Ordean, East rejected as names for new Duluth middle school

The Duluth School Board rejected a committee's suggestions for naming the eastern middle school Tuesday and seems poised instead to name the building Myers-Wilkins Middle School.

Eastern middle school
The Duluth School Board weighed possible names for the new middle school in eastern Duluth. Going against the recommendations of a naming committee, the board rejected the names East and Ordean on Tuesday. (Clint Austin /

The Duluth School Board rejected a committee's suggestions for naming the eastern middle school Tuesday and seems poised instead to name the building Myers-Wilkins Middle School.

The school will replace the current Woodland and Ordean middle schools and is being redeveloped from the former East High School building. A naming committee suggested calling the school Ordean or East.

But that suggestion did not have sufficient support on the School Board: The board voted 3-3 on a motion by member Ann Wasson to name the school Ordean-East.

The board also voted 3-3 on an amendment by Tim Grover to name the school Myers-Wilkins. A tie means both measures failed. But board member Mary Cameron, who missed the meeting because she was at a conference in Minneapolis, says she is leaning toward Myers-Wilkins.

Her vote at a future board meeting could decide the issue in favor of Myers-Wilkins.


"I understand the Ordean family is prominent and donated a lot of land, which equals a lot of money," said Cameron, who was reached by phone Tuesday evening. "Myers and Wilkins donated in a lot of ways that wasn't monetarily. These women made a lot of contributions that didn't just benefit people of color, but the community."

Wasson, Judy Seliga-Punyko and Tom Kasper voted for Ordean-East. Grover, Gary Glass and Art Johnston voted for Myers-Wilkins.

A couple of residents spoke out for their choices. Duluthian Scott Fisher said the school should remain named for Albert Ordean, who carries a legacy of generosity for the city.

"What exactly has Mr. Ordean done in 50-plus years that would warrant this board to now remove his name for that middle school?" he asked. "Your commitment to your predecessor toward recognition of his gifts should remain intact."

Claudie Washington mentioned local online comments that were racist in nature regarding the issue of the Myers-Wilkins name.

"My support had nothing to do with the color of their skin," he said. "It has to do with their contribution. Let's not weigh contribution based on (monetary support)."

Board members made impassioned cases for their choices. Kasper mentioned the Duluth organizations that have benefited from the $63 million that Ordean's foundation has donated in 80 years, including Mentor Duluth, Churches United in Ministry and the Union Gospel Mission.

"Our (teen parent) Habitat program in our own school, $40,000 a year ... over $200,000 for Duluth students who are needy that want to go to college," Kasper said. "To remove that name, I just don't understand it."


Grover read from a list he prepared of about 40 school names in the city, both existing and defunct, that ranged from people to places and directions. Some had mentioned it was too contentious to name a school after a person, but history shows the district has done it many times, he said.

"Of these 40 names, there are two women," he said. "Stowe and Laura MacArthur. It was also noticeable to me that there has never been an acknowledgment of people of color."

He went on to read about the accomplishments of Ruth Myers and Marge Wilkins and their lives in Duluth.

"They broke barriers in employment and education ... uplifted others and improved lives," he said. "What an honor ... to the memory of these two trailblazing women to name our eastern middle school after them. What an honor to the school itself."

Glass said the name of a school should inspire kids and relate to the present day. While he wasn't sure Myers-Wilkins was timely, he thought it was more appropriate than Ordean and East.

"A name does mean a lot, and if it doesn't have a local connection, you miss an opportunity," he said.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Gronseth, standing in for ill Superintendent I.V. Foster, said the seven-member naming committee considered other names, but Ordean and East tied for the most votes. Legally, the board doesn't have to take the committee's recommendation because the school was never officially closed and therefore isn't a new building. Policy dictates a committee be formed to recommend names for new buildings. There is no policy for renaming an existing school.

Because of the impasse, the board decided to move the decision to its November meeting. Cameron noted that the board probably should have made the decision without requesting public input, but because it had a year ago, she wanted to honor that.


  • The board also approved the expulsion of a Woodland Middle School student for making a threat. No other information was available about the incident.
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