Jim Heffernan column: Memoirs of an early election denier

I want it acknowledged that I won the election for president of the Duluth Denfeld High School Boys Union when I was a senior way back when, in spite of what the counted ballots allegedly said.

students in school hallway
Denfeld High School, alma mater of columnist Jim Heffernan.
Bob King / 2017 file / Duluth News Tribune
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I’d like to get one thing settled before I … before I … um, well, I’m no kid.

I want it acknowledged that I won the election for president of the Duluth Denfeld High School Boys Union when I was a senior way back when, in spite of what the counted ballots allegedly said. When was this? Well — get this and brace yourself — my graduating class recently had its 65th reunion. Yes, 65th. People who were born the year we graduated are now on Social Security, for crying out loud.

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan

But that’s beside the point. When I was a senior at Dear Old Denfeld (I always call it that to spite my two kids who went to East, and now a couple of their kids are there, too) I was nominated for president of the Boys Union, an exclusive organization encompassing every boy enrolled in the school, including those studying auto body and who frequented Roscoe’s Pool Hall in West Duluth.

The girls had a similar exclusive organization uniquely called The Girls Club. How could these organizations be considered exclusive if every kid of the designated gender was automatically a member? Well, they wouldn’t let anybody from Central in, that’s for sure.

But back to the election. I was surprised when someone (I found out later who) had the good sense to nominate me for Boys Union president. Of course, others were nominated, too, meaning the boys in the student body had to vote for one of us.


I had high hopes in spite of the fact that I wasn’t considered a student leader, wasn’t an athlete and my grades weren’t that hot either. When I was listed among the nominees I knew I was a long shot, but I had hopes.

When the votes were counted, I lost. Lost badly, they said. I don’t remember now, 65 years later, what the numbers were, but I think they said I got a dozen or so votes. I didn’t believe them for a minute.

I found out after the “election” that I had been nominated by my buddy, Rusty Rockerpanel, the best mechanic in our car club. Our car club, located in West Duluth, was called The Regents in honor of the governing body of the University of Minnesota. How’s that for classy?

We were a dedicated bunch devoted to safe driving (yeah, right), helping distressed motorists (never happened), loud mufflers (va-room) and drag racing from every traffic signal on downtown Superior Street (yup). We were in the vanguard of concerns about critical race theory, constantly arguing over who was the best race car driver at the Proctor speedway.

I found out from Rusty Rockerpanel himself that he had nominated me as a joke. Some joke. I knew I would have been an exceptional president of the Denfeld Boys Union and I believed every boy in school thought so, too.

So how the heck did this other kid get elected? Just because he played basketball and I played hooky (not to be confused with hockey); just because he was a straight-A student and I was only good at B and S; just because he was already shaving a heavy beard and I sported peach fuzz and pimples. I think he might even have been a Junior Rotarian.

After Rusty confessed to nominating me, I was nevertheless even more convinced that I had won. All the guys at the car club thought I’d won, too. Everyone agreed that the school principal had interfered with the counting of votes, throwing out mine because I smoked cigarettes while watching "Captain Kangaroo" and at other times.

I spent hours pushing around little scraps of paper with “bed” or “table” written on them.
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Sixty-five years ago it was common for high school age kids to smoke cigarettes but it was not encouraged in school, although the faculty had a smoking lounge. I took it up to prove I was a “man now,” none of this namby-pamby kid stuff. I was good at it — I could blow smoke rings!


Go ahead and call me an election denier, I don’t care. I was ahead of my time, it seems. Judging from the numbers at our recent 65th reunion, the cemeteries are filled with students who also believe I won the Boys Union presidency in 1957. The trouble is they aren’t around anymore.

No question about it, the election was stolen from me, and you see the result. Now they’ve even removed the vaulted top of Denfeld’s stately clock tower. Elections have consequences.

I have kept these thoughts hidden for more than six decades but I wanted it cleared up before I … before I … um, well, you know.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at .

This has been the nastiest election I have ever seen, including during all the years I was active in covering them, or writing stories and editorial opinions on candidates.
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Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at
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