The following is a summary of an article first published in the Community Education Journal in May 1973, and was written by Tom O’Meara and Merle Segal.
It’s almost impossible to believe now, but before 1971 there was no such thing as Community Education in St. Louis Park. The schools were locked up tight after classes were over, and teenagers hung out at the public library or at drug stores for lack of better places to go. Even the Coen Brothers famously hung out at Mike Zoss Drug at Texa-Tonka Shopping Center after school.
In December 1969, the Superintendent of Schools and a School Board member attended a conference for the “Lighted Schools” program called by the Governor. In October 1970, thirteen representatives of the School Board, City Council, and other organizations went to Flint, Michigan to see community education in action.
In January 1971, a contract between the City Council and the School Board was signed establishing community education in the Park. A Community Education Advisory Committee, headed by Merle Segal, had the responsibility to implement the program. The Committee was made up of school and city officials. In addition, a Community Education Advisory Council, headed by Thomas P. O’Meara, was formed, consisting of representatives of churches, police, Boy Scouts, Garden clubs, service organizations, senior citizens, unions, teachers, and interested citizens. Shirley Landstom made up the remaining part of what O’Meara calls the “Terrific Trio,” which worked almost full time on the project. The contract also called for the formation of Neighborhood Councils to design and help direct community school activity.
After another trip to Flint, this time by members of the Advisory Committee, the task was to publicize the notion of community education with a series of meetings that featured a panel discussion and a showing of the film “To Touch a Child.” A huge effort was made to advertise the meetings in every known media. At the meetings, participants signed up to teach classes and people expressed their interest in taking classes as well.
The coordinator of the Advisory Committee, Larry E. Decker, was hired in August. When the office was opened, hundreds of applications poured in, courses were suggested, and instructors volunteered their services. A city-wide fundraising campaign was initiated to inform businesses of the benefits of community education.
Although the program was started on a city-wide basis, expectations were that they would be taken over by Neighborhood Councils. Today community education is part of the St. Louis Park School System and the Community Education Advisory Council meets monthly.
In his cover letter, O’Meary writes, “Although 40 years doesn’t seem to me to be historical, it is important to our history in that it was just 40 years ago that Community Education was born in St. Louis Park.” We owe a debt of thanks to the people who saw this need and worked so hard to provide all of the community education classes and activities that today we may take for granted.
Notwithstanding the above, the March 5, 1958 issue of the Echo reports that 271 Park residents participated in the first adult education courses, which were held on Tuesday evenings. Subjects included psychology, typing, cooking, and oil painting. Enrollment in the latter two classes was so large that more sections had to be added. Classes began in January and ran until March 18. Junior High counselor Lyle Williams was in charge of the project, and overall coordinator was Clifford E. Anderson, administration assistant of the school system.
The February 7, 1975, Westwinds newspaper highlights Mr. Art Ingersoll, who was the coordinator of the Westwood Jr. High’s Community School. “Some evenings there are as many as fie to ten activities going on. They range from Master’s degree courses from Mankato State College to belly dancing.” “The community school program is sponsored jointly by the city of St. Louis Park and the school district. There are citizen committees for each community school which help the director find areas of interest and possibilities for classes.”