Kaleva, Michigan 

Kaleva School

100th Year Anniversary of the Kaleva High School

The year 2014 has come and gone, but it commemorated a piece of Kaleva’s educational and historical significance marking the 100th anniversary of the Kaleva High School. This original institution led to the consolidation of the many country schools spread throughout a large rural community and became the Kaleva Rural Agricultural School and later the Kaleva Norman Dickson School, its current name today.

The first Kaleva School building was built in 1904 within the predominantly Finnish village limits, and was located next to the Kaleva Lutheran Church. This small cement building originated as a primary school with only 2 teachers, but was destroyed in a fire in 1912.  Subsequently, this loss led to the formation of the state certified K-12th grade Kaleva School system in 1914 which consisted of only three teachers for: primary (elementary), intermediate (middle) and high school; with the first graduating class being 4 young women in 1917. In 1933, the construction of the school’s gym took place, comprised primarily of recycled materials found around town: “that were hidden so not to be stolen”, according to Della Dixon, teacher and wife of Frank Dickson, superintendent of the Kaleva High School for several years. Because the locals did not want taxes raised, the money for construction came from donations granted by the local businesses and fundraising opportunities provided by the women of the community. As a result, in 1934, the gym was completed, which provided space for the athletic teams of KHS, which included: boys and girls basketball teams, baseball and football.

Because of the many “country schools” or feeder schools, scattered throughout the county, it was necessary for a consolidation to take place in order to unite the schools into one system. The feeder schools that were consolidated included: the Tin Can school, located four miles northeast of town; the Jouppi Standard School, 4 miles to the northwest; then at about the same time, as a result of the increasing enrollment, the larger Dorn country school, located two and a half miles southeast of town was added. This included physically moving the building to the athletic field by planks and rollers by the community’s men by the light of automobiles during the nighttime hours. “I went to the Dorn School which had been moved to Kaleva. The room was in the basement and the teacher was Miss Crow” states Donald Lagerquist.

Next to consolidate, came the Gilson school located five miles east of town, which was also physically relocated with funds raised by community efforts; this later became the workshop and home economics classroom. After this, came the Tanner school, which was located three miles west of town. Later in the 1950’s, the Big Four School also consolidated which resulted in its building being physically moved to the east side of KHS’s property: serving as an elementary classroom and later a band room.

With the final class graduating in 1963, even today many of these residents still get together for their class reunions. According to Russell and Gertrude Clements: “…In 1941 we were called into study hall and…learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked…as graduates to be, our future plans came to an immediate halt and WWII began. Our graduating class of 1942 was the largest in the schools history.” 

After consolidating with the Norman Dickson School in 1964, the Kaleva High School building was torn down in 1975.  After this final consolidation, the Kaleva Norman Dickson School District, its current title, is now the K-12 school located in the town of Brethren, seven miles to the south of Kaleva.  Although the original Kaleva School lot is now used as a parking lot for the Lutheran church, there were: “many fond memories of the building and it’s too bad it’s gone” states Allen Grossnickle, owner of Grossnickle Farms LLC. To honor the Kaleva High School, the Kaleva Historical Society has put together a display of pictures, artifacts, memories and more historical details of the Kaleva School’s existence and is available to the public during the summer months on Saturdays and Sundays.

Written by: Megan Desarmeaux KHS PR

With historical information provided by: Cindy Asiala KHS President

History of the Kaleva School


The information for this history was taken from a document written by Della Dixon, teacher and wife of Frank Dickson, KHS superintendent for several years. Della's grand-daughter Laura Rengo Dorn brought the history to the Bottle House Museum to put with the historical records. Herein are some recollections about the history of the Kaleva School as Mrs. Dixon tells it from her experience and historical facts she collected.

  • The first school in the village was built in 1904; it was a primary school with only two teachers,

    the cement block building burned in the fall of 1912.

