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In the 1939-40 Wihisean, basketball enjoyed a four-page spread while girls G.A.A. sports were covered in a two-page layout. The hoops caption reads in full “Outstanding Cagers Make Up Willmar Teams.”

Willmar notebook: History 101: ‘A gym of their own’

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Willmar notebook: History 101: ‘A gym of their own’
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

his is the time of year news organizations and morning TV look back on the year just completed. Forget that, those wounds and joys are too fresh for meaningful reflection.


Ever contrary, Willmar Notebook jumps in the “Wayback Machine” all the way to 1940.

Why 1940? That school year, 1939-40, saw the opening of the new senior high school on Minnesota Avenue. What a grand building it was then and remains today.

Also, the Class of ’40 graduated on the cusp of the Second World War. The boys would be prime material for the draft, though surely many would enlist. Of course, the girls would also serve both overseas and stateside. The next five years of their lives would be defined by events thousands of miles away. At the very least, the Winds of War would be felt on Main Street where gasoline, rubber and steel were among the necessities rationed.

But in early winter 1939, Pearl Harbor loomed two years ahead. “Nip” Teeter’s football team had finished 6-1-1 and tied Morris for the conference championship. Halfback Roger Erickson, quarterback Kenneth Bakken and guard Harold Majerus made all-conference first team.

The yearbook reported that 300 boys “took an active part” either on the “A” or “B” teams or in-school team, including a lunch-hour league.

The Cardinals, coached by George Rose, would finish 14-6 losing to Paynesville 25-20 in the district final. Their local schedule included Clara City, Kerkhoven, Olivia and Ortonville as well as the traditional West Central teams. There was also a win over St. Paul Humboldt and a loss to the Roosevelt Teddies of Minneapolis.

On Page 31 of the Wihisean there is a photo of cheerleaders Myrtle Melby and Marcella Deloney leading cheers, at a pep rally, in the new theater/gym. The headline states that “20,500 fans watch Cardinal Sports in 1939-40 season.” Since season is singular, does that mean just basketball? If so, with 10 home games in a 20-game schedule that would mean over 2,000 per game. Perhaps, that included football, too.

Still, home games were a sellout at the city auditorium only three blocks away. Just like today, it has a balcony. An action photo shows the upstairs seats filled and the main floor riser packed and more fans standing.

The new high school opened in the fall of 1939. It was married to “Old Central” to the east, now parking lot. The basement contained the old gym which became the girls gym. The caption over two pages of girls sports noted “Now girls have their own gym.” Old Central had opened in 1886.

On the pages here reproduced you may be able to read an inscription by Lois Dahl, the smiling girl “walking” the overhead ladder. “Lots of Luck to the Best music teacher I’ve ever had.” She wrote that to Thelma Hagen who would soon marry Randolph “Bud” Ellefson, a 1930 Willmar graduate. Their oldest child, Linda, would be in the first graduating class from the next new high school on Seventh Street in the spring of 1960.

I got to be friends with Bud back in the 1970s when we rented a spot for a house trailer on his farm which was near the end of the old airport runway. He’d graduated from St. Olaf but unlike his classmates at Northfield chose to become a full-time farmer.

After his death, at age 95, Bud and Thelma’s children passed on several yearbooks to me; some I have kept, the rest were passed along to the high school. Thelma, it should be noted, was also a St. Olaf grad; her Wihisean biography notes she “Directs the Vinje Choir.”

On the teacher pages is the portrait of a new instructor named William C. Hansen, an industrial arts teacher out of Stout Institute. His main interests are listed as “sports, mainly baseball, and music.” Hansen, as most readers know, would become the head football in 1945 holding that post until retirement in 1977. He’s in the first class inducted into the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame in 2002.

Also in that elite HOF group was Hattie Rosentreter, girls physical education teacher from 1927 to 1972.

The 1940 yearbook nugget says of Hattie: “Conducted the successful Play Day to which neighboring [high schools] were invited. An advocate of individual sport rather than group sports … Says that they have greater post-school value … a top ranking bowler.”

Hoops coach Rose was also “Boys Physical Education and Athletic Director.” In summer, he ran the city rec program.

A note on production: the black and white photographs are sharp and well-lighted. There’s a picture of the student photographer at her photo enlarger. “Intrepid Florence Frayseth has never failed an assignment and developed all her own pictures.” For the yearbook shots, “Florence has used a Speed Graphic.”

Florence, if you are still out there, our hat is off to you. Great job. You would be interested to know that while photographers today have every technical advantage you lacked we’re still in the same rut when it comes to football after dark.

We know what you mean when you wrote this cutline beside a photo of all-stater Harold Majerus tackling a Glenwood running back named “Lee”. Below the caption “Under the Arc [lights],” you wrote “A difficult night action football picture showing ….”

The years pass but some things stay about the same.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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