More than 70 years after graduation, Duluth Central Class of 1951 reminisces

Not quite 20 octogenarians met in Duluth to catch up and, of course, talk about their high school days.

Two women reminisce.
Betty Sue Disch, left, and Marty Applequist reminisce about classmates during the 71st reunion of Duluth Central’s Class of 1951 on Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — More than 70 years ago, Marty Applequist, Betty Sue Disch and the rest of their classmates had a choice: They could enroll at East High School, which had recently been converted from a junior high, or head downtown to Central High School.

“All of us here,” Disch said, gesturing to the other seniors quietly chatting at the Pickwick Restaurant and Pub in Duluth, “of course, made the choice —”

“— to go downtown,” Applequist said.

“That was a big deal,” Disch said.

“It was very big stuff,” Applequist added.


With their home in new hands, volunteers who maintained a museum of Central keepsakes gave large tracts of their exhibits to Duluth-area institutions. They plan to auction the rest on Saturday, but many Duluth-area Facebook users, worried about discarding relics of the school's history, criticized the move.

They were two of not quite 20 members of Central’s Class of 1951 who spent a few hours at their 71st reunion Wednesday, reminiscing about the school and city as they were. Down the hall, a few dozen members of the Class of 1954 did the same.

Sketch of Central School sitting on a table.
A sketch of Central High School sits on a table at the Class of 1951 reunion at Pickwick Restaurant and Pub.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“It was just so good,” Applequist recalled of her high school years. “We were feeling very grown up.”

She remembered the Easter bonnet she made to play “spring” in a production about the four seasons for a school talent show; babysitting the future owner of Columbia Clothing on Superior Street; and, a little sheepishly, a crush she had on one of her teachers.

Richard Gurske.
Richard Gurske.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Richard Gurske, who helps organize the annual reunions, remembered heading to the Twin Cities to watch the Central Trojans beat Robbinsdale, 42-40, to win a state basketball title in 1950. That was a few years into what’s turned out to be a lifelong Duluth and Minnesota sports fandom. Gurske suspects he’s the longest-running season ticket holder for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s hockey and football teams.

While enrolled at Central, Disch met her husband, Lloyd, a football standout who worked for the Duluth Fire Department after a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Applequist went to UMD, married an airman who was also a football star, and ultimately moved 22 times while he transferred from base to base.

A descendant of the "Seven Iron Men" who ushered the iron ore industry into Minnesota, Merritt devoted his life to defending the environment, especially Lake Superior.

Their class included Grant Merritt, the pioneering environmental-rights lawyer who headed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and died in May. Gurske and Merritt shared a homeroom, Gurske recalled.

“He was always, I think, a very learned person,” Gurske said.


But there were also former classmates for whom attendees’ memories were hazier. “We separated and went in different directions,” Applequist said. “Which was why we enjoyed the reunions, because we had a brief chance to.”

From the column: "Working at Ordean East cured my empty-nester impoverishment. It also gave me a bright awakening to what pulse the newer middle-school generation likes and prefers."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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