Lakers & Indians: A Gathering

Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is celebrating the commencement of a 76th graduating class this month. As a finale to a 75th year of celebrations there will be an All-Class Reunion taking place on June 17th with tours of the newly renovated school from 1:00 – 4:00 and a party with cake and refreshments taking place at the William’s Pub Peanut Bar in Uptown to follow from 4:00 to 7:00. Spread the word and gather your friends and classmates. The Southwest Foundation is sponsoring the event and as a nonprofit fundraising organization has a limited budget for such festivities and relies upon the good work of our parents and alumni to share information.

A successful kick-off was hosted last fall, marked with an Open House for the community and alumni and featured the induction of the first seven members into the Southwest Distinguished Alumni. If you are unable to attend the events this June, mark your calendar for September 8th, when our second induction of five Distinguished Alumni will take place in a Saturday afternoon ceremony (the day after Friday night’s Homecoming game). Numerous other events; dedication of the renovated gymnasium and recognition of basketball alumni, a wrestling reunion, performance of anniversary compositions (commissioned by the SW Foundation, created by alumni composers) at the Lake Harriet band shell and a Theater Alumni gathering, as well as the publication of the first Alumni Directory in 20 years (copies available in the SW library courtesy of the Foundation for use in organizing reunions). We are a small but dedicated group of parents, teachers and alumni who receive excellent support from the school’s administration, including current principal Dr. Smith.

High School is/was such an interesting part of one’s development, a place to create lifelong friends, a location to build a foundation for the future, a locale to challenge both oneself and even authority when warranted. It was a place of frustration, fun and fitting in. We made friends, made mistakes and many made bad hair choices.

When I started at Southwest, it was a dual high school and junior high that I attended from 7th  through 12th grades. It was a neighborhood school where one only saw school buses when there was a field trip. By the time I graduated it was the first Minneapolis high school to house an English as a Second Language program (ESL) and a good portion of my classmates are Hmong, Laotian and Iranian. Unfortunately, as a new program the integration of these populations was poorly executed, with little explanation of who these new students were, where they had come from or the challenges they had faced that brought them to Minneapolis in the first place. The ESL students participated in  classes that were mostly segregated and bathrooms, the lunchroom and Media Center were our primary shared spaces. Southwest now provides education to students from literally every corner of the earth, in addition to providing Special Education opportunities to a student population with an array of educational challenges.

Once a Hockey powerhouse led by coach Dave Peterson (who went on to coach Team USA) the Minneapolis Public Schools currently field just one boys hockey team from the entire district. Soccer became a club sport during my time at Southwest and now produces quality competitive Varsity and JV teams in that area. Nordic ski is another athletic program that has seen success and our athletes access to the “chain of lakes” coupled with dedicated coaching staffs has helped produce many successful Cross Country teams over the school’s history.

The Rouser remains the school song, though it seems that sometime after my departure the band continued to play it but the students were no longer taught the lyrics. We dusted it off and included the words on the Distinguished Alumni program and sang it with accompaniment of current band members last fall. Making the event more memorable, was a ’82 Cheerleader who led the audience, resplendent with her original-issue pom-poms! Title IX has provided more athletic opportunities to girls than simply cheering on their male classmates and thus the once coveted roles are limited and perhaps viewed as old-fashioned.

While the majority of the alumni attended the school when the mascot was the Indians (a carefully chosen symbol selected by the original student body to acknowledge those who had settled the shores of the neighboring lakes) the Lakers have been the mascot since the mid-eighties when social conscience deemed that the former mascot was offensive. Like the world, Southwest has evolved and things have changed. The common denominators seem to be the Convention Grill, the Edina theater and the beloved lakes which I hope will always foster good memories and budding youth romance.

Hopefully I have triggered some memories for you of your time at Southwest, the friends you made and even a realization of how much things have changed. I encourage you to reach out to your siblings, friends and others you know who attended Southwest and make them aware of this opportunity to share some memories and make some new ones!

