Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Northwestern High School and Looking for a New Frontier

Yearning to be free, the seed was planted. Youthful exuberance and an almost impossible dream drove young Axel Pearson from Sweden to the promised land...America.

In 1906 Axel was established in Nebraska, and he sent for his wife to be Bertha, back in Sweden. Happily married, they had four children and frugally saved for their dream home. Try as they might that dream home in Nebraska was not to be. Farm and land prices were driven out of sight by profiteering speculators. Axel had come a long way and did not intend to spend the rest of his life a share-cropper.

1920: Affordable land at last.
Axel and some of his Nebraska neighbors took an exploration trip to northern Wisconsin. The virgin pine forest had been cleared, but the land was cheap. It was littered with huge stumps left behind by the lumber barons who didn’t leave a tree for a bird to sit in. Not even the Indians could survive there. Another reason for it being reasonably priced was its isolation and total lack of infrastructure.

Axel saw possibilities, bought, and began site preparation. He put up a temporary two room shanty and sent for Bertha and their four young children back in Nebraska.

The train trip north: March 28, 1920.
Cold, bleak and desolate. Axel went to Superior to meet the train from Nebraska, that brought his wife Bertha and their four young children, their belongings, included two work horses and even a new Ford car. Also on the train were several of Axel’s Nebraska friends who were emigrating to Cloverland and would be his neighbors there.

Maple train station to Cloverland: The Ford had to stay at the Maple station, the crude roads were to muddy. By the time the horses were attached to the loaded wagon and ready to depart Maple darkness was near. They were leaving the last vestiges of civilization, the train depot. This nine mile wagon ordeal to their new home left everyone exhausted, apprehensive, and motion sick. It was a jolting and seemingly endless journey up and down hills and crossing creeks while hanging on for dear life.

The end destination, their new home that awaited them would be cold and provisional. No heat, no insulation, no electric...until 1932, no indoor plumbing. A wood burning cook stove that would be their only warmth required a constant fire. All hands were needed, and rest would be a luxury.
Bertha and Axel, 1921

Bertha cried, Nebraska had been luxury living, but she was the one that would be the moral buster and see the family through the labor intensive building of the farm and community.

There were roads, bridges, and farm buildings to build, and a garden to plant. The enormous stumps required dynamite and horse power. This plague of stumps would haunt the farm for years to come. When Axel’s son Ed Pearson, who was ten when the family moved to Wisconsin, had his own farm years later, his daughter Jane, my wife, remembers in her youth walking the fields behind the plow and picking up sticks,stones, and tools left by the logging.  The detritus of the big pine stumps seemed to magically spawn from the red clay. This was before planting could begin. The affordable land would be paid for in relentless toil.

Bertha saved the day with chicken and egg production that saw the family through the meager Hoover days of the Depression when banks and businesses failed. Home foreclosures put over-spenders of the Roaring Twenties out on the street.

A seed was planted: Ed Pearson walked a mile to school and didn’t get to go to high school...there was none. A burning yearn to learn would be his goal in life.

It seems like a miracle now, but those exuberant pioneers had an unstoppable community building spirit. It would be more than thirty years before there was a paved road to town.

1921: The Town of Cloverland was created from part of the towns of Maple and Brule, and Axel Pearson was elected town supervisor. In 1932 Axel was elected to the board of Twin Ports Cooperative Creamery and soon became president. These were just the beginnings of the Pearson family involvement in community Building. Axel’s son Ed followed in his father’s footsteps.

Ed Pearson’s public-spirited career in community building plus his Northwestern High history.
In 1931 at the age of 21, Ed became Cloverland’s town constable and five years later he was elected Supervisor. At age 29, in 1938 he became town chairman. Ed became chairman of the Douglas County board of Supervisors in 1942 and held a seat on the county board until 1947.
At the same time Ed served as director on the Tri-Sate Fair Committee from 1938 until 1947.
1944, Ed was made head of the State Forestry Board for Douglas County.
1960, Governor Nelson named Ed to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Standards to develop a standard of care and treatment in Wisconsin's 38 county mental hospitals.
Not mentioned in the above story are these additional community involvements:
Board of directors of the Douglas County Historical Society.
Member of the South Shore Lion’s Club.
Member of the Western Bayfield Historical Society at Iron River, Wisconsin.
Community fund raiser for the Superior Memorial Hospital,
Chairman of the Holstein Breeders association
Member of the Farmer’s Union Grain Cooperative.
Organizer with Floyd Carlson and leader of the Cloverland 4-H Club.
Active Salvation Army contributor.
Regular donor to the Douglas County Blood Bank.
Deacon of the Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cloverland and Peace Lutheran Church in Poplar.
Forty years as trustee of the Parkland and Middle River Health facilities.
Member of the Authorizing committee for the state nursing home standards.
Ed served on the Douglas County Committee for schools prior to his involvement in creating and building a new high school in Maple.

