PERHAM – The most impactful tribute to history in the new ultra-modern high school here is a giant photo of young football players. They were the starting 11 on the 1934 Perham team and they provide inspiration to everyone who stands in front of them, quietly looks up into their faces and ponders what they accomplished.
Their football team was pretty good: six wins, two losses. But their deeds after high school make them especially memorable.
Bill Durrenberger became a two-star Army Major General, serving in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. His brother, Bob Durrenberger, was a major in the Army Air Corp during WWII and received a PhD from UCLA in climatology. Paul Feyerheisen, another two-star Army Major General, oversaw construction of the first telephone and telegram communications between Burma and China. Jim Doll, a team captain, won a $1,000 grand prize in a national essay contest in high school, became a Notre Dame grad, a research scientist and a priest who is buried at Notre Dame. Bud Morganroth, who served in the Navy during WWII, was one of the boys who bought black and yellow jackets prior to a basketball game in the 1934-35 season; from that time on, Perham athletic teams have been known as the Yellowjackets. Phil Stoll was a Navy pilot who flew bombing missions over Japan. On one mission his bomber was badly damaged but he skimmed the water back to his base and earned the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross. George Rasmussen was scheduled to go on leave from the Navy in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, to meet his parents and wife in California. That morning, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and George remains entombed in the USS Arizona.
The photo of the boys has one word superimposed on it: Service. Their names are listed underneath, along with this line linked to the movie Dead Poets Society: “Live extraordinary lives, make your time on earth matter to those you encounter.”
The longest-living of the 11 boys died in 2012. But their photo provides a tremendous link between long-ago history in this town of 3,5000 people in Otter Tail County and the students who now inhabit their new showplace high school. When it opened last fall, it replaced a 101-year-old building where generations of Perham kids, including the boys of 1934, were educated. Voters approved the $45 million project in November 2015, which included renovations of the elementary and middle schools.
“You get the chance once every 100 years to build a high school in Perham,” said superintendent Mitch Anderson. “We’re pretty happy with what we’ve got.”
One of the major sporting events on the school calendar took place Saturday when seven basketball games were held in the school’s new gymnasium – known as The Hive -- as part of the Breakdown Crossover Classic. To call it a gym, however, seems to fall short; it’s an arena, complete with a large scoreboard hanging above center court and scoreboards in every corner. Natural light flows through large windows and fans watch from all four sides of the court. With seats for 2,400, it is large yet intimate.
The Hive is decorated with a honeycomb theme. There are honeycomb patterns inside the free throw lanes, on each baseline and even on the ceilings underneath the entrances to The Hive. Everywhere you look, you see something special.
A running/walking track circles The Hive above the seating areas. There are large photo displays of Perham athletics through the years on the walls behind the end zones. The original plans called for those walls to be covered by black acoustic panels, but creative thinking led to the photos. They are remarkable and inspiring.
Links to community support are also highly visible. On the corners of the basketball court are logos for KLN Family Brands and Sanford/Perham Health. Ads on the scoreboards include Bremer Bank, Arvig, Grandstay Hotel & Suites, BHH Partners, United Community Insurance and Perham Family Dentistry.
A wrestling room and fitness center are located on the second level, just off the running/walking track. In further proof that no details were overlooked, there is a
pole vault box in the gym floor that can be used when spring weather is a question.
The academic areas of the school are equally impressive, with cutting-edge technology, quiet study areas for small groups, and everything a teacher or student would need.
The Career Tech Center, which includes computer-controlled mills, lathes, plasma cutters, laser engravers and 3-D printers, is the home of a student-run business called Jacket Manufacturing. With support from area businesses such as Kitmasters, Lund Boats and KLN Family Brands, students create and sell a variety of products. Jacket Manufacturing gives students hands-on training and work experience, with expected outcomes of employment after high school.
The long-range planning for the new school actually began 25 years ago, when the old school was remodeled for the final time.
“(The school board) knew it was kind of a band-aid fix,” Anderson said. “About 15 years ago the school board bought the land where the new school is, so this has kind of been in the works. That’s really been a blessing for us because the location has never been in question.”
In 2014 school board members started holding serious discussions about what the future should hold. A community task force was formed to study the options, which included remodeling the old high school once more. When the referendum was passed in 2015, 4,249 votes were cast and the new school was approved by a margin of 89 votes.
When the school year began last fall, everything was new.
“It’s been a lot of excitement and it’s really carried on over the last couple of years, with the design plans and watching it get constructed,” Anderson said. “It was a mad scramble to get into it this summer, but we hit the ground running. We’ve been in the building long enough now that we can look back and ask if we could have done anything differently. And I don’t think there’s any looking back and certainly no regrets.”
Somewhere, the boys of 1934 are beaming with pride at what their hometown has accomplished.--See a photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook page.--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.