“When from these halls we leave the, loyal we will be. True to the purple and white.” Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

RSVP to: ellen@southwestfoundation.org

SW Reunion


Valentine Reflections

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

My husband and I are not the sort of couple that have a lot of complicated rules about “our relationship”. Seldom are there occasions that “we need to talk”. Part of it is that we are both incredibly immature for our ages and that sort of activity might seem too grown up for our liking. One rule that I do have that he has committed to memory is “no flowers on Valentines day”. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers! I just think that flowers any other day of the year are both more economical and thoughtful. The first Valentines Day after we met he was living in Mankato Minnesota and I was residing in the college town of Menomonie Wisconsin. He called me that evening when we were both done with work and after asking how each others days were and the typical small talk he sheepishly asked “so did anything arrive today?” and my answer was “No”. He had ordered flowers for me well in advance but for whatever reason they were not delivered to me and he felt horrible about it. I appreciated the gesture and I thought the flowers were lovely when they arrived the next day but I never wanted him to stress like that again on my behalf.

I’m awkward. In high school when I was home with mono over Valentine’s Day a really nice guy stopped by to see how I was doing, as he left he gave me what obviously was a Valentine and I said thanks and tossed it on the couch as I walked him toward the door. This was not some elementary school Valentine that came 30 to a box, this was a serious Hallmark card that the poor guy had selected specifically for me. It was simply too much for me to handle. I felt ambushed and though I’m sure he wasn’t expecting me to have a reciprocal card for him that was all I was familiar with to this stage. I’m not certain that I ever even acknowledged the card beyond my nonchalant toss of it. All these years later I still feel guilty for his effort and my dopey adolescent reaction.

Elementary school, that is where Valentines Day reigned supreme! There was the crafting of your mail box that was the receptacle for receipt of you Valentines, which it was mandatory for each of your classmates to give you. Paper doilies and festive construction paper (cut in heart shapes) applied with that minty scented school paste made for a beautiful creation. Lake Harriet Elementary had what was a somewhat unique tradition, an Indoor Picnic. During that era in the Minneapolis Public Schools kids went home for lunch. The majority of moms were not working outside the home and after clearing the breakfast dishes and doing some laundry  they prepared lunch for their children to come home to. I lived a half a block from school and had a 90 minute lunch period, as some of my classmates had nearly a mile to walk to their homes near Lake Calhoun. Indoor Picnics took place on Halloween, before Christmas break (yep, that’s we called it then) and Valentines Day. The day consisted of making a place mat for your desk that was suitably festive for the holiday being honored. The hallways of the school were soon fragrant with the scent of boiling hot dogs from the basement kitchen. It was a PTA fundraiser and all of the important moms were there assembling the lunches they charged a quarter for. There was the hot dog in a doughy bun that had been wrapped in a paper napkin, a bag of potato chips, a large bakery cookie and a milk or an orange drink. It was an incredibly exciting event as the class lined up to wash their hands and a PTA mom distributed the fine cuisine in their individual brown bags. It took about 10 minutes to eat those lunches, everyone was sort of in a hurry to get to the Valentine distribution. Depending on the weather we were typically required to bundle up and take a recess at this point. In retrospect, I think this was a time when the nonsmoking teachers supervised the playground while the smokers headed to the staff lounge and discussed if it might be better to just make a contribution to the PTA and have them eliminate these Indoor Picnics.

After recess was when the real fun began, the distribution “in a calm and orderly fashion” (sure, I’m in first grade and I just had lunch at school and am about to get Valentines) of the Valentine cards and any additional treats. It was just too much, boxes of chalky conversation hearts, mini boxes of Red Hots, an entire roll of cherry Lifesavers! After all of the deliveries were completed then it was time to open them and (depending on the penmanship) see who they were from. There were duplicates, homemade ones, the ones that were from the same variety pack as yours that came from Kennesaw Drugs (that you could almost see on the next block from your classroom window).

You would think that would be about all a kid could handle but then we got to head down to the gymnasium to sit on the tiled floor and watch a movie. I probably saw The Red Balloon a dozen times in that gym. For the Christmas Indoor Picnic it was an ancient black and white Twelve Days of Christmas that had music instead of audio. A silent movie that was probably about the same age as the school. Then we returned to our classroom and packed up whatever project we had created as a gift for our parents to commemorate the holiday. No math, no reading, just art and eating and still the graduation rates were higher then.

As an adult I know that a lot of people celebrate Valentines Day because of me. I have introduced several couples who have walked down the aisle and some of them have produced children of their own who participate in whatever today’s version of Valentine’s Day in school is. I am a cupid and think that for many people going through life with a companion is better than going it alone but when it comes to Valentines Day it is the small gestures and surprises that I appreciate most. Of all the days in the year it is the one that should have the least pressure but somehow creates the most.