The Board of Education elected three members, Edwin R. Pearson, William Kinnunen, the Coop store manager, and Mr. Alberts to organize a high-school building plan. 

The Maple Farmers Cooperative donated the land in Maple. The district was able to bond $120,000, donations were made, and labor pledged. With enthusiastic community efforts the school was ready to open by September 1949 with 175 students enrolled. One important item remained. There was no money to operate the school. Ed Pearson and some of his school board colleagues drove directly to the office of Wisconsin governor Oscar Rennebaum to ask for the needed funds to open the school. Ed told the governor that he was not leaving without the money to open the new school and was the last one out the door that night. The governor granted the funds from the state emergency fund and the school opened on time.
Ed was very proud of Northwestern High School and the school fulfilled his dreams except for one thing; he thought that the school should have a swimming pool. He felt the money allotted for athletics should be used to benefit all the students not just those who had the free time to pursue team sports. At the time, many of the students lived on farms and were needed at home and unable to participate in after school hour activities.

Ed served on the first school board of Common Joint District No. 1 of Maple when Northwestern High school was built in 1949. 
In 1976 after Ed sold his farm in Cloverland and moved to his new home in Maple he was again elected to a three year term on the school board. During this term the new Middle School was built.

Ed was a very busy man and never passed a moment of idle time. Being an amateur anthropologist and historian, he and his wife Eunice became active in local historical groups and found many like-minded people in the Western Bayfield Historical Society in Iron River, Wisconsin. They prepared and presented programs and various tours that included the Clevedon settlement at the mouth of the Brule River on Lake Superior. Ed had his own little museum at home filled with historical curiosities. He researched everything and published newspaper articles that became a regular feature.

As a child growing up in isolated Cloverland without electric, radio, or television Ed’s love of music got him to make his own. Beginning with a mouth harmonica, he next purchased a button accordion. Self-taught, he became accomplished and was a big hit at community gatherings accompanied by his neighbor friends. Ed said, “We didn’t have any musical instruments in the house at all. So, I trapped weasels and sold the hides until I got my first one, an old accordion, and I had to go in the back forty and practice to learn to play, but then I learned to play a little bit. I played for a few dances. They would be in a home or hall or something like that.”

Ed’s wife Eunice baked Scandinavian cookies and Ed distributed them every holiday season to the community’s lonely and needy.
More than a lifetime of dedicated service to the people of Douglas County, Wisconsin, has made Edwin Pearson one of the most outstanding public servants of all time...a marvelous and exceptional achievement for anybody.

In the early 1900’s young Axel Pearson was looking for a new frontier and found it. Axel's seed of community building would bear fruit for generations to come.
In 1920 Axel’s ten year old son Ed Pearson walked to school hunting rabbits along the way for the school lunch, the teacher would cook. Ed was a studious boy, avid reader, and eager learner who didn’t get to go to high school...there was none. A burning yearn to learn would be his all-important goal in life. The seed that Ed planted, like his father's, also took root, grew, and prospered.

Ed’s six children graduated from Northwestern High School, two of his grandsons, and four of his great-grandchildren have graduated or are attending.

Over a hundred years later, in 2018, Axel’s tree is still bearing fruit. Ed’s great-granddaughter Katie Lundeen is graduating in May from Northwestern High School with high honors and a stellar athletic record.
Katie Lundeen

Written by John M. Grimsrud, husband of Jane A. Pearson Grimsrud. Jane is the author of Looking for a New Frontier and Brule River Forestand Lake Superior, plus co-author of a four volume Sailing series books and two Yucatan, Mexico, adventure travel books.