Denali Elementary School in 1951This brief history of our school was written by talented fourth-grade students...
Denali School was built in 1950-51 to meet the needs of the people in west Fairbanks. The place where it was built was called Weeks Field, an airstrip. The school was named after the tallest mountain in North America. Denali is an Indian word meaning, "The Great One."
The main part was built by Reed and Martin Company. In the Spring of 1953 Burgess Construction Company started work on the new wing which was completed in the Fall of 1953. The multipurpose room was completed in 1957 by Pacific Construction Company. The cost of building Denali School was about $1,180,000.
The first year there were about 590 pupils enrolled in grades 1-7. There were no extra rooms like the library, music room and gym. When the first classes moved into the building from Main School, the furniture was not here. Some of the rooms used card tables instead of desks. In 1952 the school was crowded. Classes were on a morning shift and an afternoon shift. The addition of the new wing in 1953 ended double shifting. Enrollment was about 760 pupils.
Mrs. Cookie McPhee Denegree remembers meeting her students at Main School and walking across the airfield and ditches to her classroom in Denali. Mrs. McPhee taught at Denali from November, 1952 to her retirement in the Spring of 1983.
The playground had swings, teeter-totters, slides, a merry-go-round and a tennis court. The hill on Denali's playground was made from the dirt excavated from the second addition. This hill has been a favorite play area for the neighborhood children for many years. The playground was not fenced until the late 1970's. Moose would walk across the playground. Parents would bring children to school on snowmachines.
The wooden curbs around the primary playground and the cement curbs near the gym are the remains of the areas where skating rinks were made in the winter. These areas were flooded with water.
A hockey rink was built by Tim O'Keefe, Corky Hebard and volunteers. It was used by school children and city hockey teams.
The basement level of Denali was flooded during the 1967 flood in Fairbanks. The wood floor in the gym was ruined.
The school song was "Denali of the North." The words were written by Mrs. Gladys Thompson's Fifth Grade class, 1953-54. The music was written by Mrs. Jo Ryman Scott who was then music teacher at Denali. Mrs. Thompson had an alligator in her classroom. The alligator wore a parka in the winter. Mrs. Scott is now director of the Fine Arts Camp held at UAF in the summers.
Denali's mascot is the panther. The choice for a mascot was between the panthers, mountaineers and nuggets. The teachers wanted mountaineers. The kids wanted panthers. So, panthers became the school mascot.
The school colors chosen were blue and gold . The blue represents the sky and the ocean; the gold represents the gold from the hills, streams and stars.
Denali used to have a cafeteria which served food that was prepared at Denali. Mrs. Haggard was responsible for beginning this program at Denali--a first for the Fairbanks Schools. Steel trays were used to serve the lunch. Lunches were as cheap as twenty-five cents!
Denali was useful for community activities in its early history. Dinner for the Main High School Junior Prom guests were served at Denali. Many extravaganzas of music and drama were performed at Denali. Thanksgiving and Christmas programs were traditional.
Mrs. Marietta Pilgrim was Denali's first principal. Mr. Richard Carter became principal in 1952. Mrs. Haggard became principal in the Fall of 1957. She remained principal until her retirement in the Spring of 1976. Other Denali principals have included Mr. Tim O'Keefe, Mrs. Yvonne Ryans, Dr. David Hagstrom, and Tim Doran.
Denali used to have special opening day of school ceremonies . Mrs. Haggard came to school in a helicopter one year. Mr. O'Keefe came to school in a hot air balloon.
Denali's early newspaper was called The Paydirt. The paper prided itself in "Your news is panned from the bedrock of facts." A later newspaper was called Panther Prints. A slogan for Denali School was "Be proud of Denali and make Denali proud of you." Mr. Carter often said, "If Denali does it, it's done well."