Benefactors provide Duluth Pack bags to Myers-Wilkins second-graders

It's become trendy for Duluth's -- heck, the country's -- oldest bag maker to customize its famous packs for famous people. Pop stars like Hozier, Maroon 5 and the city's own Trampled by Turtles have been feted with Duluth Pack bags recently by t...

In addition to the normal Duluth Pack leather patch, each backpack being donated to second graders at Duluth's Myers-Wilkins Elementary School will have this patch. (Steve Kuchera /

It's become trendy for Duluth's - heck, the country's - oldest bag maker to customize its famous packs for famous people.

Pop stars like Hozier, Maroon 5 and the city's own Trampled by Turtles have been feted with Duluth Pack bags recently by their concert promoters.

Next week, it's the second-graders at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School on Duluth's Hillside who will be treated like pop stars when they're each given one of Duluth Pack's heavy canvas large standard daypacks.

The backpacks retail at $200, but the parents of twin second-graders made the donation to outfit the entire class of roughly 85 students. The parents, who got the packs for their own children and were impressed with the quality, approached Principal Stephanie Heilig earlier this summer with a commitment to the donation.

"It was like a dream come true," Heilig said. "They were very aware we're a high poverty school and that parents may have trouble purchasing backpacks and that these last a lifetime."


The father of the twin 7-year-old girls called on Thursday to talk about the donation. He said that while he was comfortable with the Myers-Wilkins school community knowing the identities of he and his wife soon enough through the grapevine, he was reluctant to broadcast it across the Northland. The News Tribune agreed to go on the record anonymously.

The 37-year-old works for a major information technology organization that encourages its employees to be community-minded. He travels for work extensively and called from Washington, D.C. His wife took over a family business in Duluth and they moved to Park Point from the Twin Cities a year ago. The father said the family couldn't be more impressed with Myers-Wilkins - from the new school to the great teachers and staff to a principal in Heilig whom he called "wonderful to work with."

"We know it's a low-income school, but we don't have anything but good things to say about it," he said. "We considered open enrollment and charter schools, but our experience was fantastic, and when we asked our girls they didn't want to hear anything about it."

He noted the school's community outreach efforts, citing breakfasts, lunches and dinners it invites neighborhood people to attend in the school cafeteria, and said he was inspired by the way the school serves as a fixture in the neighborhood.

The father said the couple made the decision to help out with a donation around last Thanksgiving, while thinking about "the benefits and advantages we have." The decision was affirmed on the first day of school earlier this week, when he was dismayed to see some students showing up toting armfuls of supplies in plastic and paper bags.

"Eighty to 85 percent of the kids who go to this school live at or below the poverty level," he said. "I had the opportunity to do something I felt was beneficial."

Regular backpacks can cost between $25 and $50 and wear out annually, requiring families to replace them frequently. The durability of the Duluth Pack backpacks cinched the idea for him.

He reasoned that, "if I can work with Duluth Pack to make this one-time investment and solve this problem for these kids long term," he said, "it seemed like a good investment once I was inspired to do something."


Synonymous with the rugged outdoors, Duluth Pack has been part of the city since its French Canadian founder, Camille Poirier, opened his leather goods store in 1870.

Inside the company's manufacturing plant on West Superior Street in Lincoln Park, the old wood floors creak underfoot. Some of the company's 80 employees worked busily cutting, sewing and riveting Thursday on the order of 107 backpacks ticketed for Myers-Wilkins.

The company worked with the generous parents on special bulk pricing and, because the school has an unusually high number of students leaving and new ones coming, the extra bags will allow for second-graders throughout the school year to be given the packs no matter when they arrive.

Guaranteed for life, the packs figure to follow the children throughout their lives.

"We've got parents who send us photos of their kindergartners with their backpacks," said Ryan Hanson, tour-guide and sales representative, "and we'll get another picture with their backpack when they graduate from college."

Heilig said she's already heard from several other appreciative parents. She sees a deeper meaning in the backpacks.

"We talk to our kids a lot about the importance of education after high school," she said. "These backpacks, to me, are kind of like a symbol. They'll have these all the way through high school and into any education they pursue afterward."

Heilig said she's aware of the potential for other grades within the school to see the packs and feel left out, but she doesn't put much merit into the jealousy factor. The school tries to connect something special to every grade, she said. Fifth-graders, for instance, get a three-day adventure outing every year.


The second-graders' packs will be outfitted with a thick leather badge, stamped with the school's name and howling wolf mascot. Each pack will also feature a tag to personalize the packs and next week students will get to select from among five different colors.

"We're pretty excited to be part of a project like this," said Duluth Pack President Tom Sega in a news release announcing the gift of the packs.

Duluth Pack bags are sold in the company's retail store in Canal Park and have been shipped to every continent, including Antarctica.

Hanson said the company still gets packs shipped back to Duluth in need of repair that are marked with the brand's original tin tag. During the short tour he walked by a couple bins of packs in need of things like canvas patches or new leather straps.

"When they come back with a tin tag we know it's from before 1911," he said. "We get five or eight of those a year."

Should the company receive a pack in 2111 featuring a howling wolf alongside the company's regular moosehead logo, they'll be able to identify it as one of the Myers-Wilkins second-grade packs. It will figure to recall the 2015-16 school year as one marked by a gesture of extreme kindness.

The father of the twin second-graders said he's already considering another gesture for when his girls enter the third grade. He admitted it would be hard to top this one.

"Since we've moved here," he said, "we've had such a good experience in the city of Duluth."

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