Video Credit: David Cowardin
Step in to Ron Cain’s home on Grand Avenue in Superior and he will show you volumes of newspaper clippings and historical information regarding the city’s old Central High School.
“You start with a little bit here and try to find some history and it just ballooned and mushroomed from there, out of control I might say,” said Cain, a 1961 Central graduate.
Cain will also show you pictures of former United States President Calvin Coolidge, who in 1928 used the old school as a summer refuge, earning it the nickname ‘Wisconsin’s White House.’
And he’ll show you smaller bits of information and memorabilia he has been collecting since 2004, the first year he attended an all class reunion.
“A few words and a couple howdys and you’re right back to where you were back in high school,” he said.
And if you travel about 30 miles south of Superior to rural Foxboro you will find Marlene Case, a 1954 Central graduate. She has an old desk from the school in her living room, a small table, a sandstone decoration from the building’s exterior and more than 50 bricks from its foundation. Collecting those items was her attempt to preserve the memories of her time at Central.
“That was all I could do. I wanted a piece of it, of what I could handle and what I could afford,” she said.
In 2004 their alma mater was demolished. Before the wrecking ball slammed into the side of Central’s brick and Lake Superior sandstone building, a citizen group was formed to save it.
Graduates of the school who wanted to preserve the historic building organized the group ‘Save Wisconsin’s White House.’ Case was part of that group.
“We put ads in the paper, we sent out flyers, we posted flyers, we called people, we had picket lines in front of Central, carried signs, met before the school board … tried to convince them to save it for one more year because our reunion, our first all class reunion was going to be in 2004,” she said.
According to an October 14, 2003 article in the Duluth News Tribune, the school board voted unanimously to demolish the school, a moment that led to what one Central graduate described as “a dark day for Superior.” Shelley Nelson wrote that article and many others about the issue.
“What I remember about the issue is that it actually started before they closed Central. The school district had made a promise to the city of Superior that they would either demolish the building or find someone to renovate it … the school district went to great efforts to find someone to renovate it and was not successful in that effort,” Nelson said.
And so the building was demolished and those who fought to save it felt cheated.
“People are heart-broken that their school is no longer there. But then again when they have these reunions they find out it’s the people that mattered. But they don’t have that touchstone, that place where they went to school where they have all these memories to go back to,” Nelson said.
Part of the reason Case wanted to save the building was because of the famous people who walked its halls. Calvin Coolidge, Bud Grant, Richard Bong, John F. Kennedy, Ernie Nevers, Ole Haugsrud, Bobby Specht and many more historical figures all had ties to the old school.
“When you lose bits of your past like that it can’t ever be replaced,” she said.
In a letter to the Duluth News Tribune published September 3, 2003, Arnelle Monson, a graduate of Central and member of the group to save it wrote, “We are not the throw-away generation.” She argued that if the building is demolished, the people who graduated from it could be forgotten. But seven years later, Case said that hasn’t happened yet.
“Most of us don’t let ourselves be forgotten,” she said.
Both Case and Cain are part of an all-class committee that formed a scholarship program in 2004, during the last all-class reunion. From donations and memorabilia sales, the group collected over $20,000, money that will be given to underprivileged students in Superior this year in honor of the old Central High School.
“You have to be a little bit below your A and B level to qualify for [the scholarship],” Cain said. “And there has to be a connection to Superior Central High School whether it was your parents or grandfather or somebody who went there, it gets you on the scholarship list. And it’s kind of a nice one—it’s a thousand dollar scholarship.”
Even though the all-class committee is still making efforts to honor their old school, members like Case still wish the building were there. When she comes into town and drives by the lot of land where Central once stood, she gets emotional.
“The whole thing just really tears me up,” she said. “But they made their minds up … it’s gone.”