St. Louis Park Public Schools wrapped up its 125th anniversary year with community celebration June 13.
A flier for the program announced the district began in 1890, although the St. Louis Park Historical Society’s website states that the first official meeting to organize the district took place in 1888.
Jeanne Andersen with the St. Louis Park Historical Society said the district’s Lincoln School had been built in 1889, so the first class to complete a year there would have attended in 1890. The district did not offer four-year high school courses until 1899.
Supt. Rob Metz focused on the future of the district during a speech at the St. Louis Park High School auditorium while former Assistant Supt. Bob Ramsey joked, “I’m the ghost of St. Louis Park’s past.”
As he did at the Class of 2016 graduation – St. Louis Park High School’s 117th commencement exercises – Metz recalled alumni from the 1970s and 1980s discussing the talent of famous graduates from their era at an event last month featuring Class of 1971 alum Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times.
“I jumped in and said, ‘Hey, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Metz said.
He noted he has been the superintendent for about three years after serving as high school principal for six years.
“Over the last nine years, I’ve seen many, many super-talented young people come through this system,” Metz said.
He said he told the alumni attending the Friedman speech that recent graduates simply haven’t had time to establish themselves.
“When they grow up they’re going to add to that list, and we are definitely going to have to get a bigger display case,” Metz said to applause. “This year’s kindergartners are further along than any year I’ve been here, so I can tell you the best is yet to come.
“There are a lot of great families in St. Louis Park, a lot of talented children, really good kids. And I see the next 125 years being every bit as positive as the last 125 years. We’re in a good spot at the right time. It’s really exciting to be a part of the St. Louis Park School District.”
When his turn came, Ramsey said that he is not quite old enough to have witnessed all 125 years of the district’s history.
“I know some people who say I read the Bible just to reminisce,” he joked.
He has been on and off the payroll of the district for nearly 50 years and worked with eight superintendents.
“I remember enough to know that the St. Louis Park schools have been a powerful force for good in this community for 125 years, and I’ve seen a lot of the history,” Ramsey said.
He recalled when the district had so many students that it contained 11 elementary schools and two junior high schools along with the senior high school.
“I remember opening a lot of schools, but I remember closing a lot of schools,” Ramsey said. “Opening is better.”
He related a story about a dispute over whether female teachers could wear pantsuits in the 1970s.
“It took the whole brain trust of the St. Louis Park School District to come up with a solution,” Ramsey said.
He also remembered the days when the district created a smoking lounge for high school students before eventually banning smoking on campus.
“The smoking lounge was a bad idea,” he said.
He related other memorable moments, including a resistance to calling snow days and a story of a student who missed the bus and walked the entire bus route because he did not know how else to reach the school. He also recalled having to pass out certificates to lay off teachers. One teacher at Susan Lindgren Elementary School took off running so Ramsey could not deliver the certificate.
“Fortunately, many of them were rehired and completed their careers here,” Ramsey said.
One year, the district took a three-week winter break because of the nation’s energy crisis.
Ramsey said he remembers many tragedies and triumphs big and small, but through it all the district provided a theme of educational excellence.
“Everywhere you go, you can find testimonials to the St. Louis Park schools,” Ramsey said, adding that a woman the previous week thanked him for the quality of education her son received at the school even though Ramsey has been retired for about 20 years.
“We grew up in a very special community, and I think we all have done well because of that educational system,” Ramsey said. “How many times in your lifetime in St. Louis Park have you heard someone say the reason we moved here was because of the schools?”
The district has given students memories and dreams while grounding them and providing them with important qualities that they may forget they even have, he said.
“St. Louis Park schools have been a game-changing, life-changing force for generations of students,” Ramsey said. “Great schools do a little more.”
The St. Louis Park Community Band wrapped up the community celebration with a concert that included the “St. Louis Park High School Fight Song,” “The White Plume” – a John Philip Sousa march dating back to the mid-1880s – and “Stars and Stripes Forever,” another Sousa tune that dates back to 1896.
The program featured historical marches, patriotic selections, songs representing Jewish heritage – like “Eine Kleine Yiddishe Ragmusik” – and highlights from the ragtime and jazz eras, according to the flier for the celebration.
At a St. Louis Park School Board meeting that followed the celebration, St. Louis Park Historical Society President Ted Ekkers noted the St. Louis Park Fire Department would celebrate its 100th anniversary the following day.
Of such milestones, Ekkers said, “They’re great ways to engage the public in history, and I think studying history is how we get perspective on issues we’re facing today. … Sharing this history is a way to get people to realize the importance of their city.”
To learn more about the district, visit slpschools.org.
Information about the St. Louis Park Historical Society is available at slphistory.org.
Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]