Go easy on yourself and whether you spend this year watching the Olympics alone with a frozen pizza or get down on one knee to ask someone to spend every future Valentines Day with you, know that it is the other 364 days of the year that truly define you and not this one. I wonder how Jeff would feel if I suggested chips and boiled hotdogs for dinner tomorrow?


Why I Love the Olympics!

I have suffered a love/hate relationship with the Olympics over the years. I enjoy the back stories of the athletes and the sacrifices their families have made so they can be there. I remember the summer games of ’72 when I realized at age 9 that I was not going to be an Olympic athlete because other than SWAC t-ball and a year of tap dancing I just did not have the athletic experience or makings of a champion. It was pretty clear that living at home with my parents was also not benefiting me in the way that being selected by my government to go live with a coach in a remote region of my home country would have. It was that summer that living vicariously through Olga Korbut I knew that my destiny was not to be an Olympic athlete but rather an Olympic fan.

I may never get used to the staggering of the winter games and the summer games, I am a child of the era of presidential elections and both Olympic games sharing a common calendar, I will admit that having an Olympics every two years instead of every four does help keep the spirit alive, the torch burning so to speak. That torch is something I like to think I have passed to the next generation. My daughter asked before Christmas break if it would be possible to bring a small spare TV of ours back to college so she and her roommate could watch the games. Half way through her third year on campus without a television and it’s the Olympics that inspire her to have one. Santa brought her a TV set so during study breaks they can catch some skating, snowboarding and hopefully some hockey.

She was born six weeks after the ’92 summer games which means I carried her through the winter and summer games of that year. When she was three we bought her a blue spandex USA outfit that came with a gold medal. We referred to it as the “winner outfit” and she wore it constantly. When I am out shopping and see a kid sporting a super hero cape or a princess costume I like to get a picture and send it to her. Wearing that winner outfit everywhere makes her a kindred spirit with all other kids bold enough to publicly proclaim how they see themselves.

My son has never cared much for sports as either a fan or a participant in the traditional sense. Where I only garnered a year of tap dance experience he trained for seven years in that discipline, along with some jazz and ballet. Where Olympic athletes perform in arenas, on slopes and sheets of ice, my son performed on stage in dance, choir and theater. He too however loves the Olympics. It is the spectacle he enjoys and the fashion that he critiques. He has committed to wearing red, white and blue for the duration of Sochi. You do not have to be a traditional sports enthusiast to love the games.

My father was a gymnast, so that was something that I loved to watch growing up. As a Minnesotan I was raised with a love of hockey and my favorite sporting event is specifically the Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament. As with many other Americans an Olympic highlight of my lifetime was the USA defeat of the Soviet Union team in 1980, which paved the way for their eventual gold medal. It seems that we are often asked to recall where we were during dark moments of our countries history but to have experienced the energy and triumph of that historical event makes one hunger for that pride and enthusiasm to be felt on a national level in that way again.

The Olympics have certainly changed within my lifetime; 1972 was the last year that a gold medal was won using wooden skis, that was the year that Canada chose not to send a hockey team in protest of the communist countries using professional athletes. Changes have been made to permit the use of professionals which for me has changed some of the spirit of the games. During the introductions this year I was disappointed that so many countries were being represented by athletes that were not citizens but rather recruits or wealthy people who could afford to find a country to be the representative of.

Despite my dissatisfaction with some of the IOC decisions, as a story teller I simply love the stories of the Olympics; unexpected victories, the relationships, the memorable disappointments and the jubilation that transcends language barriers and political ideologies. I like seeing people reduced to tears by the sound of their own national anthem and have an appreciation for the pride someone feels while being wrapped in the flag of their country. So far these games have showcased the positives of international competition that is demonstrated by the embrace of competitors, when someone who has fallen short can wrap their arms around the one who has beaten them and who is for that moment in time the best in their mutually shared passion.

I am glad that I lived in an Olympic watching home growing up. I am proud that having raised my children to watch the opening and closing ceremonies (and whatever they chose in between) that it is a time honored tradition for them as well. The best lessens from the Olympics are to find something you are passionate about and pursue it and that you don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy it. Perhaps the Olympics are our reminder that we should all put on our “winner outfit” or whatever costume it is that brings us satisfaction.