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Former students say goodbye to Gilbert schools

After a little over 110 years, Nelle Shean Elementary and Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High schools in Gilbert have closed their doors for good. Roosevelt Elementary in Virginia also held closing events Thursday.

Former Gilbert students wear orange and black Gilbert Buccaneer clothing to the closing ceremony.
Former Gilbert High School students, left to right, Traci Addy, Bill Addy, Mary Jo Primozich, Kathy Samargia and Frances Kovatovich show off their orange and black Gilbert Buccaneer clothing at the closing ceremony for the Gilbert schools on Thursday.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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GILBERT — The halls of the junior high and elementary schools in Gilbert and Virginia were filled with former students reflecting on their years as they said goodbye to their former school. With Eveleth, Gilbert and Virginia's consolidation into Rock Ridge Public Schools, both the of the Gilbert campuses and the Roosevelt Elementary School will no longer be used for education as of the end of the school year. Both campuses hosted public closing ceremonies Thursday to allow former students to visit one last time.

Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High
Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High School is seen Thursday. It and Nelle Shean Elementary were memorialized in a ceremony.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"This place gave me a million memories," said retired Gilbert physical education teacher and current girls track coach Deanna Kerzie. "We thought we had the best school on the Range. Gilbert was the absolute best. We had a lot of pride in growing up here."

Kerzie was one of a handful of former teachers and students from Gilbert who shared memories with the crowd gathered in the Gilbert Junior High's Feyereisen Auditorium on Thursday evening. Having grown up in Gilbert in the late 1950s, Kerzie returned to her hometown school to coach and teach for the next 44 years.

She recalled fun times from her youth such as freshman day traditions, decorating floats for homecoming parades and when girls sports first became a thing at the schools with the passage of Title IX in 1972. She remembered trips to state with her many girls teams over the years and times spent with students as they prepared for their next phases in life.

"I got to watch young people grow up in these schools and go through to such bright futures," Kerzie said. "And I know it's extremely hard to say goodbye, but I pray for the best for the future. That students at Rock Ridge will have similar memories to what all of us here have had, because we have some really great memories."

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A woman talks at a podium in front of red curtains.
Retired teacher and current girls track coach Deanna Kerzie shares stories from her time at the Gilbert schools over the years.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Rock Ridge School Board member Bill Addy also recalled growing up and attending Gilbert High School in the 1970s where he recalled the names of just about every teacher he had from first grade through high school.

"Back in those days, I remember the staff all dressed in suits and ties and dresses," Addy said. "I remember staff in the kitchen who were here making delicious food in the basement cafeteria every day, making stuff from scratch. The smell of the fresh bread would waft up from the basement at the sound of the bell, you'd be caught in a stampede to the lunchroom."

Retired math teacher and current technology department employee with Rock Ridge Tom Prosen shared a presentation of the history of the Gilbert school buildings. The high school was built in 1910 and dedicated in 1911 and completed with a budget of $115,000. The Nelle Shean Elementary was named for its first principal and was built in 1924. At the time when it was built, it did not have a basement, one was later added by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Nelle Shean Elementary
Nelle Shean Elementary is seen Thursday. Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High school and the Nelle Shean Elementary were memorialized in a ceremony as both schools closed their doors for the last time.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"They dug it out by hand and there's a ramp still at the end where they took wheelbarrows out to build that basement," Prosen said.

Later additions to the schools added on a connection between the high school and elementary, the addition of the gymnasiums and science wing, then the music and technical departments and a new media center in the 1990s. Eveleth and Gilbert consolidated in the late 1980s into one district and the Gilbert High School became the Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High school.

The ceremony in Gilbert ended with a few words from current principal Todd Griepentrog and a singing of the Gilbert High School song.

Several people standing in a bright auditorium.
Former Gilbert students gather in the Feyereisen Auditorium to say goodbye to the Gilbert schools and sing the Gilbert School song one last time.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"I've been an educator for 31 years now and whenever I walk the stairs up to this auditorium, I think about how many people, over the 111 years, have walked these same steps up to this auditorium. It's been a great experience to be here for the last few years," Griepentrog said.

After the ceremony, visitors were welcome to wander the halls and revisit their old classrooms and lockers.

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Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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