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Former students say farewell to Dent school

A teacher in the old Dent schoolhouse, and in the new building after it was constructed in 1963, Mignonette (Beaulieu de Hudon) Harthun was a special guest at the May 27 farewell to the Dent school. She is pictured with her daughter, Georgene Fresonke, and granddaughter, Stacey Fresonke.1 / 2
The youngest Dent student, Shelby Schlosser, was recognized along with two of the oldest Dent students at the Dent farewell. At left, Gene Stoll, and at right Delores Luedtke, who attended the school in the 1930's.2 / 2

DENT - "Don't dwell on how the Dent school ended; remember how it lived--because it really did live."

That's how Dan Nodsle, Dent resident and former Perham-Dent School Board member, bid farewell to a special school where both of his boys attended.

"Love" was that special ingredient that Dent possessed, said Nodsle, to a packed gymnasium at the farewell gathering hosted May 27. The Dent elementary school, founded in 1905, will close after this school year ends.

"All the parents, all the students, all the teachers and staff felt that love," said Nodsle, in a brief but emotional and eloquent message that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience.

Dozens of current and former staff and students came to the "Hug the School" farewell party. The crowd in the gym, which spilled out in the hallways, numbered more than 400.

"To every ending, there is a beautiful story to be told," continued Nodsle. "And that story is the great experience you had at the Dent school."

Though a newcomer to Perham-Dent, elementary Principal Kari Yates realized soon after taking the position in 2008 that there was a certain "spirit out here in Dent, and it is the people."

And many of those very people who made the Dent school and community such an uncommon place on the planet were in the building May 27 for the farewell event.

Former students, teachers and staff, some dating back to the 1930's, were asked to stand and be recognized.

One of the earliest students was Gene Stoll, who "graduated" from Dent in 1935, when the school taught grades 1-8. Another in the audience who dated to 1935 was Delores Luedtke, who is also proud to add that she has been an active part of the community, and involved with the Dent American Legion Post 148 for nearly 50 years.

Gene Stoll's family closely parallels Dent history

For Gene Stoll, the family's Dent roots run more than a century-deep. His father came in 1908. His mother was a Honer, a name synonymous with Dent, who had roots in Dent dating to the 1800's. The Stoll family's relationship with the area has continued for some 100 years with the still-family held Farmer's State Bank of Dent and Perham.

A Dent School Board member, back when grade 1-8 schools were still operated as independent school districts, Stoll served from 1959 to about 1971.

"The independent schools tried to hang together for as many years as we could," recalled Stoll, "but the handwriting really was on the wall. We just didn't have the money to provide some of the specialty classes like music and art."

It was a state mandate that finally ended the small, independent grade schools in the early 1970's. Dent merged into Perham, and Stoll's elected tenure ended as the Dent School Board dissolved.

"I have to say, though, that after we joined Perham, we were treated very well over the years by the boards and administrations," said Stoll, who added with a grin, "but Dent also reciprocated by sending some excellent athletes, great students and a few valedictorians."

Among those Dent athletes and above-average students were more than a few Stolls and Honers.

As for Gene Stoll's Dent school experiences--did he behave in class back in the 1930's?

"Well...there were a few times that the principal had to talk to my parents," recalled Stoll, somewhat reluctantly. Discipline was practiced differently 70 years ago, noted Stoll. "But needless to say, back in those days, they didn't need to talk to my parents more than twice!"

Memories shared at Dent farewell

If there were tears in Delores Luedtke's eyes as Dent school hosted its final public gathering, she hid them well. But she was definitely all smiles when she recalled her years at the Dent school during the Depression era.

"We didn't have all these computers and fancy swing sets, but I bet we had more fun," said Luedtke.

The memories for more recent alumni and parents were also sweet.

"It was like family, everybody knew each other," said Margaret Heninsley, parent of three kids who attended Dent. "Students received more one-on-one instruction here."

"I'm very proud that Dent stayed open long after other neighborhood schools were forced to close," said Sue "Honer" Von Ruden, a Dent alumna who is also a member of the Perham-Dent School Board. "I feel privileged to have spent my elementary years here."

As Superintendent Tamara Uselman noted in her remarks, all past and present students said collectively, and proudly:

"I'm so proud I went to Dent."

Teacher Mignonette Harthun, 92, a special guest at school farewell

One of the oldest living teachers at Dent school was among the guests at the farewell event May 27.

Mignonette Harthun, 92, taught for a total of 39 years--including time at country schools in the area, the Dent school and also in Perham.

A North Dakota native, Mignonette married the late George Harthun in 1943. They settled in Dent.

"I have many cherished memories of my pupils," said Mignonette. She attended the Dent farewell event with her daughter, Georgene Fresonke and granddaughter, Stacey Fresonke--both longtime Dent residents and town boosters. "I liked teaching them all."

She began her teaching career in North Dakota in 1935, after graduating from Mayville State College. She started teaching in the Dent area in 1947, teaching in country schools in Maine and Amor before beginning her teaching career with the Dent school in 1960. She first taught at the old school, and then in the new elementary school after it was built in 1963.

"Elementary students are the best ones to teach," she said with a smile. "They are really there to learn."