Elaine (Olson) Ekstedt '69
Elaine Ekstedt began as a student at MA in ‘66, graduated in ‘69, and has been a faculty member at the School since she began teaching English in the fall of ‘73! Her job at Minnehaha is the only job she has ever formally applied for in her life. She graduated from Augsburg College with a secondary education degree in English and had hoped to be a teacher but was hired as a faculty secretary. A week before school started, Arlene Anderson called Elaine into her office and asked her if she was disappointed that she didn’t get a teaching position. Elaine said, “No! I know it’s going to be a lot of work.” Arlene went on to share that Geri DeVries had decided to take a sabbatical. “How would you like to take her position with a full time English contract?” In about two hours Elaine’s whole life changed. She had one week to get ready. “God just came along and pushed me head first. I didn’t have time to be worried about it.”
Many Years, Many Hats
She never planned to be the most tenured employee at Minnehaha Academy, or dreamed about any of the things she has done! Elaine taught English for five years, then took over the yearbook which grew into the Publications Program. After getting her Master’s in Special Education, she gave up Publications and became the Director of Special Academic Services. Soon after she created a class called Basic Skills, which supported students in their English and writing. She has had a major role with the school’s accreditation, has served on the Centennial and History Committees, and is the Volunteer Archivist at the Alumni/Archive House. She now leads Learning Lab, where she teaches study strategies and habits. “I have been blessed through the years to see a need, do something about it, and make it happen. I’ve had incredible opportunities to do things here.”
The day before the explosion, Elaine was working at the Upper School. She remembers using the bathroom and stopping to look at the posters that were above the sink. Then she walked out the door and noticed a purple post-it note on a classroom door that was signed by John Carlson. It read “This room has been vacuumed.” Shortly after she saw Ruth Berg and they talked for a minute. Then she walked back to the counseling office and worked on student files. Twenty-four hours later it was all gone--including a person she had just spoken to the day before.
Preserving the Legacy
Some time after the explosion, Elaine, Jim Wald, Curt Bjorlin, and Sara Jacobson were invited to walk through the remnants of the former campus and determine what could or should be salvaged. They focused on this question: “What connects with both the students and the history of MA?” The criteria they decided on for keeping items were: Did it have historical value? Monetary value? Student contact? At the time they walked through and made decisions, they had no idea what kind of space there would be in the new building. The focus for building and opening the new school was on the structural pieces--the objects that would have to be built into the building. Other items could be incorporated later.
The bricks from both the original buildings were incorporated into the new Upper School. There are two design features of bricks: one of the bricks from 1922 against a backdrop of a large photo of the school from that era; and one with bricks from 1912, engraved with people’s names. With a gift to the future of MA, you can choose to either keep a brick from 1912 as a keepsake or have it displayed.
Uniting Old and New
Here are some of the items that survived the blast that you will see in the new Upper School:
At the north end of the school’s first 1912 building was a staircase which ran from the basement up to the third floor. The cement stair treads on that staircase were used by all MA students from the first class up until those of 2017. A number of those stair treads were removed and incorporated in the floor near the skylight, so they may continue to be walked on by MA students.
Senior Hall was a destination students aspired to for many years. In some years three students were assigned to two lockers, one for coats and one for books, and that hallway was also a focus of celebration decorations. In recent years, fewer students use lockers, so there are digital lockers for students to use as they need to in the new building. Two of the senior lockers were salvaged and will be on display.
Minnehaha Academy Monument sign
The “Minnehaha Academy” sign block was placed over the main entrance of the school’s first 1912 building and remained there until it was removed before demolition in 2017. It is a testament to God’s faithfulness, as well as the dedication of the founders and commitment of the community, that the 1912 building opened without any debt. This sign has been set outside the front door, along with the 1912 cornerstone, to welcome all who enter Minnehaha Academy.
Justus Hollinbeck was the school’s first librarian. His wife was a sculpture artist in the Twin Cities and created a bust of his head, which was given to the school in the 1980s. This bust resided in the library for many years, and it is reported that students would rub his nose for luck before tests. At the time of the explosion, the bust was located just outside the main library door, in the primary path of the blast. It was later found 3 floors down in the boiler area where the explosion happened, without its wooden pedestal and metal marker. Because the bust is cast bronze, it is scratched in spots, but cleaned up rather well, and is currently residing in the alumni/archive house until there is a place for it in the new space.
To Fellow Alumni
What would Elaine like to say to other alumni? “I’m hopeful that something we have saved will be meaningful to you. I’d like to invite everyone to come visit our Alumni/Archive house on campus--it has MA history such as pictures, yearbooks and memorabilia since the inception of the school, and also artifacts that were saved after the explosion. There is also a digital newspaper resource. If any of you have an interest in MA history and would like to come and volunteer, I’ve got all kinds of jobs and would love to put people to work!” You can contact Elaine directly at email@example.com.