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Gary, Minnesota is a small town in northwestern Minnesota that is founded on the strength of its community. It's one of those towns where everybody knows everybody. Its most prominent building is its school building, currently the Norman County East Elementary School. For decades, the Gary school building has been the place of education for the children of Gary and eventually Twin Valley as well. On April 15, 2019, the Norman County East school board voted to close the Gary Elementary school building effective July 2020. This comes roughly one month after they voted to relocate grades 3-6 from the Gary Elementary to the Twin Valley High School for the 2019-2020 academic year.

  • Gary School Building, 1905
Credit: Gary Alumni Center
  • Tornado Damage to School Building, 1978
Credit: Twin Valley Times

The Gary school building was created to serve the educational needs of the children of the village of Gary. Over the course of the twentieth century, the building had some renovations and additions built onto it, including a library and gymnasium. It has also taken damage from natural disasters, such as a tornado in June of 1978. When enrollment numbers started to decline in the early 1990s, the Gary school district combined with the Twin Valley school district to form the Norman County East school district, and the Gary school building has served as the elementary building for Norman County East. Over the course of the 2018-2019 school year, due to costly repairs required for the roof of the Gary school building, the Norman County East school board held multiple meetings discussing the future of the building. Effective in the summer of 2020, the elementary grades will be moved to the high school in Twin Valley, and the Gary school building will no longer serve as a school building for Norman County East. 

Gary School District 59 was organized on July 27, 1885. A one-room school house was constructed in the village of Gary where the present school building is located. In 1905 the school house in the village of Gary was erected. In 1936 a new addition was made to the Gary School. 1937 saw the first official graduating class, which was composed of 5 students. Up until then, students of Gary school had to undergo as much of their coursework as they could in Gary and then finish their remaining coursework at any nearby accredited institution. In 1952, more expansions were added onto the building. In 1977, the old section of the school building was demolished and replaced with a new section that included a gymnasium, cafeteria, library, and more classrooms.

In the early hours of July 5th, 1978, a tornado hit Gary and other communities in northwestern Minnesota. In Gary, three people were killed and many more were injured. Many buildings in Gary were destroyed, and although it wasn’t completely demolished, the school building took some heavy damage as well. In total, Gary saw roughly $2.4 million worth of damage. $750 thousand of that damage was to the school. The addition of 1951 was the hardest hit part of the school, which saw the roof cave in. The 1936 addition and the recent 1977 addition saw minor damage. President Jimmy Carter soon declared the area of Norman County a disaster area, and Governor Rudy Perpich sent in the Minnesota National Guard to help search for survivors and assist with damage control.

1992 was a big year for Gary, as they had several school board meetings discussing the possibility of combining school districts with either Fertile or Twin Valley. They eventually reached an agreement with Twin Valley, and the two school districts signed consolidation papers in February to form the Norman County East school district. The Gary Bulldogs and the Twin Valley Tigers would combine to form the new mascot, the Norman County East Eagles. The Gary Bulldog mascot was not quite done, however, as the Gary Bulldogs men’s basketball team had a historic final season.

In 1991-1992, the Bulldogs only had one loss on the regular season and were primed to make a deep playoff run. They were given the number one seed in the 1991-1992 Region 8A, Subsection 2 tournament. During the playoffs, they knocked off teams like the Red Lake County Central Mustangs, the Waubun Bombers, and eventually the Fosston Greyhounds on their way to becoming the Sub-Section Champions. Unfortunately, this historic season would come to an untimely end at the Region 8A Championship game. The Bulldogs were beaten by the Clearbrook-Gonvick Bears. Including playoff wins and losses, the Bulldogs finished their season with a 24-2 record, the best ever record in the history of Bulldogs men’s basketball.

After the merger in 1992, the Gary school building was set to become the elementary school for the newly formed Norman County East school district. It was the home for children ranging from preschool to sixth grade. It served this purpose for twenty-seven years. For the 2019-2020 school year, it will still be the school building for preschool through second grade, and following the 2019-2020 school year, it will officially retire as a building of education. It will never be forgotten, and its walls are the home to so many memories of the children of Norman County. 

Norman County Heritage Commission and the Norman County Historical Society. Norman County History. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1976.

Felske, Audrey and Halvorson, Shawn. "Gary-NCE All School Reunion Scrapbook." 2000. 

GaryMN. “History of Gary by Decade.” 2011. Accessed April 12, 2019.

Twin Valley Times articles *note: entries in chronological order, not alphabetical

“Area Meeting Friday Evening.” Twin Valley Times, March 19, 1952.

“School Reorganization Meeting Well Attended.” Twin Valley Times, March 26, 1952.

“School Dedication Sunday At Gary.” Twin Valley Times, May 7, 1952.

“Gary School Addition Dedication Held.” Twin Valley Times, May 14, 1952.

“Gary Celebration Successful Event.” Twin Valley Times, July 7, 1976.

"Devastating Tornado Hits Sleeping City of Gary." Twin Valley Times, July 12, 1978. 

“Informational Meeting set for Wednesday.” Twin Valley Times, January 7, 1992.

“Gary Board Approves Pairing and Sharing with Twin Valley.” Twin Valley Times, January 14, 1992.

Nelson, Mike. “Time for Gary to Pull Together.” Twin Valley Times, January 14, 1992.

Wasfaret, Clif. “The Gary School Board Has Guts.” Twin Valley Times, January 14, 1992.

“Twin Valley’s School Board Gearing Up for Pairing and Sharing Agreement.” Twin Valley Times, January 21, 1992

“Gary School Board Proceedings.” Twin Valley Times, January 21, 1992.

Motteberg, Connie. “Having the Choice is More Important.” Twin Valley Times, January 21, 1992.

“Bulldogs: The End of an Era.” Twin Valley Times, February 4, 1992.

“Most Favor Pairing with Gary.” Twin Valley Times, February 4, 1992.

“Gary and Twin Valley Will Join to be Norman County East.” Twin Valley Times, February 18, 1992.

“Articles of NCE’s Pairing Agreement.” Twin Valley Times, February 18, 1992.

“Twin Valley School Sets Class Sizes for K-3.”

“Proceedings of the Gary Board of Education.” Twin Valley Times, February 18, 1992.

“School Boards Set NCE Athletics.” Twin Valley Times, February 25, 1992.

“Retiring the Bulldog.” Photo, Twin Valley Times, February 25, 1992.

Anderson, Carol. Twin Valley Times, February 25, 1992.

Wasfaret, Clif. “Gone but not Forgotten.” Twin Valley Times, February 25, 1992.