What you didn't know about Duluth's 100-year-old college

When it opened 100 years ago today, the College of St. Scholastica had only six students, all women. This year, the college founded by the Duluth Benedictine community has more than 4,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs.

100-pound foil ball
College of St. Scholastica students (from left) Gina Cotone, Storm Myers and Melissa Marvin use their combined strength to lift the heavy aluminum wrapper ball named Al-Bob on Friday afternoon. The ball will be hidden on campus, and students will try to find it as part of an annual tradition at the college. St. Scholastica celebrates its 100th anniversary on Sept. 10, 2012. (Bob King /
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When it opened 100 years ago today, the College of St. Scholastica had only six students, all women.

This year, the college founded by the Duluth Benedictine community has more than 4,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs. It still shares a campus with the St. Scholastica Monastery on land that once was farmed by the sisters.

The college has added buildings, graduate programs and men to the campus through the decades. Its main building, Tower Hall, is considered one of Duluth's most beautiful. But here are five things you might not know about St. Scholastica as it celebrates its centennial.

  • Tower Hall, as it was built in 1908, could have collapsed. Well-known Duluth architects Frederick German and Anton Werner Lignell had designed the original plan for Villa St. Scholastica, now called Tower Hall, which included a three-story structure with a single tower but soon increased the height to four stories, according to Sister Margaret Clarke, an archivist with the St. Scholastica Monastery. (A second tower was part of a later expansion.)

    Budget constraints dictated that the building be done in phases, with the southern half first.

    As construction of the first half neared completion, one of the farmers on the property overheard construction workers talking about the quality of the building and mentioned it to his daughter, who was a Benedictine sister, Clarke said. He heard them say: "'It's going to be too bad when this falls down around the sisters' heads,'" Clarke said.

    The sister relayed what she heard to Mother Scholastica Kerst, founder of the monastery and the college. Kerst went to a building inspector in St. Paul and asked him to send someone to check on construction. He chose Franklin Ellerbe. Ellerbe agreed that the building was in danger of collapse, Clarke said.

    "And so Mother Scholastica fired the construction people," she said.

    At the time, Clarke said, because of anti-Catholic sentiment in Duluth, there was talk that construction had been deliberately sabotaged.

    "This was not the case," she said. "It was probably just on the part of the construction company, which was rather young and inexperienced; it was just accidental."

    Ellerbe took over the job and strengthened the walls and ceilings, taking an additional eight months and several thousands of dollars, Clarke said, "but eventually they wound up in 1909 with a building that was not going to fall down. Ellerbe was so thrilled by what he had done that he decided maybe he wanted to go into business for himself."

    His business survives as Ellerbe Becket, which is the lead architectural firm for the $16 million addition to the Science Center that opened this year.

  • The St. Scholastica Saints are winners of several national championships. With a home in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics beginning in 1972, the men's hockey team won national championships in 1975 and 1977. The women's volleyball team won National Small College Athletic Association titles in 1983, 1984 and 1988. Men's and women's cross-country teams, men's soccer and women's basketball also won national titles in that association in 1988. Men's soccer and women's cross-country won the title again in 1989.

  • A 100-plus-pound aluminum ball lurks on campus each fall. Tinfoil Halloween decorations became a massive ball in the late 1990s in one St. Scholastica residence hall. That ball has been hunted every year since. Called Al-Bob, the ball is hidden on campus by student activities workers each fall. Clues are offered weekly. The longest hunt took two months, when Al-Bob was tucked away in an old root cellar near the north entrance to campus, said Steve Lyons, vice president for student affairs.

    "One or two groups refused to give up ship," he said. "Somehow they found it."

    Al-Bob is heavy. It takes a couple of people to lift the ball and its base. It started as a joke between some fun-

    loving students, Lyons said, but turned into a tradition with tales of discovery regaled in the college's newspaper, "The Cable."

    "Because of the name and the history, he's got his own identity," he said. "Everybody except our brand-new students knows who Al-Bob is."

  • St. Scholastica is a health information management pioneer. St. Scholastica's involvement in health information management started early. The St. Mary's Training School for Record Librarians won conditional approval from the Association of Record Librarians of North America in late 1934 and was fully approved in 1935 as the nation's first baccalaureate program in the field. That was the precursor to today's health information management program at St. Scholastica, which is still the only such program in Minnesota.

    It has changed dramatically from the 1930s, when one of the required textbooks was "Medical Shorthand," and from 1919, when the medical records department at St. Mary's Hospital was a parlor equipped with a desk and a typewriter, according to a 2009 publication celebrating Scholastica's 75 years of health information management.

    The school's faculty members are nationally known in the health information field. Among them are Shirley Eichenwald-Maki and Kathleen LaTour, who wrote the textbook that's "basically the bible for the baccalaureate program," said Bill Rudman of the Chicago-based American Health Information Management Association in a July News Tribune story about the program's expansion.

  • Cancer research was once done at the college. Sisters Agatha Riehl and Petra Lenta operated a cancer research lab on campus after World War II until the early 1970s, publishing their work in cancer research and science journals after first being trained at a research institute in Cincinnati, Clarke said.

    "They mainly used mice for their trials," she said of the sisters, who also taught chemistry.

    The sisters were setting an example for faculty research, Clarke said. The school is known more as a teaching college than as a research institution such as the University of Minnesota.

    "We've always been forward-looking up here," Clarke said.

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