Greetings: Alumni, Staff, and Friends of Education
David J. Forkenbrock, 1961 LHS graduate, wrote a letter to the Foundation December 30, 2001 stating his intentions to chair a steering committee that is comprised of representatives of about ten classes from 1956-1966. The purpose: to establish the Thora Skomedal Scholarship/Endowment. David also enclosed a check to constitute the first donation to the fund.
Unfortunately, David passed away and the committee never met. Occasional donations have been received from alumni and the funds have been slowly accumulating since 2001.
The Thora Skomedal Scholarship will be awarded to a graduating LHS senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in English.
The Foundation continues to accept donations to the Thora Skomedal fund. For more information on how you can become involved contact the Foundation office.
Those us who were fortunate enough to have had Ms. Thora Skomedal as our senior English teacher, will never forget her. She made great literature come alive. She taught us a sensitivity to language and the craft of writing.
I will never forget when we started our senior year how disappointed she was with our class. We did not know our grammar – not to her standards, anyway. As a result, she had us diagramming sentences, day after day, until we finally learned it! Now, I know diagramming sentences has long been out of favor in the education world, but I for one have always been grateful for what she did through that process. She taught me how language works.
Something else I’ll never forget. Some years after I had graduates, I asked her if she was still teaching Macbeth. No, she told me, Macbeth had become too "noisy." She now preferred teaching Hamlet. That puzzled me at the time. But after teaching Shakespeare for several years myself, I think I finally understood what she was getting at. The language Shakespeare uses in Macbeth is more rugged to fit the man of action Macbeth was. Hamlet, on the other hand, uses language more refined to fit the man of thought that he was. You had to love her! She not only understood her subject, she felt it, and as always, she conveyed it through her lively teaching.
Ms. Skomedal taught English at Lincoln High School from 1947 to 1966 and left a mark on her students that can never be erased. That is why some of her former students are organizing this endowment in her honor and are asking for contributions.
Written material submitted by a past student of Ms. Skomedal
Denise asked me to condense my life story into a Prowler Profile, but, having grown up in Thief River, I’m not all that comfortable talking about myself. So here instead are some selected memories about the Lincoln High teachers who made a difference in my life—and in the lives of many, many others.
Think, for a moment, of the three most influential people in your life. Is one a teacher? Chances are the answer is yes.
When I think of Lincoln High School, circa 1959 to 1962, I think first of Thora Skomedal.
Thora was a larger-than-life figure, in every way: Big figure, big heart, big intellect, big spirit. Her senior English course on the Greek classics—the Aeneid, the Iliad and the Odyssey—brought the exploits of Hector and Odysseus to life for generations of students. How Thora loved those books! She would read a passage aloud, and then close her eyes, tilt her head back slightly and, almost in a reverie, say something like, “That Odysseus, he was on quite a quest!” Then, after a long pause, she would unleash her signature phrase, in a lilting Norwegian accent, to underscore her point—“Don’t you know?”
Thora never married—she lived on the farm with her two brothers—but she could imagine being Helen of Troy. Sometimes, when she read certain passages from those great books, she was Helen of Troy. Today I can’t recall much about the substance of those epics—someday I’ll re-read them—but I will remember always her ability to bring a book alive. As she read aloud from the classics, sharing vivid descriptions of the great heroes and villains of Greek mythology, she gave a naïve, sheltered seventeen-year-old a lifelong appreciation of life’s possibilities.
Ted Hellie, whom we had for junior year English, was a kind, smart and witty man, but when it came to enforcing grammar or correcting papers, boy, was he fussy. As Steve Embury ’60 likes to ay, Ted was a King of Commas. But he taught us that clear thinking leads to clear writing. We wrote and wrote and wrote in Ted’s class, and we learned that the right words, in the right order, can make a difference forever.
Joe Forsberg, junior and senior math and physics, was a friendly fellow with a very close crew cub. He looked a little like Garry Moore, but he was no comedian: He understood the logic and the elegance of mathematical theorems and he pounded them into our young brains, in his quiet, steady and methodical way.
