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75-year history of Broadway Elementary building celebrated

Story tells how teacher helped school’s most famous graduate

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For 75 years the brick school house on Broadway in Denison has been a place where young minds and futures have been shaped.

The building was constructed for use as Denison High School, then served as Denison Middle School, and since the fall of 2008 has been Broadway Elementary, the home to the school district’s fourth and fifth graders.

On Friday the current occupants celebrated the building’s 75th birthday in an assembly that provided the lesson how reading and heeding advice from teachers will lead to a bright future.

Broadway Elementary Principal Steve Meinen showed a Biography Channel video that featured the building’s most famous student – actress Donna Reed – and included 1940-era pictures of the building.

Meinen, a history devotee whose wife serves on the Donna Reed Foundation board, said he often uses the “It’s a Wonderful Life” theme (Reed had a starring role in the classic movie) to tie into the character education at the school.

Teaching the history of the building helps the kids connect the history and motivates them to take pride in their school,” Meinen stated.

 “When I watch the “Donna Reed Show” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” I always see some kind of lesson,” said Meinen.

During the assembly, Meinen read from a March 1, 1946, Sarasota Herald-Tribune article that told about advice Donna Reed received from her a teacher that shaped her future.

Donna Reed, then Donnabelle Mullenger, was a bashful 13-year-old when she entered Denison High School in 1934.

“She was awkward and bashful and in something made over from last year. The boys teased her and the girls made fun of her clothes,” the article stated.

Meinen explained how chemistry teacher Edward Tompkins saw how students were treating Reed and told her about a bashful farm boy who was teased because he wore his father’s cut-down trousers.

But Tompkins knew that Reed could overcome her situation because he had been that bashful farm boy and had overcome his obstacles. He gave Reed a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Meinen told the Broadway Elementary students that Carnegie’s book is like “Character Counts, the Purple Hands Pledge and the Golden Rule all rolled into one.”

Reed read the book she was given and it helped to change her life. Her courage was bolstered and she took up theater in high school. As a senior she won the lead in the school play, was voted Campus Queen and was in the top 10 of the 1938 graduating class.

After high school the 17-year-old Reed accepted an invitation from a relative living in California to move there and continue her education. She excelled in the secretary program at Los Angeles City College and continued to toy with acting and eventually embarked on an acting career.

The story shows that reading, as well as listening to the advice of teachers, can be a key to a bright future, Meinen told the students.

“If she (Donna Reed) had not taken that advice from her teacher, she may never have gone on to achieve her goal of becoming a movie star,” he stated.

Tompkins left Denison High School and went to work on the Manhatten Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Manhatten project developed the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

At the end of the assembly, Meinen told students, “You can accomplish anything if you put your minds to it. Remember that reading and character are the keys to a bright future. Your future has not been written yet, so make it a good one.”

Pictures celebrating the Broadway Elementary buildings 75th anniversary can be found on the Denison Community School District’s website at www.denison.k12.ia.us. Click on the link to Broadway Elementary located on the left side of the page.


Building timeline

July 1936: cornerstone of the $135,000

senior high school put in place

February 1937: building first occupied

March 9, 1937: building dedicated

From Broadway Elementary webpage build by Ben Pardun and Ben Weber


FDR makes an appearance

As a special treat during Friday’s assembly celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Broadway Elementary building, Denison High School junior Robert Lyons portrayed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the students and answered several of their questions. He had played the role of FDR in the community musical production of “Annie” in the fall. Roosevelt’s administration instituted the Works Projects Administration; one of the WPA projects was the Broadway Elementary building.

Lyons, as FDR, explained he was a popular president because he pulled America out of Great Depression and lead America to victory against Germany and Japan, although he did not live to see victory over Japan.

He was also the first president to use mass communications, broadcasting his Fireside Chats on the radio to connect with the American people.

As Governor of New York he became increasingly interested in the plight of the poor and unemployed and saw that he could help the poor and downtrodden through the WPA and other programs.

Asked his favorite subject in school, Lyons (FDR) responded, “All the subjects were favorite, except for Latin,” and later added, “I should remind you always try in all of your classes, no matter if you like them or not, because they will come in handy.”

He also responded to a question about getting individuals jobs. “I pledges to a new deal with the American people. “The New Deal was meant to employ the unemployed and benefit communities through civic projects like schools. Broadway Elementary is a direct consequence of WPA.”

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