Our Neighbors....Ray Dolan

Mention the name "Ray Dolan" to most anyone who grew up or worked in Cloquet over the past 50 years, and chances are the name will dredge up a memory or a story or two. That's because Dolan touched the lives of so many young students and their fa...

Mention the name "Ray Dolan" to most anyone who grew up or worked in Cloquet over the past 50 years, and chances are the name will dredge up a memory or a story or two. That's because Dolan touched the lives of so many young students and their families in so many different ways....

Dolan got his start in the St. Anthony area of Minneapolis, one of a family of three boys and one girl. His dad worked in the office of the E.C. Hudson Manufacturing Company, who manufactured barn equipment, hay tools and sprayers, with factories in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Hastings, Minn.

The Dolan family moved to Hastings when Ray was very young, and they later relocated to lower Michigan when he was in ninth grade.

While in high school, Dolan was a very capable student and played on the tennis team as well.

"I was small - four feet nine," he related, "but I liked tennis and we went to State at East Lansing one year, where our team came out second in our class.


"The young people who play tennis nowadays are often six-foot-something and the angle of their serve is such that it's a different game altogether," he commented.

Dolan's family eventually moved back to Hastings, leaving Ray to finish out his senior year on his own in Michigan.

"My dad bought me a 1930 Chevrolet coupe with a rumble seat," he said, "and I stayed with the priest and mowed the lawn for my keep. My outside job was at the gas station. That was kind of special in those days."

Dolan didn't have any real career goal in mind when he graduated from high school in 1938.

"Mostly at that time I just wanted a job!" he admitted with a laugh.

He and a friend of his decided to take his car and go to Chicago, where they set their sites one night on going to the famous Blackhawk Restaurant, where one of the big name bands was playing.

"We were going to go in, but when we got to Adams Street and saw what it was like, we had to stop and think again," Dolan related. "Here we were, two country bumpkins from lower Michigan. My friend still wanted to go in, but I lost my nerve."

Another time, some girls they met from Dearborne invited them to their graduation - an upscale event unlike any the two young men had attended before.


"My friend Bob said we'd go, so we got into my little car and went," said Dolan. "I had a suit on, but all the guys there were in tuxes! It was formal, and here again, there we were - two country bumpkins trying to show off. Bob was outgoing and he danced and had fun anyway, but I went to some corner and tried to hide. Finally, one of the girls came over and wanted to know what the problem was, and I said, 'I just don't fit in.' She said, 'Sure, you do. It's just different,' and she made me dance."

In retrospect, Dolan said the experience "kind of put me in my place, and I got to know my position, my level, in life."

"I'm always reminded of Peter's Principle," he grinned. "You rise up through the ranks to your level of incompetence! I guess being embarrassed like that, I've been kind of an over achiever at times because I'm so afraid of failure. When I later went on to the university, I had no idea I'd get out of there, so I worked my tail off and I graduated with honors."

Following high school, Dolan worked for two years in Chicago at the central office of Hudson Manufacturing before going into the Air Force.

"After Dec. 7 [the bombing of Pearl Harbor], I went down and volunteered to go into the service," he recalled. "I had a Classification Two deferment and had to have Mr. Hudson sign a statement stating my job was no longer essential for the war effort before they would accept me."

The Air Force accepted him right away and shipped him out of Chicago to Texas.

"I didn't know what I was getting into," he admitted, "but I got good ground school training, which helped me when I went back to the U."

He was later sent to Alameda, Calif.


"Two of us got orders to fly B51s [Mustang fighter planes, the best fighter plane the United States had at the time], out there, which were going to be put on a boat and shipped out," he explained. "The guy who was supposed to take the lead didn't have any maps and he had been drunk the night before, so he got lost around Montgomery, Ala. He signaled to me to ask where we were, so I took out my maps but by then we were in the middle of a storm.

"We got over the range where the tower could hear us but couldn't see us because of the storm," Dolan continued. "We ran out of gas, and the other guy landed first, on a country road with his wheels up. He went into the ditch and rolled over. I landed second and was OK, and they sent a test pilot to fly the plane the rest of the way to California while we took the train."

Dolan went through flight school and transferred to a dive bomb outfit in Mississippi. That's where he met his future wife, Mary, and the two dated for about a month while he was in training there.

"When I first heard that soft, Southern voice, my belly just turned to mush!" he admitted with smile.

He was transferred to Waycross, where he trained in dive bombing over the Okeefenokee swamps before being sent to India to join the war effort, where he flew over the Chin Hills into Burma.

Dolan flew 162 combat missions in all, dive bombing and strafing ground targets and at one point he was wounded by ground fire in Burma.

His unit also provided ground support for General Stillwell and the British as well as General Merrill's Marauders, who were on the offensive against the Japanese as they moved into India. Dolan and the men of his unit were later put in for a Presidential Citation for their efforts by General Merrill.