Blanche Larson was a charming personality who was able to persuade distracted seventh and eighth graders that learning some Latin was worth doing and occasionally could even be interesting. Because of Blanche, I still know what Veni, vidi, vici means.
Joe Mrkonich, the gruff football coach who came to Thief River from the Iron Range, quickly convinced me that I was too small and too timid to play much football for TRF. So I became the student manager for our basketball team, where I met Coach Harley Story. Harley was the basketball genius who taught us that, after more than 50 losses in a row over twenty-three years, we could beat Bun Fortier’s hated Bemidji Lumberjacks, (60-53, 1960) and go on to the State Tournament. If we could do that, anything was possible. After our games, I called the score into the Minneapolis Star, and that was the beginning of my journalism career.
And finally, Quentin Jones, our quiet, humble, industrious track and cross-country coach, who taught us how to run, whether we were any good at it or not, because “running is the best exercise there is.”
So let me give thanks to these great teachers and to so many others at Lincoln High who helped us on our way. To paraphrase a line from my College’s alma mater: “Though ‘round a girdled earth we roam, their spell on us remains.” Thanks to Thora and Ted and Quentin and all the rest, we got a great education—“Don’t you know?”
Peter S. Prichard (LHS ’62) is president of the Newseum, the $435 million interactive museum of news under construction on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. (Newseum.org). Before that, he was editor in chief for six-and-a-half years of USA TODAY, the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper. [Reprinted from Winter 2006 TRF Education Foundation Newsletter]
Thora Skomedal Devotes Life To The Teaching Field
What motives and what circumstances combine to spawn a decision to devote one’s life to teaching? Certainly the decision is not based on the desire for wealth or ease: the profession is an especially demanding one, and hardly remunerative enough to shove one into a high-income bracket.
But it is replete with its own rewards, Miss Thora Skomedal would tell you. And she should be in a position to know, for teaching has been her lifetime dedication; she has given many, many years to it.
“I guess I always wanted to be a teacher,” she stated, “perhaps because I had a primary teacher for whom I felt a profound admiration—perhaps because it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that I would enter the profession—my parents more or less made the decision for me. And for three of my sisters as well,” she added.
Born and educated in Thief River Falls, up to and including Normal Training, Miss Skomedal began her career by teaching first in the rural schools in Marshall county. During those five years, she nursed a desire to be county superintendent of that county. So she finally exchanged her teacher’s desk for that of a student, and proceeded to learning from textbooks instead of teaching from them. The college she chose was at Bemidji.
Ultimately she received her degree in education there and went on to become a high school teacher. At intervals she continued her education at UND in Grand Forks.
One year, while employed at Rauch, she had to teach seven subjects, among them such widely divergent fields as English, Latin, algebra, history, and biology, in addition to which she directed declamation contests. “A full schedule,” she commented wryly. In general, she devoted her energies to the teaching of English; although necessity sometimes decreed that she would fill in to teach some other subject for which no teacher had been secured. This was especially true when she served as high school principal. “The principal usually inherited the job of filing a vacancy when one occurred. She might find herself called upon to teach almost anything.”
Now, the job calls only for teaching English, but part of it entails directing speech contests. It is still a full-time pursuit.
“Mentioning speech work,” she laughed, “I am reminded of my first experience in public speaking. The dread of my first speech grew to such proportions that I was practically scared to death. However, once I’d gotten to my feet, I drew confidence from the audience.
“But on occasion it still frightens me—like the time when I had to address 300 school board members, all of them male.” She admitted to having that “about-to-come-apart-at-the-seams” feeling until she saw, in the group, the face of a next-door neighbor peering out to smile at her, and then she was entirely reassured.
Miss Skomedal continued teaching high school. One day, picking up the Warren Sheaf, she noticed that the position of Marshall county superintendent of school was vacant and she promptly filed for the post. However, she was defeated in the election. After that, she accepted a position in an Indian school at Cass Lake.
