History and Tradition

  • Information was taken from the 1986 Centennial Booklet written by Mary Margaret French Frank, Class of 1930.
    special thanks to Mrs. Rita West for her determination and dedication to creating this history site.

    First Quarter Century

    The first quarter century (1881-1911) - The first schools in Grand Forks began as small frame buildings with long benches and desks, inadequate for a growing town. By 1881 the population was over 3000, with nearly 500 children of school age. The county board of education purchased land on North Fourth Street and authorized the construction of Central School. Built at a cost of $26,000, it had eight rooms and was said to be the finest school in Dakota. In October, 1882, the children from the little old school house and the newly formed high school classes, which had been meeting in the council chambers, picked up their books and marched in line into the fine new quarters, where each would have a desk of his own. For more information on the city of Grand Forks in this era click early facts.

    The next years additions were made; wings on the north and south ends and a rather large structure with a tower, extending out to Fifth Street.

    Ten students were organized into the first high school class in 1881. Mrs. Louise Kaufman was their teacher and principal. Another teacher was Molly Aldrich. For their excellent work the teachers were paid $40.00 a month. The superintendent was paid twice that sum, and the janitor, half of it. The first graduating class , of 1887, which once had ten members, dwindled to two: Emma Oldham and Mary Parsons. (See early graduations.)

    The yearbook, FORX, was first published in 1911. It contains a remarkable record of each of the early classes. It was an amusing and valuable historical document but such a financial disaster that it was nine years before another yearbook could be issued.

    Several noteworthy graduates of these early years include James TurnerEdna TwamleyTom CampbellKenneth Hyslop, and Alice Hunter.

    Great rivalry and betting existed between the boys Debating Society, later called the 'Eclectic', and the girls Minerva Literary Society. Vera Kelsey, the 1909 class historian describes these early days of student life in several books including "Red River Flows North."

    Superintendent James Nelson Kelly is remembered for his 'Red Lectures'. Miss Jennie Allen and William C. Stebbins are noteworthy faculty and administrators.

    Statistics reveal that at the end of June 1910, the population of Grand Forks was 12,500. Enrollment in the public schools was 2,656. There were 70 teachers in the system, 16 of them and three special teachers in the high school. The school had three laboratories. It offered music, art, and manual training as well as academic subjects.

    Second Quarter Century

    The second quarter century (1911-1936) - Grand Forks continued to grow. The Court House was built. The Northern Packing Company and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator began. Many ordinary mortals could afford to buy Model T Fords and even finer cars, though most students and teachers still walked to school or rode the street cars.

    World War I and the flu epidemic were tragic events. The 1936 FORX records, "During the War the students organized to sew, knit, and make convalescent benches for the Red Cross. Due to the influenza epidemic, the superintendent declared a three months vacation from school in the fall of 1918."

    But to the young people, the really important happenings were the construction of Central High School and later, the gymnasium.

    The 1936 Golden Jubilee FORX reviewed the previous classes. These histories are compact and businesslike; they list officers and representative students, basketball and football scores, plays, clubs, parties. They give a brief account of events of each year, especially achievements in sports, declamation, and music. The names of many of the students are familiar in Grand Forks; Miles Landers, Arthur Nygaard, Joseph Bridston, Harold Boe, Blanche Warnken, Lloyde Thompson, Richard Blain, Glenn Jarrett, Grace Colburn, James Rice, Brooks Baukol. Valedictorians for the years 1921, 1923, and 1924 were Duane Squires, Alden Squires, and Emily Squires, the first of the six brothers and sisters to graduate from Central.

    Some noteworthy graduates of this time period include Elroy SchroederRichard BlackRonald Davies, and Orville Blackstad.

    During this time many fine teachers entered the system, to serve the school for years and years. Especially remembered are Mary McCumber and C.K. Baarman.

    Continuing the tradition of the old debating societies were D.O.E. and Eclectic. The Junior Play was a big event each year. It was often given in the Metropolitan Theater. Beginning in 1924, Dorothy Zimmerman was the director.

    The Centralian was first published on May 23, 1923, and radio activities abounded. The YWCA and YMCA were two lively organizations.

    These are the years that brought the transition from silent films to the talkies. And dating during the depression took a new twist. Roosevelt's New Deal provided "an opportunity for a general redecoration program. It marked the addition of modern equipment such as stage sets and additional library facilities."

    Third Quarter Century

    The third quarter century (1936-1961) - In 1937, old Central school had to go in order to make room for the new building, which is described in detail in the book, Centralia., Central now filled a whole block, with hallways and tunnels connecting all the parts. Of greatest interest and importance was the auditorium.

    Then World War II happened. The Forx yearbooks for several years devoted big sections to Central's contribution to national defense.

    Student life changed after the War. In 1947-48 Homecoming became an important autumn celebration once more. A Homecoming queen had been chosen for the first time in 1941, and then the custom dropped because of the War. But Queen Elaine Behl changed all that in 1947. 1948-49 brought many firsts including Latin, French and Spanish Clubs, National Honor Society, Camera Club, Home Economics for boys, and Drivers' Training. The Girl's Athletic Association issued monograms to ten girls, who were now allowed to buy letter sweaters. Girls could swim in the YMCA pool.

    In 1959, Korekiyo Terada, from Japan, became the first foreign exchange student.

    Beginning in 1957 the Grand Forks Air Force Base, fifteen miles west town added new dimensions to the community and new students to the public schools. When the first part of Schroeder Junior High School opened in 1960, the Central building no longer had to be shared with seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. It became a true senior high school. Off and on through the years to follow, 9th graders have attended Central.

