Remembering the last county school superintendent: Second of three parts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

During the 26 years Harold Dahlen served as the eighth Freeborn County superintendent of schools, he was part of the era which evolved from traveling by horse-drawn buggy or passenger train to automobiles. And during those years between the elections of 1908 and 1934, he used all three of those modes of transportation to go from school to school in the county as part of his official duties.

During most the years from 1865 and 1963, when Dahlen and 10 other men served as county superintendents, having so many rural and smaller community schools made practical sense. Children could attend those schools closer to their farms and homes. For most of the county’s earlier years the roadways were unpaved and weather conditions helped to make transportation a challenge. Thus, some children had the option of walking to and from school (which was uphill both ways, according to an old tale). Other children could ride bicycles or horses or even drive buggies to school. In fact, several schools even had accommodations like small sheds for those horses. In later years, automobiles and even a few school buses were starting to be used to transport children to and from school.

When Dahlen decided to retire and not run for re-election as superintendent in 1934, Lysle H. Steele became a candidate for this post. Steele had come to Freeborn County from Oklahoma about 1917 and taught in rural schools. He became the principal of the Geneva School in 1928.

Email newsletter signup

Sometime during the last century the term for county superintendent had changed from two to four years. Steele was elected to this position in 1934, 1938 and 1942.

In July 1945, Steele resigned to become head of the rural education department at Moorhead State Teachers College. Earl Engbritsen, superintendent of the Hollandale Schools, was appointed by the county board to replace Steele.

When Engbritsen became county school superintendent in 1945, there were 123 districts with 105 schools actually in operation. About 2,300 students were then attending rural schools in the county.

Engbritsen served as Freeborn County superintendent of schools for two years and returned to the Hollandale system. Arndt M. Vig was appointed by the county board to replace Engbritsen.

Vig was from Blair, Neb., where his father, the Rev. Peder Vig, had once been president of Dana College and Trinity Theological College. Arndt had taught school

Blair and been the school superintendent in Cordova, Neb. After service with the U.S. Navy from 1944-46, he moved to his wife’s hometown of Albert Lea. He worked as an office assistant in the City Hall on North Broadway Avenue, and accepted the appointment to become the 11th and what would be the last Freeborn County superintendent of schools in July 1947.

During his years in this office, Vig’s duties gradually declined. The full extent of this was probably best explained in a Tribune article in the Aug. 15, 1962, issue which reported:

&uot;There is now only one common school district – Mansfield – in Freeborn County The number was narrowed to one in July when District 549 split itself between the Austin and Glenville school districts.

&uot;At one time, there were 130 common school districts in the county. Then, in 1947, legislation was passed permitting county reorganization of the school districts.

&uot;’At that time,’ Vig relates, ‘there were 128 school districts in the county.’

&uot;Following this action, consolidation of school districts began, and in the next 15 years, most county schools had joined five independent school districts: No. 243 (Emmons), 242 (Alden), 244 (Freeborn), 245 (Glenville) and 241 (Albert Lea). In addition, seven other districts in adjacent counties – No. 497 (Lyle), 762 (Ellendale), 224 (Kiester), 827 (New Richland), 224 (Wells), 756 (Blooming Prairie), and 492 (Austin) included sizable areas of Freeborn County.

&uot;The biggest moves in consolidation of schools came in 1955-56 when Albert Lea and Glenville, districts between them absorbed most of the remaining common school districts.

&uot;This consolidation eliminated a large portion of the work of the school superintendent’s office involving coordination of reports from each district. Where in the past the superintendent might have to process 130 reports, he now had only half a dozen, although, of course, these half dozen were much more voluminous. Where in the past the superintendent might have to confer with 130 school heads during the course of the school year, he now had to deal with only a handful.&uot;

Vig’s last day as a county elected official was Jan. 7, 1963. He then taught in the Hollandale, Hayward and Halverson Schools and retired in 1975. Arndt M. Vig died in November 1983 and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.

Next: More information about the life of Danish immigrant John W. Olsen who became Freeborn County superintendent of schools, then served as the Minnesota State superintendent of schools.