“I just loved it, there,” she smiled. “We had a choir of squaws, and I remember so well the times when we rehearsed for the Christmas concert. The women like singing so well they had no desire to go home when practice ended. So I made coffee, and after coffee announced that we would all leave after the next number. Still, no one made the move to leave, and I announced again that it was time to go home. Finally, after the third such reminder, they left.”
At Christmas, instead of the well-publicized apple, she received from the Indians such gifts as a pailful of walleyed pike; sugar prepared from the sugar maples; and wild rice by the bagful.
“I recall thinking that the rice looked terribly dirty—now buying that commodity, I realize what a valuable gift they had given me.”
“I grew to love my work with the Indian children to the extent that I had almost made up my mind to stay there for good,” she chuckled. “But then one day when my mother came to visit me, she brought along a copy of the Warren Sheaf, and you know what happened—the county superintendent post was open again; I filed, and this time I won.”
She served in that capacity for eight years. Then, her tenure of office ending in January, she filled out the school year by teaching in North Dakota, where she was also superintendent for the remainder of the term. “I was supposed to teach English,” Miss Skomedal sighed. “Imagine doing that without text books!” It seems that the state did not furnish free texts at that time.
“Finally student remembered that this uncle, or that cousin or aunt, or some other relative, happened to have an English book at home, one that he or she had bought while going to school. So we eventually assembled enough texts to carry on our class work.”
The students made no pretext of hiding the fact that the English teacher was expected to direct the class play, so she undertook this as well. “It was most enjoyable,” she recalled. “In fact I had almost made up my mind to come back in the fall, when I felt a sudden urge to come home for a year. “You know the result: I liked it immensely; so well, in fact, that I’ve put in sixteen years right here.”
There was a time, either years ago, when Miss Skomedal succumbed to the urge to spend a summer overseas, really for pleasure, but with an opportunity to absorb a great deal of background that would be beneficial in her work. Going as part of a group on a guided tour, she visited England (naturally, for she teaches English literature); Norway, where she has several cousins (teachers, one active, the other retired); Germany, France, and Switzerland, among others. “But I had to get back to my work after the summer was over. You know how it is…”
For 16 years Miss Skomedal has served as English instructor in Lincoln high school, and she is still going strong. In fact, she is practically an institution there. Ask any alumnus from that far back; mention English “Lit,” and someone is sure to query, “Remember Miss Skomedal?"
By Flora Allison, Times Society Reporter, Thief River Falls Times, Nov. 22, 1962
Thora Skomedal’s Life Dedicated To Education
Thora Skomedal was born and raised in Excel Township, where she still resides today with a lifetime’s educational career in between.
Her parents, John and Kari Skomedal, both came from Norway. Her father came in 1882, when he was 9 years old, and her mother, Kari Bergland, was only 3 years when she arrived in this country.
They were married in 1895. To this marriage were born four sons and six daughters.
In 1919, her father decided it was time to build a larger house. The house had five large bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, kitchen, two screened porches, full basement and attic. All this, including storms and screens for all the windows, a furnace, cistern and all rooms finished, even the sanding and varnishing of all hardwood floors, cost only $4,200.
When the house was almost completed, heavy rains caused flooding of the whole neighborhood. It was hard for her father, John, to see his cop ruined. This was the crop he had counted on to help pay for the house.
It is this same house Miss Skomedal lives in today and it is, indeed, a lovely home.
Five years later, in 1924 her father passed away at only 52 years of age.
The two oldest brothers took over the farming after their father’s death. There were many younger family members to support and it was not easy, but the boys were determined to work hard and to hang onto the land, and they did. Later, two other brothers took care of the farming.
In 1966, after Thora’s sister, Agnes, who had been the housekeeper on the farm, died suddenly, Thora took over the household duties. Since 1981, after the death of the last Skomedal brother, Thora, the oldest in the family, has lived alone on the farm.
Much happened in Miss Skomedal’s life during those years. In 1915 she graduated from Thief River Falls High School and Teacher Training Department.
As early as she can remember, she wanted to be a teacher and her parents encouraged her. In the first rural school in which she taught, she had 21 students and all grades, 1-8. Two of the students were only 2 years younger than she. They were 16. She was 18.
