Every school has a history and West Duluth’s Denfeld High School is no different. Joe Vukelich, a social studies teacher at Denfeld High accomplished a vast amount of research on the history of the school. He was so enthralled with the history he even wrote a book titled Come Back Home: A History of Denfeld High School. With Vukelich and his research’s help here is a timeline of some of the interesting events at Denfeld High School up until the 90s.
1904 The Irving Elementary School West Duluth houses students’ first high school allowing grades nine through 12 to have one floor to themselves. They called it Duluth Industrial High School with its first graduating class of 16 graduates. Mrs. Mary Wassen from the graduating class of 1909 stated that she “took every subject I could because you never know when you’re older what you’ll need.”
1913 The class of 25 created their first school yearbook titled “The Oracle”. One of the essays in the article was “Why a girl should not be compelled to study physics”.
1915 Denfeld High School opened a new school building for its students on North Central Avenue on September 15 of this year. The school was named after Robert E. Denfeld who was the superintendent for the last 31 years.
1924 The freshman class elected an African American student William Johnson to be the class president. This was an interesting feat considering it took another 30 years before the U.S Supreme Court officially integrated schools.
1926 The construction of the Denfeld High School building on West Fourth Street was finished and the students moved into the school that still is being used as Denfeld High today
1927 Denfeld hired Walt Hunting as the new football team coach. Hunting coached football, basketball, baseball, and golf. Vukelich says that he 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%.
1928 High Schoolers pull their first known prank by going downtown and painting Central’s cannon. Vukelich describes how Principal Taylor “summoned an all-school chapel…walked out on stage and stood there for a long, uncomfortable period of time saying nothing and looking at them sternly.” He then goes on to say that Taylor unexpectedly broke into a smile and said “’don’t do it again” and everyone was dismissed.
1932 Police were hired to protect the downtown cannon from Denfeld pranksters this year. At midnight they were somehow able to distract the guards and painted “Denfeld 25 Central 0” on the cannon. Vukelich reports that it took workers three hours to remove the paint and Denfeld High School was charged $5 for the labor.
1939 Wally Smith makes the varsity football team as a ninth grader. In an article in the Duluth News Tribune coach hunting wrote, “He was the greatest running back ever in these parts.” After four years of playing Smith scored 48 touchdowns in 31 games. Wally Smith is still to this day known as one of Denfeld’s greatest football players.
1946 A group of girls were expelled for wearing blue jeans to school.
1956 Denfeld Alumni raised over $4,000 holding an alumni football fundraiser to help Frank Puglisi, an assistant football coach. The money was needed for his twin sons with a handicap sickness of “high emotionalism”. The former high school students banded together drawing in a crowd of about 4,000 and raised enough money to keep Puglisi’s kids in the school that was helping them improve their conditions.
1986 The biggest Denfeld hockey moment came when the team first qualified for its long awaited first State Tournament. The hockey team held a 20-7 season record and won third place in the tournament.
More on Denfeld’s history.