Nordale School circa. 1960
Nordale Elementary School was named after a well-known Fairbanksan, (Alfeld) Hjalmer Nordale. Hjalmer was born in Seattle, Washington in 1884. After early schooling in Dawson, Canada, he and his family then took a sternwheeler to Fairbanks, Alaska. He went to school in Fairbanks and graduated from Fairbanks High School in 1914, part of the second high school class to graduate from the school. He attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
His first job in Fairbanks was serving as a game warden. Then he was a reporter for the Daily News Miner. He later served as the newspaper's managing editor. He worked for Pacific-Alaska Airways (which later became part of Pan-American Airlines) for a while, but found it necessary to quit when his father died, to take his place as manager of the Nordale Hotel and other affairs. He was city councilman and city mayor three terms each from 1942-48 and served as a territorial senator from 1941-45. Mr. Nordale died in January, 1952 of a heart attack, one year before the opening of the school named for him. Pan-American Airlines dropped his ashes over the family homestead on Badger Road. When asked why the school was named for her husband, Mrs. LaDessa Nordale, a resident of the Pioneer Home said, "He was a good man; that is why your school was named after him."
Nordale Elementary School is located on the corner of Hamilton and Eureka Avenues in Hamilton Acres neighborhood of Fairbanks. The school was built in 1953 to meet the needs of the growing Fairbanks population. Barbara Johnson, first grade teacher, who now lives across the field from the school, remembers thinking how far out of town the school was located. The roads leading to the ultramodern school were all mud. At the time of the school's construction, Hamilton Acres was mostly woods. The school was designed by Lee S. Linck (Alaska Architectural and Engineering Co.) and built by the firm of Reed and Martin.
When Nordale opened its doors there were only nine classrooms serving grades kindergarten through seventh. By 1956, the population increase made it necessary to add an additional wing of classrooms. A gymnasium was also added at this time. Nordale was the first elementary school in Fairbanks to have a library. It was a beautiful facility with built in shelving. Unfortunately, both books and shelves were destroyed in the 1967 flood. The books and portable shelves were replaced with the support of PTA and parents. The library features a "carpet cake" (circular bench) that students enjoy sitting on during library time. This unique item was also paid for by the parents. If you walk down the hall in the lower level, you might hear a crackle and notice the tiles move slightly. This is a result of the 1967 flood which filled the bottom floor of Nordale School, causing excessive damage to the floors, equipment and classrooms of the lower level and gym. A corps of engineers was called in to remove the water and prepare the school for the school year.
In the beginning of Nordale, there was very little playground equipment. Children played on a couple of swing sets, a few slides and an ice rink. A few years later, a merry-go-round and a "running barrel" were added. Years later the merry-go-round broke down and was removed. In 1984 "twirly slides," tire swings and wooden towers were added. A year later sawdust was put under this equipment for the safety of the children. Two years later, the wooden barrel was taken out because people continued to crush fingers in the slots. Springboards were also taken out when children continued to fall off. Fenced in tennis courts were added to the play yard. Children enjoy the big open field for games of football, soccer and tag. In 1986 a greenhouse was added onto the southeast end of the gym.
Although Nordale is one of the oldest school buildings, it is a well-built, well-equipped, functional building. With its quality construction, Nordale has withstood the test of time. While other newer buildings have been shut down, Nordale continues to provide a safe, positive learning environment for its students. When Nordale opened its doors in 1953, a staff of 10 teachers was all that was necessary to meet the needs of the students in grades K-7. In the years that followed, Nordale would experience such a population growth that double-shifting became necessary. The 1958-59 and 1960-61 school years found students and teachers attending the school in morning and afternoon shifts. From 1961-1984, Nordale provided education for between 500-700 students each year. Since 1976, Nordale's population has remained consistently in the 400-500 range. Nordale draws students from Hamilton Acres, Island Homes, Slaterville, Shannon Park and Graehl neighborhoods.
Mr. Nathan Chaney served as the first principal from 1953-1958. Mrs. Emily Kemak, who had previously taught in the district, became principal at Nordale in 1958. She served the school for 23 years, until 1986, when she chose to accept the school district's early retirement incentive program. Mrs. Kemak's name became practically synonymous with the name Nordale School. During years of double shifting, she usually put in a double shift herself because when questions or problems arose, she found parents wanting to deal with her whether she was on duty or not. Mrs. Kemak was instrumental in establishing the first elementary school library in the district. She understood the importance of good literature to a student's development and was determined that Nordale have its own library. The expectations she set for both faculty and students encouraged all to work diligently and cooperatively as both individuals and as a school community.
Nordale School offers many extracurricular activities for its students. Student Council is a group of student representatives that organize special activities and projects for the student body. Sports have always been a favorite at Nordale. The boys' and girls' basketball teams compete with those of the other district elementary schools. Intramural sports are offered during winter recess.
Nordale is fortunate to have a strong, supportive Parent Teacher Association. The PTA organizes and funds many special activities and programs for the school. Nordale students and faculty are appreciative of the hard work, support and dedication of its PTA.
A former first grade teacher of Nordale, Miss Ethel Peasgood, awards a $25 academic and citizenship scholarship to a sixth grader who has both these qualities. Miss Peasgood was the first teacher in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to ever get the "Teacher of the Year Award." Her dedication to the education of Fairbanks youth is commendable.
Nordale has always had school traditions. The most recently established tradition is the Back-To-School-Picnic. It's something that everyone at Nordale looks forward to. The Back-To-School-Picnic allows parents to meet their teachers and children to reunite with their friends. Another school tradition includes the singing of our school song. Mr. John Purcell, and Mr. David Pfrimmer wrote the original school song in 1985. Their combined talents produced a spirit-filled school song called, "Nordale, That's Our School." In recent years, Mr. Purcell has revised the school song to "We Are the Tigers."