s sometimes referred to as the “old-old” high school, which burned down in 1921 during his tenure. He went on to become superintendent for the district where he held the position for around 30 years.

J.W. Smith Elementary, one of seven elementary schools, was constructed in 1956 and dedicated to the long-term administrator who died in the 1960s.

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J.W. Smith Elementary School honors a longtime principal and superintendent.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Horace May played baseball for Minneapolis North High School, then played for the Minnesota Gophers. May moved to Bemidji after World War II to teach physical education and coach Lumberjacks baseball.

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In 1972, Bemidji named its newest elementary school at the time after May following his death.

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J.W. Smith Elementary School honors a longtime principal and superintendent.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

As the newest school in the district, longtime school board member Gene Dillon’s commitment to Bemidji Area Schools led to the construction and dedication of Gene Dillon Elementary in 2018, shortly after Dillon passed away.

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Gene Dillon
Contributed

"Many of us in the school district worked with a wonderful, humble leader who always wanted what was best for students," former superintendent Jim Hess said during the dedication as reported in the Pioneer. "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."

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Gene Dillon Elementary, Bemidji's newest school, opened in 2021 and was named for a former school board member.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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