'North High was the answer'

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2011 - 4:17 PM

The Class of 1936 will gather for its 75th reunion, reminiscing about a different era in north Minneapolis.

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Lillian Raen, 93, and eight other members of North High’s class of 1936 will gather for their 75th reunion Aug. 11.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Almost 90 years ago, Lillian Raen and Martin Ring met in a kindergarten class at the old John Hay Elementary School in north Minneapolis.

They grew up during the Roaring Twenties and graduated from high school in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression.

Though they rarely had classes together at Lincoln Junior High and the old North High at 17th and Fremont, the 93-year-olds have remained friends ever since and North High Polars for life.

Raen and Ring estimate that at least 900 North High students graduated in 1936. To celebrate their 75th class reunion, nine of them will meet Aug. 11 at Byerly's in St. Louis Park.

Raen and Ring still live independently, but some of their classmates will arrive from nursing homes and assisted-living facilities with aides in tow.

Year after year they anticipate the lunchtime reunion, the reminiscing, the look back on their childhoods in north Minneapolis.

They'll pay $20 for a luncheon spread of chicken wild rice soup and their choice of egg salad or tuna salad sandwiches and an ice cream sundae for dessert. The time together: priceless.

"I am almost at the end of my life," Raen said. "What I miss most are the friendships. These are the boys and girls I grew up with."

Though they attended all the same schools, Raen and Ring didn't graduate together. With enrollment that often topped 3,000 students, North High had summer and winter graduations until 1949, around the time high schools in the suburbs and other parts of north Minneapolis began to open their doors.

Their graduation year was one of extremes on many fronts, weather included. Raen graduated in the bitter cold of January 1936. On graduation night, frost gathered at the hem of her red formal gown and dripped on her gold shoes as it melted.

In June, as a record heat wave swept the country, men shed their jackets to beat the heat at a commencement party at Spring Park on Lake Minnetonka. The grads, many of whom would eventually ship off to fight in World War II, ate, drank punch and danced the night away, gracefully, Ring recalled.

"It was very sophisticated compared to what they do today," he said. "You just held a woman in your arms and she held you."

For immigrants, the answer was North High

European immigrant families populated north Minneapolis, patronizing the neighborhood delis, bakeries and dry goods shops that reminded them of home.

Raen's Russian-born parents settled there, seeking a solid education and a route to relative prosperity for their children.

"North High was that answer," Raen said.

Before the G.I. Bill opened the door to more suburban home growth, North High drew students from Brooklyn Center, Robbinsdale, Plymouth and Golden Valley, along with other northern and western suburbs.

The Polars traveled in packs. Most students walked miles to school, no matter the weather, picking up a classmate or three at each corner along the way.

"By the time we got to the front door, it was like a parade," Ring said.

The North High teachers were tough, Raen recalled, and their first principal, Waldo W. Hobbs, terrified students. The Polar football field is named in his honor.

The school had a statewide reputation for academic excellence. Raen, Ring and many of their classmates entered the University of Minnesota as third-quarter sophomores.

The Class of 1936 yielded professors and many an entrepreneur. After flying B-24s in World War II, Ring ran his family construction company until retirement. Business magnate Robert Short, who bought the Minneapolis Lakers and moved them to Los Angeles, was a classmate. He later bought the Washington Senators baseball team and moved them to Texas.

Class members didn't formally gather until 1961, when they celebrated their 25th reunion. The next celebration was the 40th. As they've aged, the gatherings have taken on more urgency, with Byerly's becoming the hot spot for the dwindling crowd.

Raen and Ring are among the last graduates able to keep the tradition going. The third longtime planning committee member, Lordean Wick, died May 11, three months before this year's reunion. Her friends have dedicated the get-together to her memory.

Never knowing which celebration will be the last, Ring and Raen plan to round up as many classmates as they can each August to sit, visit and maybe even dance.

"We'll try for another one if we're still around," Ring said. "It gives me inspiration to last another year."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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