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Neighbors: Teaching years ago vastly different from today

Wayne "Dempsey" Worner as a young man Special to The Forum1 / 3
Wayne "Dempsey" Worner currently2 / 3
Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist3 / 3

With area teachers (and their students) heading into summer vacation, Neighbors turns to a former teacher for a story from the past.

This column once ran a story about the strict rules for female teachers in the early years of the 20th century and beyond.

That led Wayne Worner to write that "Rules (or at least expectations for the behavior of educators) continued for several years beyond the early '50s, and not just for women."

And Wayne, who goes by Dempsey, tells his story:

"In 1959, I graduated from North Dakota State University at age 21 and became the superintendent, coach and teacher at Davenport, N.D., without ever having taught, save some swimming classes, making me probably the youngest superintendent in the state (then and perhaps ever).

"I got the job because I had played basketball in high school and was therefore considered qualified to coach the basketball team, and I had a degree in chemistry, which qualified me to teach all of the math, science and physical education classes at the Davenport school, which had a total enrollment of 106 and a high school enrollment of 27. Also, I had earned 12 graduate credits in school administration before finishing my bachelor of science degree."

Anyone who has been on a small school faculty will understand that Dempsey didn't just teach one class. No, he taught five classes. On top of that he coached basketball, started a track team, drove to NDSU two nights a week to complete a master's degree, picked up meat in Fargo and potatoes from a farmer for the hot lunch program and sold tickets to the school's game until another teacher arrived.

Watching his step

"At the time," Dempsey writes, "Davenport had a post office, an elevator, a general store, a gas station, a hardware store, and, of course, a bar.

"It would have been unheard of for me, the only male on the school staff of six, to ever set foot in that bar, and I did not, until a necessity required that I do so.

"That necessity was that our daughter was born and was on a formula that came in a can that could only be opened with a 'church key.'

"I finally worked up my courage to go to the bar one afternoon to ask if they had one that I could use on the formula can. They did. I thanked them. And that was the only time I was in that bar in my three years in Davenport or, for that matter, my next two years as a principal in Oakes, N.D.

"Five years later, in 1968, when I became the superintendent in Grand Forks," Dempsey says, "things had relaxed a bit, though not much. We still weren't sure that pregnant teachers ought to be in the classroom and it was expected that all but the phy ed teachers would wear ties to class. "

Dempsey left the superintendent's job in Grand Forks in 1971 to help start a college of education at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He worked as a faculty member and department head there until he retired as dean 25 years later in 1996.

The girl next door

Dempsey's wife is the former Kathleen Dougherty. She goes by Kathie.

She was born in Graceville, Minn. Her father, nicknamed Ham, worked for the Ottertail Power Co. and was the manager of its plant in Wahpeton, N.D., when they moved there from Oakes around 1971.

Kathie had three siblings: John and Barbara, both of whom are deceased, and Peggy, who is married to John Gagliardi, the retired but legendary coach at St. John University, Collegeville, Minn.

When Ham retired from Ottertail, the family moved to Greece for two years, where Ham was employed by a major international firm involved in Marshall Plan activities to restore or create the electric grid in that country.

When the family returned to Wahpeton four years later, Dempsey and Kathie, his next door neighbor, were married in 1976.

They still live in Blacksburg but return to their lake home on White Earth Lake north of Detroit Lakes, Minn., each May and spend four or five months there before returning to Virginia.

Dempsey's mother Pauline, who will be 99 in July, lives in the St. Francis nursing facility in Breckenridge, Minn.

"North Dakota is still 'home' to us,' he concludes.

Railroad route

Now, here's a former North Dakota resident who wants to straighten out an item which appeared here concerning the old Midland Continental Railroad.

Neighbors had been told its route included a stretch from Wimbledon, N.D., to Ellendale, N.D.

Wrong, Ron Fredrickson writes; he says it ran from Wimbledon to Edgeley, N.D.

"My uncle, Carl Fredrickson, was at one time the Northern Pacific Railroad agent in Edgeley," Ron writes, "and I believe that role included agent's duties for the Midland Continental as well."

Ron used to live at Alice, N.D., and now lives in Roseville, Calif.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 241-5487 or email