The roots of Denfeld High School in West Duluth

Looking across the street from the new Laura Macarthur Elementary School, you will see an old, worn-out, forgotten looking building. This building has had a long history in the Duluth school system and was originally known as Denfeld’s first high school. Back in 1905, the only high school in West Duluth was located in the Irving Elementary School. The older students were given one floor that was called Duluth’s Industrial High School.  The school was supposed to have many different kinds of classes offered to the students.

“I took every subject I could because you never know when you’re older what you’ll need,” Mary Wassen said, a student at Denfeld in 1909.

The high school’s main goal was to gain credibility through its offered classes.

“Part of the reason why the class was so small was that West Duluth and the city were skeptical that the school was fully accredited to send students to college,” Denfeld High School Social Studies teacher Joe Vukolich said.

Robert E. Denfeld memorial plaque

According to Vukelich, the school had to repeatedly reassure its quality to the community to gain students.

The one floor industrial school lasted until 1915 when the Duluth industrial plant boom started increasing the number of high school students in the area.

Denfeld High School on North Central Avenue opened its doors to students on September 11, 1915.  When the new school opened, the community decided to name it after Robert E. Denfeld, the retiring superintendent at the time.

Robert Denfeld had been the superintendent for 31 years and watched Duluth grow from seven schools to 34. Vukelich states that Denfeld’s two greatest accomplishments were “opening the first night school and starting the first free textbook system in Minnesota.”

A memorandum plaque hangs on the wall at the current high school on 44 Avenue West and Fourth Street.

Denfeld High School is different than most other Minnesota schools because of its name.

“Virtually every high school in Minnesota is named after the city it is located in,” Vukelich said. “If not, then it is probably name after a president like Lincoln or Jefferson. Denfeld High School and its nickname have been unique from its birth.”

The nickname, “The Hunters” and team mascot of Denfeld is named after Walter Hunting. Hunting served as a coach to many Denfeld teams over the years. He coached football, basketball, baseball, and golf.

Vukelich said that Hunting coached for 28 years winning as many as 14 city championships, having six undefeated teams, and five state championships with a winning percentage close to 70%.

Denfeld and Hunting built the foundation for the Denfeld High School of today in the building of the past. The original 1915 school building across the street from Laura Macarthur Elementary is old but not forgotten.

A timeline of Denfeld's history can be found here.

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