The bagpiper strolled slowly down the aisle of the high school auditorium, the instrument's distinctive wail echoing in a partially filled room named for a late chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On stage, a gray-haired honoree smiled as two friends gently reminded him of the hijinks of their youth. The other honoree, gone now 10 years, was remembered for heroism in a war for which there are fewer survivors every year.
In many ways, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday at St. Paul Johnson High School — honoring David Brooks of the Class of 1958 and Warren Skon of the Class of 1937 — felt like a different time. A different place. And, yet, while the students moving about the halls outside look very different from the classmates of Brooks and Skon, there were similarities, too.
"There is tremendous pride in the East Side," said Brooks, honored as a former U.S. Olympic hockey player (Innsbruck, 1964) and a state baseball champion. "It's a very different school. Very different. But the pride is still there."
For decades, Johnson was known for its hockey teams. It was the forge of countless careers on ice, including that of gold-medal-winning coach Herb Brooks, David's brother, architect of 1980's Miracle On Ice. Johnson won four state hockey tournaments, in 1947, 1953, 1955 and 1963.
Both Brooks and Ken Erickson, Class of 1968 and Hall of Fame chairman, puffed with pride over the Governors' state championship badminton team. Last week, the Governors won the school's seventh state championship since 2015 and state-best 12th overall since the sport began holding a state tournament in 1996.
Instead of Brooks, Strelow and Anderson, the champions' names now are Xiong, Moua and Ngyuen.
"We still have hockey," Erickson said. "But new generations of kids are choosing different sports. And that's exciting."
If the Warren E. Burger Auditorium felt a little like a time capsule as Brooks' and Skon's families looked on, the band playing the national anthem and the Junior ROTC color guard presenting the flag reflected today's Johnson. Enrollment at the 1,200-student school is about 52% Asian, 23% Black, 12% Latino and 7% white.
That's a far cry from Johnson High in 1958. But, far from lamenting the dramatic transformation of his old neighborhood and alma mater, Brooks has done his part to help it along.
A developer who got his start buying his family's duplex long ago, he's become known for preserving historic buildings. Brooks helped develop Hope Community Academy, an East Side charter school whose students are predominantly Hmong. The school is housed in a building that was once part of the Hamm's brewery complex.
Mitch McDonald has been a teacher at Johnson for 20 years and has witnessed the changing school and demographics during that time.
"The changes have been kind of a natural process," he said. "There is still the school spirit. The pride hasn't changed."
He did admit that some students only know about Herb Brooks thanks to the Disney movie "Miracle."
Even fewer students may remember Skon, although he's a natural role model for a school that is home to the district's Aerospace & Engineering Academy and boasts an Air Force Junior ROTC program.
Skon joined the Navy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and became a fighter pilot assigned to the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Pacific. On Nov. 26, 1943, Skon and other pilots repelled Japanese aircraft that threatened their carrier task force.
Conducting the Navy's first nighttime combat operations, Skon shot down seven Japanese planes, becoming an ace. He was awarded the Navy Cross and, in his naval career, he was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Gold Stars.
Skon, who rose to the rank of captain before leaving the military, died Jan. 19, 2012.
McDonald said Halls of Fame are important links between a school's present and its past. And, he said, he won't be surprised if, 20 or 30 years from now, today's students are participating in their own Hall of Fame ceremonies, honoring classmates whose actions and exploits filled them with pride.
Pride in their school, he said, and pride in their neighborhood.
"When these groups right here come back, it's going to mean even more to them," he said. "So it matters. Hall of Fames matter."