What and Where is Ontonagon? (Part Two)
Written by Bruce Johanson
Superintendent Keefer met us at the Ontonagon Township School, loaded us into the school van, and took us to Mass City, a former mining town. He explained that if I took the job, this is where I would be teaching for at least a year, and then I would be transferred to Ontonagon to work with the beginner and junior band program. I accepted the position and we headed back to Minnesota. This was Sunday afternoon and I had to be back in Montana on Tuesday morning.
We made one more trip to Michigan from Montana to find a place to live. Roberta had not yet seen the town and when we arrived in June, the main street was all torn up! Apartments to rent were practically non-existent or were just plain not attractive places to live. There was no place to go. It was a disappointment. I was told that there may be trailer spaces near a township park. We drove to this location and got out of the car and walked about in the tall pines near the lakeshore. Roberta, who loves the woods, felt much better about the place and then we managed to locate a spot where we could bring a mobile home.
We returned to Duluth, and using my Montana teacher retirement money, which I had withdrawn, made a down payment on a 47-foot New Moon mobile home. The Duluth dealer then asked me where we wanted it delivered. When we told him it was to go to Ontonagon, Michigan he was floored! In negotiating the price, it had been agreed that delivery was part of the price and he had to honor it. We followed the delivery vehicle and moved to Ontonagon in early July of 1966. We lived right on the shore of our beautiful Lake Superior for the first years as citizens of Ontonagon.
I started getting things ready at the Mass School but two weeks later I was informed that the band director, John Talbott, had resigned and I was now to take the high school job at Ontonagon. For the first semester, I worked at both schools. The students were enthusiastic and very easy to get along with, quite unlike the pupils I had in Montana, a community where teachers were considered “fair game.” The young musicians in Mass as well as Ontonagon were pleasant and polite and everything went well. I also had a choral program at Mass and, as with most smaller schools, it was more of a family than a student body.
Mass had not had a band director for two years so there were a lot of things that has to be put in order. Ontonagon was the “big town,” and had an active band program. In spite of the fact that I did things somewhat differently than my predecessor and had different expectations, the young musicians responded well and with strong administrative support, we began to create a successful musical organization.
Thus began our Ontonagon experience that would continue for over 50 years.
To be continued…