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Korby's Connections: Cloquet made remarkable Earth Day contribution

 

April 10, 2020

Contributed photos

Cloquet teacher Jack Pichotta received a bicycle from students, to help him become "pollution free," as thanks for heading up the weeklong Students Concerned About a Ravaged Environment event in April of 1970.

The SCARE program at Cloquet High School in 1970 was a big deal. For a whole week, students would be immersed only in environmental issues of the day.

It came days before the first Earth Day, 50 years ago this month.

SCARE was an acronym for Students Concerned About a Ravaged Environment. It was the brainchild of Cloquet High School social studies teacher Jack Pichotta. I recently caught up with Jack (he was my Cloquet neighbor not long ago and my teacher at CHS) to reminisce about this groundbreaking event that made state and national news as the environmental movement picked up steam.

Pichotta arrived at teaching after working at the U.S. Steel plant in Morgan Park, like his father. He later joined the Air Force. He started his geography studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth eight years after graduating from high school. When he graduated with a teaching degree, there were two social studies positions open in the region: in Cloquet and Silver Bay. Jack ended up having interviews for both jobs scheduled on the same day. At CHS, school administrators requested he also serve as a student council advisor and junior high football coach. He said he told Fred Wolner as he was about to leave that he would take the Silver Bay job if it was offered to him. Wolner called him back in the room, told him he should call Silver Bay and cancel his appointment, and offered him the job. Jack said he was glad he took it.

A year after Pichotta started, the school board adopted modular scheduling, a new education model that changed the regular school day from five or six hourly classes to shorter, more concentrated sessions with large and small groups having intimate teacher-student interaction. It encouraged teachers to design shorter quarterly classes that still met Minnesota educational standards but dealt with more specific topics and ideas. It replicated, in many ways, how college courses are designed.

In the fall of 1969, Pichotta developed a new course on human ecology, the interaction of humans and the environment. It proved to be a very popular class.

The big idea

He also held a "retreat" for the student councils in the fall to plan the school year schedule of events.

It was only a few months after Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon. It is also when people first viewed Earth from a totally different perspective. From the sky, astronauts could see the land, rivers and oceans and relay those dramatic pictures to all of us on Earth. Some pundits claim this may have been the impetus to what gave rise to a more global view of the earth and our direct impact on the environment.

At the retreat, the student council members proposed doing a full-day program for all students in the spring of 1970 dedicated to the environment and the human impact on it. Pichotta brought the proposal to the Cloquet School Board for approval. It passed.

A few weeks into the planning and after getting some buy-in from Cloquet's wood product industries and others, organizers determined this was much bigger than a one-day project. A week would do it more justice. So Pichotta went back to the board, asking for one week. It would mean all other student classes - reading, writing, and arithmetic - would be put on hold for the week.

A little surprising and earthshaking, it was approved.

Organizing

They picked April 6-10, 1970, for the event. The co-chairs were seniors Rick Hagen and Sue Hagen (no relation). Now the real work began. The student council's group plan was to have two keynote speakers each day for all senior high students in a large setting - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Narrowing down and picking the topics, experts, and potential speakers for each of the days of the week was challenging.

Rick was the left fielder for the Lumberjacks baseball team, so I knew him. That helped when I contacted him about his recollections of the SCARE.

"We began by writing hundreds of letters to academic, legislative, business/community, and religious leaders on the chosen topics," Rick wrote to me. "Of course, this was before word processors, which added to the difficulty. Looking back on the wide array of experts that we brought to Cloquet, I'm still amazed. Jack Pichotta let me work on the project as an independent study credit course, which helped me to devote the time and energy required."

One of the first confirmed speakers for the April event was former U.S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. Pichotta thought Sue wrote the original letter asking Humphrey to come to Cloquet with assistance from Floyd Rudy, a regional Democratic leader.

Pichotta said Rudy and local industries had a significant role in the ability to attract top speakers and experts. It was a big thrill for Pichotta and fellow teacher Bill Kennedy to pick up Humphrey from the Duluth airport.

Another significant keynote speaker confirmed was Minnesota's Eighth District Congressman John Blatnik. He was revered as a congressman, having served on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. Blatnik was also the leader of the powerful House Public Works Committee. Another congressman keynote speaker was Republican Clark McGregor. Viewed as a moderate, McGregor would become the chair of the committee to re-elect President Richard Nixon two years later. This was an example, Pichotta said, where SCARE's goal was to present both a pro and con view of topics if there were, indeed, dissenting ideas.

In all, 135 speakers accepted invitations from the more than 700 letters sent. The main subjects were scheduled - Monday: Urban Topics, Tuesday: Government Concerns, Wednesday: Conservation, Thursday: Pollution, Friday: Population. Tuesday speakers included Doug Head and David Graven, both candidates for Minnesota governor. Elmer Anderson, who was then the Voyageurs National Park president and a former Minnesota governor, also presented.

SCARE speakers from the region were a collection of movers and shakers, including Fred Weyerhaeuser, Harry Newby, Ed Erickson, Floyd Rudy, Larry Yetka, Phil Budd, Syl Laskin, Ben Boo, Ray Riihiluoma, Glen Maxham, Mace Harris, Dave Zentner, Dr. Fred Witzig and Harris Stillwell.

That week students also had an opportunity to go on field trips to the Northwest Paper Nursery, Conwed plant, Cloquet water treatment facility, and the federal water quality lab.

I asked current Cloquet library board member Mary (DuPont) Hagen, a senior in 1970, what came to mind when mentioning the SCARE program. She said she was in awe when Humphrey reached out his hand, looked her in the eyes, and said "Mary, so very nice to meet you." Then she recalled she had a name tag on.

She remembered classmates Rick Hagen and Tom Roy dressed in suits, looking and acting like adults. "It was amazing to think this whole program was basically orchestrated by students," Mary said. She learned a lot about the environment and the positive effects of forest management,.

Humphrey was the showstopper. His Monday morning kickoff speech was greeted by a standing ovation both before and after his talk. He was a tremendous orator. I remember he made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Humphrey called for congressional action to "establish strict standards on all forms of pollution" as well as legislative action in all 50 states for "improvements of the physical environment."

Busloads of students from all over northeastern Minnesota and beyond attended that first day.

Here are a few related things that happened shortly after SCARE:

• Jack Pichotta resigned in 1974 and established and then became the director of the Environmental Learning Center and Wolf Ridge near Finland on the North Shore. Retired now, his working life was dedicated to teaching kids and adults about the environment.

• Humphrey defeated McGregor for the Minnesota Senate seat vacated by Eugene McCarthy in 1970.

• Blatnik authored the federal Clean Water Act in 1972.

• The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970.

• The Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. The SCARE program addressed abortion in the "Population" discussion.

Contributed photos

Student coordinator Rick Hagen, Cloquet teacher Bill Kennedy and student Nancy Givens watch former Vice President Hubert Humphrey work on his speech to students in Cloquet as part of the SCARE event.

• The Cloquet water line to Lake Superior was built just prior to SCARE and Cloquet industries were taking giant steps to clean up the St. Louis River and address air pollution. By 1978, I was fishing for walleyes in Spirit Lake on the St. Louis River.

• The Clean Air Act was amended and strengthened in 1970, including phasing out lead-based gasoline.

SCARE was innovative and informative and had a tremendous and immeasurable impact on students and the community. I compare that to what we are facing as a nation and the world with the coronavirus today. Will history teachers 50 years from now be relaying to students how the United States and other countries reacted, took steps and resolved the pandemic of 2020? I hope so.

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes human interest story ideas at [email protected]

 
 

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