She spent 5 years teaching in rural schools and then went on to Bemidji, where she earned her degree in education. Later, she served as principal in several schools.
Miss Skomedal had also had a desire for some time to teach in an Indian school, so for two years she taught in the Chippewa National Forest in an Indian school located between Bemidji and Walker. She was an elementary teacher there. “Everything was fun in that Indian school!” Miss Skomedal said.
She remembers well the day she was driving to the school to begin her duties there. When she was just about to her destination, she began to have trouble with her car. Several young Indian fellows came to help her, but just then a highway patrolman came and soon got her car going again. As he left, he said, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with them, if I were you.” Little did he know that that was where she was to spend her next 2 years.
She was teaching elementary grades here but one of her favorite extra-curricular activities was directing a choir of Indian women. “At that time,” Thora said, “I was able to sing all those Christmas carols in the Indian language, too.” She said she was thinking about it the other day and realized that she has forgotten most of the words now. How she wished she could still recall them!
She remembers well the gifts the Indian people gave her when she left. There was a wooden pail of walleye fish, ready to prepare to eat, a basket of maple sugar and a basket of wild rice.
Some of her former students from the Indian school still come to visit her.
She chuckled as she recalled a couple incidents involving little Jacob, a first grader. One day, a state supervisor had visited the school and later the students were washing up for lunch. Jacob said, as she poured water over his hands, “What did the man say about me?” When she said, “He said that you were a good reader,” he quickly piped up with, “Will you give me a quarter?”
Another time, when it was the first graders’ turn to carry in wood, she heard Jacob’s voice shouting, “Open the door, Miss Skomedal, open the door!” Since she thought he should really do that himself, she didn’t open the door. Soon she heard the wood drop, the door opened and she said she saw one angry little Indian, who said sharply, “Why for you not open the door?”
In 1939, Thora Skomedal accepted the challenge and was successful in the campaign for Marshall County Superintendent of Schools, a position she held for 8 years.
“It was lots of fun to campaign,” she remarked. “I met lots of people.” She said she was glad she could speak Norwegian, but often wished she could have spoken French and Polish, too. “The older folk, especially, liked it when I could speak their native tongue.”
She enjoyed her years in Warren but, as she said, “The majority of the people I knew well then are no longer there.”
She said she often had jokingly said that while she was in Warren she must have spent most of the money on the NELSONS. She had her room and board with Mrs. Stena Nelson. May Nelson, then co-owner of the Marymay Shop, always kept her eyes open for dresses she might like and was also her hairdresser, and, although she didn’t drive a Ford, she always had her car taken care of at Nelson Motors.
After she left Warren in January 1947, she finished out the year in Rutland, North Dakota as Superintendent of Schools.
For the next 19 years, she taught English and speech in the Thief River Falls High School. She was supposed to teach two senior English classes and have three study halls her first year in Thief River Falls. However, in the middle of the year, the other English teacher broke her hip and resigned. The superintendent didn’t ask her, she said, but told her she would then be teaching all the senior English classes. She had 164 students in all. Writing was required in many of the classes, so there were many papers to go over.
It was interesting to note, she added, that many of her students took part in state speech contests and placed in those contests during her stay in Thief River Falls.
When she became 65 years of age, the board said they wished she wouldn’t quit. “So,” she said, “I guess they just forgot I was 65 years.” She taught for 4 years more.
At 88 years of age, Thora Skomedal still keeps up an immaculate house, cares for lots of flowers in the summer, still drives her own car and attends Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls. “The thing I like to do a lot of is to read! There’s so much I’d like to read that I can’t get it all done,” she added.
Although Miss Skomedal doesn’t travel much anymore, she has many pleasant memories of her trip to Europe during the summer of 1954. She was gone for three months and, while there, visited nine countries. She said it was quite an experience, but having done it once, she would not especially care to go there again. She had made other shorter trips, but that was her major one.
The family of John and Kari Skomedal has gradually dwindled in size, but Thora still has four sisters living. Two are living nearby, one lives at Oklee and one in Minneapolis.
By Orpha Overlid Thief River Falls Times date unknown