Immigrant tradition at Edison dates back to 1922


In the 1933 Wizard yearbook, Edison High School Assistant Principal Ruth Fitch Cole wrote an open letter to students. “One of your ancestors left home, friends, and country to come to a new home and to adopt a new country. I do not know whether he came with those first settlers in the New England wilderness or whether he came with you in his arms. …May you, his descendant, be brave to undertake; may you work hard to overcome; and may you have that faith and hope which accomplishes.”

Through its entire 85 years, Edison High School has been a home to immigrants. In 1933, the yearbook noted that students came from 23 different nations. The countries they came from have changed; in the early years, many last names were Swedish, Polish, or Russian: Carlson, Tschida, Reshetar. Today, a regular feature of the yearbook is titled Where Are You From? In 2007, the students’ home countries included Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guyana, Liberia, Egypt, Ukraine, Nepal, Laos, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Thailand, Kenya, and France. Students have last names such as Yang, Ali, Hernandez.

And times have changed: In this year’s graduating class there were six Johnsons. Four are African American, two are white.

Edison students and alumni will gather next weekend (Sept. 27-30) at the school to celebrate their 85th anniversary. The four-day event includes food: two dinners and a pancake breakfast; entertainment: the Edison Alumni Band and the alumni cheerleaders will perform at halftime at the school’s Homecoming football game, there are two boat rides, Thursday and Sunday, and a Friday night program in the auditorium.

Alumnus John Vandermyde, class of 1958, said he helped plan a vaudeville show (or variety show), which used to be a regular event at Edison, starting in the 1920s.

“It used to be sponsored by the Student Council. At one point they called it ‘Vodvil,’” he said. “Edison had the shows for 45 years.”

Vandermyde mused on how the school has changed in the 49 years since he left. His four sons, he said, graduated from Edison in the late 1980s and early 1990s; two of them went to Harvard. “When we were in high school, the students’ families came from Eastern Europe. When my sons were there, many students came from Southeast Asia. Now, many Edison students are from Africa. The school has had that culture. It has brought a lot of enrichment to the school.

“This always has been a great school and it still has potential,” Vandermyde added.

“The changes we’ve seen primarily revolved around the desegregation plan in process in the 1980s. The school board make-up changed; it used to include representation from all parts of the city but now the members serve at large. That made a difference for us; parts of the city [such as Northeast] were not heard from. In recent years, the school has gone through some tough times, but I have the sense it’s coming back. There’s a growing movement toward change.”

Vandermyde said he serves on the Edison Community Sports Foundation, and conducts some of the scholarship interviews. “Last year we interviewed six students and they were very impressive. One question we asked of all of them was what was the most important thing to them about Edison? All of them said the same thing, the diversity. It didn’t seem like there was any conflict among the kids.

“One student from Ethiopia had not been in school from 2nd through 10th grade. He came to Edison and his English skills were poor, but he made progress. He went from being almost illiterate to becoming college material.”

The early history

The school on 22nd Avenue NE opened in 1922 with a procession of students marching proudly from Jackson Square Park to the new school, carrying an American flag.

Named for inventor Thomas Edison, the school’s yearbook staff–which put out its first edition in 1924–named the book the Wizard, in honor of the man known as “the wizard of all sciences,” and “The wizard of Menlo Park.”

On Dec. 3, 1926, Edison wrote a letter to student Earl Swanson congratulating him on his new job as yearbook editor. “The work and responsibility will give you ample scope for the exercise of your thinking faculty,” Edison wrote. “You and your associates are in the enviable position of being upon the threshold of a great and wonderful world in which an infinite variety of marvels confronts you. No one mind can comprehend them all, but let me say one thing to you and that is, as to any undertaking upon which you enter, think through, and work hard.”

The 1924 Wizard listed the era’s new inventions: plastics, radio, airplane, and the talking movie. In 1949, the Wizard’s list included atomic energy, television, jet planes and “the possibility of interstellar travel.”

In the 1940s, many students enlisted or were drafted into the military during World War II. Scores of them returned to Northeast, Columbia Heights and nearby suburbs such as Brooklyn Center.

By the 1940s and 1950s, second generations of students started attending Edison. Some students were bused: Edison graduate and former choral director Rita Andrescik, (interviewed by the Northeaster in 1997), said that New Brighton students took buses to Edison because there was no school in their town. “Edison was grades seven through 12 at that time, not nine through 12. There were over 2,000 kids in that building. Class sizes were much bigger. In those days, you had more than 40 in a classroom. The whole first floor of the school was filled with lockers.”

Sports have always been important at Edison. According to former custodian Charlie Walters, Sr., (also interviewed in 1997), the school’s Swedish, Polish and Russian population produced good athletes. “They were big people, very tough.”

Former Edison students include Clayton Tonnemaker, class of 1947, who played professional football for the Green Bay Packers; Butch Nash, University of Minnesota football coach from 1947 to 1986; Charlie Walters, Jr., St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter and former Twins baseball player; Louis Lopata, baseball player and coach; Tony Jaros, Minneapolis Laker basketball player; Bill Klesk, fast pitch softball player with Minneapolis Jerseys Ice Cream; Stan Mayslack, professional wrestler and restaurateur; and Joe Dziedzic, professional hockey player with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Legendary sports coaches included Pete Guzy, Harry Miller and Ray Parkins.

