A century in Kenwood: Kenwood Community School turns 100

KENWOOD — In January, when she hopes to be recovered from recent shoulder surgery, Ginny Humphrey plans to resume her volunteer work at Kenwood Community School.

So begins another chapter in Humphrey’s long relationship with Kenwood.

The retired special education teacher has volunteered at the school, on and off, since the mid-1980s. Her four children attended the school beginning in the 1950s. She enrolled in the 2nd grade at Kenny in the fall of 1926.

Humphrey is 88, though she doesn’t look it. Kenwood celebrates its 100th anniversary this school year.

It’s likely few people know the school as well as Humphrey, and, in her opinion, Kenwood and the surrounding neighborhoods have thrived together.

"Kenwood always had a reputation of being a good school, and people moved in [to the neighborhood] because they wanted a good school," she said.

Kenwood’s staff and students are celebrating a century of close neighborhood ties this school year. Built in 1908 and the second oldest operating school building in the district — it’s a decade younger than Pratt Community School, near the University of Minnesota — Kenwood has a unique place in its community, said
Principal Susan Craig.

"We have so many members of our community that have really warm and incredible memories of Kenwood," Craig said.

That may be part of the reason about 150 people who live near the school volunteer every school year. It may also explain why there are a surprising number of second- and even third-generation Kenwood students.

For all of them, this has been a year to recall times past at the corner of Penn Avenue & West 21st Street.

A ‘hidden gem’

Fifth-grader Elizabeth Shaheen, like many of her classmates, has learned a lot about Kenwood this year that she never knew before.

Like how there used to be two separate playgrounds for boys and girls. Or how, in the 1930s, Principal Caroline Barron used to ring the fire bell when doting parents lingered too long in the classroom. (We call them "helicopter parents" now, but it’s unclear what term they used 75 years ago.)

Shaheen’s grandmother, Jean Conroy, attended Kenwood in the late ’20s and early ’30s. Her mother, Tricia Conroy, started at the school in 1968.

When Tricia Conroy and her husband moved back to Minneapolis from the East Coast in 2000, she was drawn back to the Kenwood neighborhood in part by her fond memories of the school.

"I remember the day I walked in to take a look at it for Sam [Elizabeth’s older brother]" she said. "… It felt like home."

The school’s motto these days is "Smarts+Arts," reflecting a purposeful integration of arts and academics. Students like Conroy’s daughter learn Japanese taiko drumming in the 2nd and 3rd grades and work on their photography skills in the 4th and 5th grades.

But Conroy, who played the Tin Man in a Kenwood production of "The Wizard of Oz," said the arts were important in her day, as well as when her mother attended Kenwood.

"We call [Kenwood] the little hidden gem," she said. "The staff when I went there was fantastic, and we’ve found the staff now to be great."

A century of memories

At 100, Kenwood has outlasted many of its contemporaries. All of the other school buildings from the same decade were torn down, repurposed or now sit empty, said Clyde Kane, the district’s director of facilities.

The hallways are unusually wide on the third floor of the original building. Humphrey said the old wood floor up there looked the same as it ever did, although she noted lockers long ago replaced cloak rooms and the dark wood trim around the classroom doors was now painted in bright, cheerful colors.

When Humphrey attended Kenwood, workers were still dredging the then-swampy Lake of the Isles. Actual Civil War veterans, both Union and Confederate soldiers, marched across the school’s stage on Memorial Day, wearing their blue and/or gray uniforms. In that same room — the old gymnasium — she and her classmates watched silent movie serials starring Rin Tin Tin.

Humphrey and some of her fellow alumni sat for an interview with Kenwood third graders in December and shared some those memories. When a student asked her what games Humphrey used to play, he didn’t understand her response: "pom-pom-pullaway."

"Then I told him about jacks and jumping rope, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah — we do that,’" she said.

A school may grow old, but some things never change.

FYI

Kenwood Community School alumni are still looking for old classmates to share their memories and join in the 100th anniversary celebration.

To join a Kenwood mailing list, email kenwoodalum@aol.com.

For more information on the anniversary, visit www.kenwood.mpls.k12.mn.us.