    Students Ray BostromJohn NorbyGloria TharaldsonPeggy Hanson Stewart, and Sylvia Snyder Lehmanshare their memories.

    Beulah Bomstead, and Dwight Sherwood are two of the noteworthy faculty. Special editions of 1961 and 1982 Centralians honor many other faculty and administrators.

    Fourth Quarter Century

    The fourth quarter century (1961-1986) - These years brought unbelievable changes to the town and to the school. What seemed like bedrock in Grand Forks was simply gone.

    Central High School was still the "old gray lady," as the Herald writers called it, but is had a clean face and many interior changes. The auditorium was renovated to make a more intimate and usable theater and a spacious art room. The YWCA across Fifth Street became the Y Annex, with a swimming pool and music rehearsal rooms. The library occupied the whole second floor of the Fourth Street side of the building. The completion of Red River High School gave Central new space and new challenges, not only in sports but also in the type of instruction and scheduling. The curriculum was updated but Central remained "structured."

    Study halls were phased out in the late 1960's, but schedules were back-to-back, with little free time. "Hall patrol" gave offenders stiff penalties set by a student court, and became the teacher's responsibility until they rebelled. Three administrators were then found supervising the traffic between classes.

    VICA, DECA, FBLA, Student Council and National Honor Society became active organizations. Math Track, JETS and Language Arts Festival give Academic competition. Chorus, band, orchestra, theater, and debate continued to excell.

    Numerous faculty received state-wide and national recognition, including Serge Gambucci, Clarence Thompson, Verl Clark, David Hinkley, Dorothy Travis, Ernest Pletan, Gary Malm, Raymond E. Holmberg and Moine Gates.

    It is not possible to mention all the long-time devoted teachers of the school in these twenty-five years. Superintendents during this period include Richard Barnhardt, H. Edwin Cramer, Wayne Worner, Richard L. Hill, Burton M. Nygren, and Mark S. Sanford.

    Central principals were Lawrence Hanson, Arnold Bakke, James Vancamp, and Ronald M. Gruwell.

    Over the years The Centralian has changed its format. In 1962 it was made into a monthly news magazine; later to return to its old format. The use of photography and topics of coverage made it more than a little high school new sheet. Students wrote about controversial issues of the time including American involvement in Vietnam, pollution, the energy crisis, alternative sources of energy, alcohol, drugs, shoplifting, vandalism, abortion, pregnancies, marriage, divorce, suicide, gangs, and computer piracy. The Centralian honors continued to happen when North Dakota named Marian Quimby as top student journalist, Joel Baker as outstanding photographer, and the paper as a whole the All Northern rating--the highest rating in NIPA awards.

    President John F. Kennedy visited Grand Forks in 1963. Most of the student body saw him at either the University Field House or the Air Force Base.

    Foreign exchange students came from numerous countries. In 1975 two Vietnamese refugees shared their escape and relocation story. Three Iranian students told of their country and life under the Ayatollah Khomeini, feeling that the press had badly distorted the news. Nearly all found the academic requirements here much easier.

    Central students studied and wrestled overseas. They attended Girls' and Boys' Nation in Washington, D.C., played in the McDonald's All-American Band in several cities, and participated in other national exchange programs. 

    Students with physical and mental handicaps had classes at the Y Annex. Learning disabled and emotionally disturbed students received special tutoring and guidance. In 1981-82 seven blind or partially blind students, some from the State School for the Blind, found their way through Central's 976 marble steps and class schedules.

    This era found a great number of students with part-time jobs, some out of necessity, others for college savings or spending money. CAPP and Placement Programs brought job information to students and began to bring employment practices for minors within state law. Fewer students have time to take part in sports, plays, musical activities, or to cheer at sports events and other programs.

    Parking the hundreds of cars students drove became a problem. The first lot on Third Street had room for 300 cars, but was too far away in winter and too muddy in spring. A parking lot on the west was inadequate, and the ramp opened too late. And so students parked on the street, paid their fines and cursed the system.

    Homecoming, Sadie Hawkins, Christmas festivities, the Prom, and the Senior Blast were popular parties. This era brought Video games, graduation in the University Field House, girls' competitive sports teams, lifetime sports, slacks for girls, mini-skirts, maxi-coats, and finally jeans for all.

    But by now dear old Central had aged. Built in 1919, with additions in 1926 and 1936, it needed renovation. Central students worked hard in 1985 before the bond issue of $8,500,000 was put before the voters. They publicized their needs,and encouraged their eighteen-year-old classmates to go to the polls. Read all about the renovation in the next section.

    Fifth Quarter Century

    The fifth quarter century (1987-2012) - was ushered in with remodeling plans, a multitude of informational neighborhood meetings and a massive "get out and vote" telephone campaign. The result was the passage of the Central remodeling and addition bond issue in 1984 with an unheard of 81% for and 19% against. See remodeling comments from Principal Gordon Opstad, and teachers Lee Murdock and Larry Barker.

    With the remodeling now complete, Principal Gordon Opstad shares, "The real strength of Central, as a dedicated 'family' of students, staff, and administration, came through when it was recognized as the '1988 Outstanding High School' in North Dakota. That was a great reward for all the hard work, determination, ability to 'adjust' and loyalty which was shown by all the people involved with this massive construction project."

    The Redskin name change in 1992 was difficult for many. We went from being called the Redskins to the Maroon and Gray to Grand Forks Central and finally to the Grand Forks Central Knights.

    Principal Opstad further adds, "Grand Forks Central has always been a very good school. It continued to be an outstanding school during the renovations and is now a great institution of learning for our students. The entire community remains proud and pleased that Central has continued on, better than ever, at its downtown location. It even survived the spring of 1997 flood, which was the worst disaster in the history of our city."