In 1962, girls sports included rope skipping. By the early 2000s, Edison had a girls hockey team. To the question, “Do you think girls hockey should allow checking?” in the 2004 Wizard, student Natasha Memorich replied, “Yeah I do. I think it would make girls hockey more intense. If the boys can do it, I think we should be able to do it as well.” Student Katie Gunderson said, “Yeah. It is not like there are boys and girls playing against each other. Girls should be able to handle the physical aspect of hockey.”

Federal desegregation laws in the 1970s and 1980s turned the school from a community school to a city school. Edison took part in a plan called HEN (Henry, Edison, North), in which Edison students spent part of the year at the two Northside schools. While some parents supported the plan, others did not. Some teachers complained that it was difficult to teach, when a third of the students were being sent back and forth. Choir director Andrescik said she never knew how many students would be in choir. “It was really tough for the performing groups,” she added.

In the early 1980s, Edison took many Hmong students into its English language proficiency program. The district was developing the magnet school concept, focusing on several areas of study. In 1997, Edison’s magnets were business, cosmetology, food service and child care.

Although Edison alumni and students celebrated the school’s 75th anniversary in 1997, the event almost didn’t happen after summer floodwater caved in an outdoor stairway and sidewalk and punched huge holes in the school’s basement walls. Principal Craig Vana led the renovation effort, and managed to get the school open again at the start of the fall school year.

The past 10 years

Business teacher and Northeast resident Mike Iacarella (Edison class of 1975) said he is optimistic about the school’s future. “We had the best graduation rate of any Minneapolis high school last year. When we get a student, no matter what level they come in at, we do a better job with them while they’re here than any other school.”

Iacarella, who has taught at Edison for 14 years, said he thinks it is the safest school in the city. “Other high schools have metal detectors. We don’t need to do that. We have pretty good kids. But it seems like our school never gets a fair shake. And we keep fighting this image thing.”

Edison is getting re-involved in the community, he added. The Edison Alumni Band (of which he is a member) marches yearly in the Celebrate Northeast parade. New principal Carla Steinbach is very community oriented, and the PEN (Public Education Northeast) group has been very supportive. Some of the activities that were lost through budget cuts and lack of interest are getting resurrected, such as band, choir, drama, and the school newspaper. He said his advisory (homeroom) class wanted to start the paper, the Edison Record, up again, after it had gone out of existence about six years ago.

“Last year my students and [teacher] Mark Rizzardi and his graphic arts class [which already does the yearbook] said, “Let’s take it on.” The majority of the art came from my class. I wanted to do it, because I went to Edison and I kept every one of my Edison Records. I knew we were missing something. We got a nice deal from a couple of printers.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a mentoring program called Voyager, he said. “It’s a two-year program in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce. It starts with juniors and seniors in business classes. We take kids on college visits, in the summer they go on-site to various work places. The program buys kids suits. They learn interviewing, business etiquette, from the handshake to how to eat properly. We’ve lined some kids up with jobs with Fortune 500 companies, places like Wells Fargo, Thrivent. Some former students are still at those jobs, 10 years later. In the business magnet, 98 percent of our students move on to post-secondary schooling.

Iacarella said Edison’s magnets (or SLCs, small learning communities) now include cosmetology, which is the most sought-after one; humanities/education; business; and CAL, Center for Accelerated Learning, which is open mainly to immigrant students. The cosmetology SLC, he added, is affiliated with St. Paul Technical School; some credits students earn at Edison go toward college credit.

Iacarella said the school still has strong sports programs. The wrestling program has been very good in recent years, he added. “We dominated the city for six years, until last year. Student Terrance Young took a national wrestling championship in 2005; he would have won again the next year, but couldn’t afford the trip to the competition. He was also two-time state champion.

“We had a couple of state championships in girls’ badminton. Erica Rhodes and the girls track team finished second in the state a couple of years ago. Our football team went to state not too long ago, although we haven’t won a state football championship for five or six years.”

According to past yearbooks, the boys cross country and wrestling teams won city championships in 2002.

“We lost hockey at the school last year. Kids can still participate; there are two teams in the city now, east and west, but they don’t have a conference. They play out of Parade Stadium. They practice at what used to be the Edison Youth Hockey Civic Arena (1306 Central Ave. NE). We were the last high school to have a hockey team; North lost theirs a long time ago.”

The 2007 Wizard shows the following sports teams still at Edison: badminton (girls), football (boys), soccer (both), volleyball (girls), golf (both sexes on one team), tennis (both), softball (girls), baseball (boys), track and field (both on one team), cross country (boys), swimming (both), basketball (both), dance team (girls), cheerleaders (girls), gymnastics (girls).

Clubs include varsity bowling, school store, AACA (African American Culture Association), Drama Club, Student Council, Hmong Club, Oromo, GSA, Somali Club, Ambassadors, Stage Crew, Cosmetology Council, Tibetan Club, National Honor Society, Native American Intertribal, High Tech Girls, Girls in Action, Voyager, Latino Club.

Some things are still missing from the school, Iacarella said, that he’d like to see back. “We were getting passed over for a lot of things. PEN has definitely helped. It seemed like we haven’t had a presence in the community in 10 years. Without that representation, a lot of things went by the wayside, like the Senior Tea. It was a nice family event for the parents of seniors; we were the last high school to still have it, but it was discontinued.”

He said he is excited about the 85th anniversary celebration and has been seeing more interest about Edison in the community. “There is the feeling that a community school is necessary, to have a well-functioning neighborhood. When your community is working, the students are more likely to buy houses in the area. I’m feeling very positive; Edison is focused on the future. We can offer a lot more than other schools; people need to give us a try.”