By Alan Sorensen
As Box Elder students prepare for the school year that will take them into the next millennium, those who boldly went before will be holding an all-school 70th reunion party.
The reunion begins with registration at 2:30 p.m. today at Box Elder School, with a dinner set for 6:30 p.m. at the school.
Well have a program, said organizer Herb Freier. Some presentations. It will be historic and patriotic because it is the last summer of the millennium.
The reunion will move to Havre Saturday evening for a banquet at the VFW Club. The banquet begins at 6 p.m. A Sunday brunch will be held at the VFW from 10 a.m. to noon. Thats where they say their goodbyes and have one last look at their old boyfriends and girlfriends, Freier said.
Freier, class of 1944, was drafted to head up the reunion organization when Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Bert Corcoran had to bow out because of his busy schedule.
Box Elder High School alumni who have spent a lot of time helping Freier get everything ready include Nora (McKernan) Nelson, Joyce (Goodian) Michels, Emi (Nagamitsu) Colier, Donna (Silvernale) Horel, Gladys (Davis) Dusek, and Pat (McKernan) Warhank.
Freier didnt know exactly how many people will be attending the three-day affair, but did say that a number of early day students and teachers have said theyll be back. Freier said that the response from Rocky Boy residents who attended the school was lower than hed hoped for.
Though Box Elder High School wasnt chartered and built until 1929, Box Elder very likely had the first grade school in what is now Hill County.
According to Chouteau County records in Fort Benton, School District 13 was established in 1885. The grade school at Dog Creek (Box Elder) opened that same year and was still operating when Hill County was formed from Chouteau County in 1912.
The original high school and gym burned down in April 1964, but the new elementary wing facing the street was saved, according to an article by Fran Smith at the time. Firefighters, trucks and equipment from Big Sandy, Havre, Kremlin, Gildford, Rocky Boy and Fort Assinniboine responded to the blaze.
Freier said that the gym that burned in 1964 was built mostly by Native American workers during the early days of World War Two and was completed in 1942.
The new high school was incorporated into the elementary building, with the gym in the rear.
A number of graduates from the 1930s plan to attend the reunion, including one from the class of 1932: Esther Johnson Beaulieu of Great Falls. The next youngest, Freier said, will be Kathleen Colligan Frazier of Hayden Lake, Idaho, and Dorothy Bailey of Kremlin, both of the class of 34. The class of 35 will have four representatives: Jerry Dusek of Havre; Gladys Flatness Dauer of Havre, Helen Flatness Kallenberger from south of Havre, and Grace Whetham Clawiter of Big Sandy.
Representing the class of 36 will be Joe Fourage, Havre, and Noel Spangelo, Great Falls. Laurence Craft, Ole Flatness, Alfred Kiemele and Mary McKernan Brady are coming from the class of 37.
Among those early graduates, Freier said, are three members of the 1934 Hi-Line Championship girls basketball team: Dauer, Kallenberger, and Clawiter.
Box Elder had many great teams since then, Freier said, but the team deserving the greatest recognition was the 1999 Lady Bears team that won the Montana State Class C Championship. Coach Marlee Sunchild is the daughter of long-time Great Falls High Bison coach Larry Lucero.
Freier also hopes that some of Rocky Boys notable residents will attend. Among those, he said, is outstanding Box Elder and Northern Lights star Tim Henry who coached the Box Elder Bears to a state title earlier this decade.
Henry and his relatives, including Ronnie Joe Henry, who was instrumental in Rocky Boys move to self-governance, are direct descendants of John (Dutch) Henry, one of the founders of Box Elder.
According to a history of Box Elder written by Fran Smith in 1961 and published in the Hi-Line Herald, the town was settled by Henry and three other homesteaders in 1887 or 88. The four men Robert Corcoran, Dave Adams, Clem Sailor, and Henry had been employees of the Broadwater-McCullough Company at Fort Assinniboine. Many of their great grandchildren and other descendants still live in the area.
Smiths account placed the actual beginning of Box Elder as a viable community when David Cowan moved his business from the town of Cypress adjacent to Fort Assinniboine to Box Elder. Cowan continued buying buffalo bones from from area Indians for $6 a ton and sold merchandise to the six homesteaders and 40 new residents of the Box Elder area.
The Cowan family eventually became one of the most prominent in northcentral Montana and continues to thrive today.
My brothers and I went around the west bench country collecting bones during the Second World War and sold them for about $6 a ton, Freier said. The only difference was we were selling them to W.T. Cowan instead of David Cowan, like my father did.
Noted author Dan Cushman grew up in Box Elder and wrote numerous stories about his hometown. His most famous work, Stay Away Joe, about a champion bull rider and Korean War hero from Rocky Boy, has become a classic. Chippewa Cree Tribal Councilman Alvin WindyBoy still holds the school record for free-throw percentages. His younger brother Jonathan, recognized as one of the finest grass dancers in Canada and the United States today, was co-captain of the Box Elder Bears basketball team and state championship cross country team.
Among the schools many notable alumni are former Hill County Commissioner Nora Nelson, Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Bert Corcoran and his wife Josephine Oats (both successful educators), RJS & Associates owner Dr. Robert Swan, nationally renowned educator Edward Parisian, and the first head of the American Indian Gaming Commission, Harold Monteau.
Four teachers from the 1930s and 40s also have accepted invitations to return for the reunion.
Our basketball coach from 41 and 42, Tom Eaton of Nye, is coming and he is in his 80s, Freier said. Were going to present him with a basketball with all our signatures. Seven of the 10 kids who played under him will be there, so were going to present him with the basketball Friday night.
Two team members are deceased, Joe Rosette and Kenneth Goodian, and one lives in Phoenix and wont attend.
Other returning teachers are Isabel McKlintock Bitz, Box Elder, who taught at the school in 1943 and 44, Marion Lockhart Briggs, Havre, who taught in 1937 and 38, Jane Fetterman Knudson, Saco, the band director and teacher from 1941-43.
Theyre the four that I know are coming, Freier said.