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Celebrating a century: LaVerne Whelan, 100, named grand marshal of Bemidji All School Reunion parade

Celebrating the Bemidji Area School District’s history while musing on her own, 100-year-old LaVerne Whelan sees this weekend’s All School Reunion events as a chance to connect several generations with the commonality of the district they attended growing up.

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LaVerne Whelan, a 1940 Bemidji High School graduate, has been chosen as the grand marshal for this year's All School Reunion parade set for 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 23.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — LaVerne Whelan always loved school.

With the Bemidji All School Reunion that sarted Thursday and runs through Saturday, she will have a chance to reminisce on memories she has held since her time at the “old” Bemidji High School where she graduated in 1940.

As it turns out, she’ll be doing so in a yellow convertible as the grand marshal of the parade taking place at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 23.

“Oh golly, I’m just so excited about (being named grand marshal). School meant a lot to me,” Whelan said. “I couldn’t believe it when I found out. I just thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Musing on memories

Whelan recently turned 100 years old on April 9. Admitting to having a fuzzy memory on some things, she remembers having the best teachers and opportunities during her school years.

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“You bet I had some good teachers. I got all ‘A’s,’” Whelan reflected before referencing one “bad” grade she received in a physics class.

“I did get one bad report card and that was from that Mr. Arnold,” she added. “He gave me an 80%. I never liked him after that, either.”

Whelan was active with public speaking events, attending state competitions for sewing projects and anything else she could be involved in. She also had a special interest in art.

“I was going to be an art teacher. That’s what I had in mind but didn’t end up being that,” Whelan said.

Following graduation, she moved to Seattle with some classmates, where she worked a variety of jobs for a number of years and met her husband Robert, also from Bemidji.

She and Robert moved back to Bemidji after getting married, then moved to Montana. The couple ended up having seven children, five of which were born near Kalispell, Mont.

One of Whelan’s daughters, Teri Graves, reflected on a bar her parents owned in Hungry Horse, Mont., specifically Whelan’s secret recipes for chicken and prawns.

“I was probably 50 before I got the recipe. They were the best around,” Graves said. “Occasionally, we’d have them for holidays.”

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Whelan joked that $1,000 would convince her to give up her recipes.

The family moved back to Bemidji in 1962, after which Whelan began a 35-year housekeeping job at the Bemidji Hospital followed by work at GoldPine Home until she was 84.

Her stint at GoldPine convinced her to move in after she retired, even though she had previously retired at least once before.

“She helped (GoldPine) out wherever they needed help and did that since she was retired until she was 84. She was always doing something,” Graves said. “That’s where she wanted to move into and where she wanted to be, and she’s been there ever since.”

Cause for celebration

Celebrating the Bemidji Area School District’s history while musing on her own, Whelan sees this weekend’s events as a chance to connect several generations with the commonality of the schools they attended growing up.

Over the years, she has noticed many changes in education since she initially received her graduation cap and gown.

“The kids had to learn. There wasn’t all this goofing around or anything. We went to school to learn and be something,” Whelan said. “You were also able to write your name so people could understand it.”

Eager to not only see but also wave at the crowds of people during her parade procession, plans to attend the reunion street dance afterward may not come to fruition.

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“I don’t know if I’ll let you go to that,” Graves said to her mom lightheartedly.

Regardless, Whelan looks ahead to reuniting with alumni through celebration.

“(I’m excited) just to see people, see some of the kids I graduated with. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any,” Whelan reflected. “That’s when we had friends, real good friends.”

For more information on the All School Reunion and a schedule of events, visit bemidjiallschoolreunion.org.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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