  • The main part of the school was built in 1913; and in 1914 it became a K-12 graded school. However, there were only three teachers: primary, intermediate and high school.

  • The first graduating class in 1917 was comprised of 4 young women.

  • “As enrollment increased classes were added that students felt would help them get ahead and make the most of every opportunity.”

  • Electric lights were installed; the library was greatly increased and books were in great demand

    “The books are soon worn and shabby from constant use.”

In 1933 the construction of the school gymnasium began. Mrs. Dixon tells an interesting story about that. Evidently other schools in the area were building gyms at the same time. The Kaleva folks had gone far and wide to find construction materials to use (recycle). For some reason they were told to stop construction (she says because they were ahead of other schools). Anyway the materials were hidden around town so no one would steal them.


They also needed a certain amount of money to get started on the construction. This money was raised by popular subscription since most did not want taxes increased. “A few very civic minded business men of the community gave large sums.. The ladies of the community helped by putting on bake sales, dinners and shows.”

Here I want to bring up some similar instances from more recent history. In 1980 the John Makinen house made of 60,000 bottles from his pop bottling factory was for sale. Members of the Historical Society decided it would make a great home for their museum. So by subscription, enough money was raised from residents to purchase the home and move the musuem from its original home in the Dorn School. More recently in 2004, a group of citizens decided Kaleva needed a new library, fund raising started for the building and within a year the community had contributed almost $100,000 for the project. A very civic minded business family then donated $100,000 to complete the project.


Back to school history: The men of the community under Mr. Charles Dodt, secretary of the board of education gave their labor free. Mrs. Dixon comments that nothing seemed to daunt Mr. Dodt, he always figured a way out of every problem. Finding a way to get things done reminds me of Bob Rengo, a 1938 (?) Kaleva graduate, who served as mayor of Kaleva for 44 years. Bob is responsible for many of the improvements that made our town a little above others around. He was just honored with the placement of a sculpture on the Centennial Walkway. Be sure to check that out this weekend.


In 1934 the gym was completed. Mrs. Dixon's comments again: “It has served well its purpose, it has helped to build better bodies, better attitudes among the students and parents. It has taught some of the older Finnish people that besides hard work play is necessary in their lives.” She also describes some of the successes of the athletic programs, both girls and boys throughout the years.


In 1935 consolidation of country schools came up, but the people thought it was necessary to be free of debt. Money was again raised in many ways in lieu of raising taxes. The next part of Mrs. Dixon's history is notable because she relates the names and locations of the country schools around Kaleva:

  • The Tin Can School, 4 miles northeast of town was the first to join the consolidation

  • The Jouppi Standard school, 4 miles northwest of town was next

  • The Dorn School, two and a half miles southeast of town joined about the same time

  • The Gilson school, five miles east of town then became part of the consolidation

There was a little trouble getting the Tanner school, located about 3 miles west of town. However, the results of an election showed most people wanted to consolidate.


Of course some remember that in the 1950's the Big Four school also consolidated with Kaleva. That building was moved to the east side of school property and served as an elementary classroom and later the band room.


The enrollment so increased that it was decided to move the Dorn School building into town. Many people shook their heads and said it couldn't be done and there was no money. But again supporters felt otherwise. They bought a popcorn machine and sold popcorn at the Free Movies and at the Fair. This went on for many weeks and they made enough money to move the building.


That was only the first hurdle. The Dorn school was a large building covered with stucco. After much effort the movers managed to get the building out to the tarvia. The weight was so great that the rollers broke through the pavement and the men had to raise the building to get it on firm ground again. By the light of automobiles the men laid planks in front of the rollers, then when the building rolled over them the planks were picked up and laid down again. This was repeated over and over and by morning the men got the building to the athletic field, where a grass fire came up and nearly destroyed the building! It survived, was remodeled and housed the elementary grades. Finally, the board wanted a workshop and Home Ec. Classroom so they moved the Gilson School into town. Again the community raised the money and did the work.

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