When the B-29s went into China, Dolan's squadron was sent in for defense.


"We got in weather and I landed wheels up, out of gas, after dark by the light of moon on a sand bar in the Yellow River Canyon," Dolan related. "The Chinese brought me out of the canyon on two bamboo poles. They wouldn't let me walk up those little goat paths carved out of the canyon - it was a matter of saving face."

Another time, he had to bail out once again as he was going to a forward fighter field.

"I lost two B51s in China," he said.

Dolan had been overseas about a year and his unit already had 75-100 missions completed when General Olds from the Tenth Air Force came in one day, lined them up and said, "There's something going on in Europe, and you won't be going home." That something was, of course, the Invasion of Normandy.

Dolan's unit didn't come back from overseas until 1945, and he and Mary were married two days after he returned.

After a two-week leave in Florida, he was assigned to the Composite Office at Marshall Field in Kansas, where he was commanding officer and part of a group who flew all over the country performing acrobatics to raise money for bond rallies. They also flew simulated combat missions over Camp Roberts, Calif., and Fort Riley, Kan., for the ground troops.

He was serving as base adjutant at El Paso, Texas, when he decided, after five years of service, it was time to move on.

"When I got out of the service, I stopped by a job counseling center in Rockford, Ill.," he said. "I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I took some aptitude tests and they indicated my best aptitude was for either teaching or forestry. When I came back to enroll at the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill, I decided to major in science, with botany as my specialty, in the college of education."


He later got a quarter-time teaching assistantship in the botany department as a lab instructor.

"When I graduated with my master's degree, I had already been accepted into the doctorate program when Mr. Churchill [superintendent of schools in Cloquet at the time] knocked at our door, asked to visit with us and said there was an opening with Cloquet schools in biology and asked if I'd be interested. He had looked through the folders over at the U and that's how he found out about me."

Dolan met with Churchill again in Cloquet and he and Mary decided Cloquet looked like a great place to live and work.

He started work in Cloquet in 1950 teaching 10th grade biology. He also taught ninth grade science and two years of aeronautics, until they figured out it was taking away some of the kids who should have been in physics and the course was eliminated. He also helped start up physiology and anatomy courses for seniors.

"It was fun working with the kids," he reflected, "especially after the superintendent renovated the biology room to provide for lab space and we were able to get microscopes. The Latin room became a lab preparatory room and so we could get a lot of live materials on field trips. It was very enjoyable. We had great support from families as well as the school board and administration, and I was able to participate in a number of professional activities as well."

He also coached the tennis team, and eventually, the ski team as well.

"I was called in by Mr. Churchill, and he said to me, 'You like the outdoors, right?'" Dolan related. "I said to him, 'Yes,' and he replied, 'Mr. Drew no longer wants to coach the ski team, so you're now ski coach.' I'm no skier, and I'd stand there at the ski jump and measure the jumps, and I didn't even have outdoor winter clothes!"

In all, Dolan taught for 32 years, retiring in 1982.


Along the way, Dolan got a call in 1958 from the Department of Agriculture stating he had been recommended for a job opening as an entomologist in northeastern Minnesota.

"It was for two months every summer, and I could plan my own itinerary, traveling all the way from St. Croix Park up to Bemidji, International Falls and Cook County," Dolan explained.

The job involved checking trees for insects and disease - mostly spruce bud worm, tussock moths and cankers - and included conducting an aerial survey of the area each year as well.

"I was supposed to call on foresters and see if they needed any support," Dolan said. "In the Finland State Forest, we sprayed DDT in the campgrounds. The forester pulled the sprayer with a Jeep and I was stationed on the sprayer. We also sprayed General Andrews Forest for tussock moths after they lost a tremendous amount of jack pine following an infestation. We hired a helicopter and I had to fly co-pilot."

He performed that job in the summer for 24 years, retiring from it in 1984.

In his work career, as in his military career, Dolan continued to chalk up awards. He was the recipient of the "Outstanding Teacher Award" from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1962, the WCCO "Good Neighbor Award" in 1963 and the Minnesota DNR "Length of Service Award" in 1983.

Since retirement, he and Mary have spent more time with their two grown children and have done a lot of traveling and camping together.

Still living in the original Cloquet home he built with the help of fellow teachers and the local lumber yard owner, Dolan just turned 87 the first part of June.

He grows pensive as he looks back on his long and multifaceted life experiences.

"There aren't many others left around," he mused. "All my poker group is gone and all my fishing and hunting partners are gone, except [Tom] Kloskowski. It's been a change....

"I met a lot of nice people and I had the best of all worlds," he continued. "I got to teach biology to a great bunch of kids, and for two months every summer I got to work with the Department of Agriculture [later the Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division], and I didn't even have to stay in a motel at night. I'd take a little two-man tent and put it out on some lakeshore somewhere - and get paid for it! They didn't realize I would have done it for free!"

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