Bloomington Public Schools to celebrate its centennial

Bloomington High School historic building

The first school building for Bloomington Consolidated School District No. 142 opened in 1918, the year following the formation of the district that serves Bloomington today. The former school building on Penn Avenue, north of Old Shakopee Road, is long gone, and is now the site of Presbyterian Homes of Bloomington. The school district will commemorate its first 100 years during a party Friday night. (Photo courtesy of Bloomington Historical Society) 

Evelyn Melum wasn’t there at the beginning, but she comes closer than every known living graduate who holds a Bloomington high school diploma.

Melum, 97, will be among the honorees Friday night when Bloomington Public Schools celebrates its centennial. The district traces its roots to 1917 and will commemorate the 100 years since five rural one-room schoolhouses were consolidated to form the district that serves Bloomington residents today.

Evelyn Melum (Submitted photo)
Evelyn Melum (Submitted photo)

Melum has had a long, distinct connection to the school district. Born in 1919 in Mayville, North Dakota, she was the last of seven children born to Norwegian immigrants. Her family had settled in Warroad, Minnesota, but moved to North Dakota when one of Melum’s older sisters wanted to attend college. Melum’s tenure in North Dakota was short, as her family moved to Minneapolis when she was 2 years old, and lived there until she was 12, when her father bought land in Bloomington.

She was in seventh grade when the family moved, and Melum remembers taking a bus more than two miles to attend classes in the school district’s single building on Penn Avenue. She remembers the distance well, as she frequently walked home to her family’s 30-acre homestead after school.

Melum was involved in many after-school activities, including debate, glee club and theater. Her interest in school activities was due in part to the simpler times in which she lived.

“There wasn’t anything else to do,” she said.

She graduated from high school in 1937, one of 39 in her graduating class. She attended college at Macalester College in St. Paul, and wanted to be a chemist. She had sisters who had pursued careers in education, but that didn’t interest Melum. “The one thing I didn’t want to be was a teacher,” she said.

Melum went to college to become a chemist, but she didn’t end up earning a degree for several years. She got married, started her own family and worked until finally earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

She had no plans to teach when she started college, but she wound up with a job doing just that. Her husband Arthur was a music teacher in the Bloomington district, and the principal was seeking a teacher for homebound students. He offered the opportunity to Melum, and she accepted.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” she said.

Melum eventually taught in the classroom and earned a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She developed her own curriculum for the special education students she would teach at Bloomington Lincoln High School, where she taught for 27 years. Without a lot of administrative guidance offered to her, “I taught them what I thought they needed to know,” Melum said.

For somebody who wanted nothing to do with teaching when she graduated from high school, she found the job opportunities rewarding during her four-decade career in the school district.

“I liked what I was doing,” she admitted.

She no longer lives in the house on Old Shakopee Road where she and Arthur lived for many years. But she hasn’t strayed far from her roots. Melum is a resident at Presbyterian Homes, which was built at the site of that first Bloomington public school where she graduated from high school nearly 80 years ago. “I made the complete rounds,” she said. “I’m back where I started.”

To mark the district’s centennial, the Education Foundation of Bloomington is hosting a centennial celebration beginning 6 p.m. Friday, May 19, at the Bloomington DoubleTree Hotel, 7800 Normandale Blvd.

The centennial party will include dinner, a retrospective look at the district and live music. Registration remains available online at bloomingtonschools.org/centennial.