“Me and my husband both graduated here, all four kids and six grandsons, so we’re trying to find the old numbers they used to wear,” said Barb Hurd as she and her family browsed the racks.
“I think it’s hard to forget what you went through in those uniforms,” said Mike DeVries, a 1990 Lake Benton graduate. Having fun with classmates and participating in activities were what he’d remember most about high school.
The open house was held at Lake Benton School the weekend of May 17-18, before its final high school commencement, and more importantly before the 1917 section of the building is demolished in June. The people at the open house were gathered to say goodbye to the home of many memories.
Phil Erschens, a member of the Lake Benton class of 1982, came to the open house with his family from Champlain.
“I was hoping they’d do something like this,” Erschens said of the open house, and the timing worked out well for a visit to Lake Benton. “We had a graduation to attend this weekend, and then this.”
Erschens’ daughter Hannah carried a video camera with her.
“It’s really different from where I go to school,” she said, especially having everyone in kindergarten through high school in the same building.
Erschens said he had good memories of attending Lake Benton, although the weekend visit was bittersweet.
“It’s too bad the school has come to this. It’s kind of sad to see it go,” he said.
The closing of Lake Benton School was more emotional for the older alumni, whose connection to the school was longest.
In many cases, their children and grandchildren went on to attend school there.
“It’s awful,” said Lake Benton alumna and former teacher Betty Klitzke of the building demolition. “I’ve been in just about every grade in the school, in every room.”
At the open house, Klitzke and Bud and Joyce Knutson were sitting in the gymnasium watching a slide show of old school photos. The three tried to name as many students as they could, and sometimes broke up laughing over a goofy haircut or a remembered story.
“I volunteered in the kitchen, unloading stuff. Boy, you got treated real good,” said Bud Knutson, a 1952 Lake Benton graduate. “That was the best thing you could do, was work in the kitchen. After football practice I would come in and get fed.”
“I played in the band. I was the drummer,” said Klitzke, a classmate of Knutson’s. Though she was short and slight, she said she would turn heads with “the biggest drum in the band.”
They layout of the school building has changed a lot over the years, they said. Joyce Knutson remembered the school’s first gymnasium as being “just a little hole” compared to the current one. The whole school would gather each day for a morning assembly on the top floor of the 1918 building, Klitzke said.
“I don’t think we even had buses,” she added.
“We had one bus, and the second bus we got when I was a sophomore, so that would have been 1949, 1950,” Bud Knutson said.
In those days, students who lived in the country would sometimes find friends or family in town to stay with while they attended school, especially during bad weather.
“A couple of times the roads got so bad all the students stayed in town,” he said.
Dannica and Brittany Bunkers, members of the class of 2004 and 2005, respectively, stopped to page through decade’s worth of yearbooks on display in the gym.
“It’s kind of sad,” Brittany Bunkers said of the high school closing. She didn’t think it would happen so soon. “I feel old.”
Being back at the school “brings back some really good memories,” Dannica Bunkers said. “Stuff we got away with that we probably shouldn’t have.”
At the time of the open house, the old Lake Benton swimming pool had already been removed, and work had begun to dig out and re-grade the parking lot and hillside behind the school. The classrooms were mostly in a state of preparation for the summer break, but mementos like school sports trophies and high school class pictures were still on display in the halls.
After visiting the gym, some people at the open house attendees took a look around the classrooms.
“This used to be the old business and accounting room,” Dale Petersen said in one room. Where tables of Dell computers were set up, he said, “I remember they used to have a lot of typewriters.”
Students in the Lake Benton high school and middle school grades were also at the open house to say goodbye. Next year, they will be going to school in Elkton, S.D., or open-enrolling to other districts. Jennifer Gunnink and Danielle Busselman stopped to look through decades’ worth of yearbooks on display in the gymnasium.
“I don’t know if it’s really hit us yet,” Busselman said of the high school closing and demolition. “It’s kind of depressing.”
Gunnink summed up the thoughts of many at the open house. She said she’d miss not having her Lake Benton School identity, but there wasn’t anything to do but move on.
“We always wanted to graduate from Lake Benton, but now that it’s not going to happen, we just have to keep going,” she said.
Photo by Deb Gau
Betty Klitzke, a member of the Lake Benton class of 1952, took in a slide show of old school photographs, pointing out the people she knew.