Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely is showing slow but steady progress

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The April 15 Timberjay article on a recent Ely School Board meeting included an encouraging report from K-6 Principal Anne Oelke on growing enrollment numbers. Hoping this trend will continue, she said, “I encourage parents to keep doing what they’re doing.” I love how reporter Keith Vandervort described what happened next: “After uproarious laughter by the board and audience members, and Oelke’s comment about the increased room temperature, Board Chair Ray Marsnik quickly moved to the next agenda item.”

Well, I think we can all be confident that parents will “keep doing what they’re doing” — as they always have! The big difference, however, is that today’s young adults are not going to give birth to half-a-dozen or more future ISD 696 students. The great majority of today’s American parents practice family planning, thanks to birth control options.

Old-timers look back nostalgically to the days when Ely blocks and schools were crawling with kids. Those days are never going to return. That’s also because any new mines will not employ “a thousand guys with picks and shovels,” as in former times. Out-state towns that want to remain viable, and small school systems that want to avoid consolidation, will have to find new ways to attract enough residents. We who are invested in Ely are very fortunate to have an economic base that is slowly growing and diversifying as well as bountiful recreational, artistic, and educational opportunities. Our natural and human resources are steadily drawing new young adults, new families, and new retirees to our neck of the woods.

It will never be like the old days, but Ely and the Ely School District — in stark contrast to most Iron Range communities and small rural towns all across America — are on the road to a bright and sustainable future. Let’s keep on finding ways to attract new entrepreneurs, new small industries, and new families who will keep doing what Principal Oelke hopes they’re doing!

Elton Brown

Morse Township, Minn.

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