Full Circle: Is a Spam bust of S.T. Neveln in the cards?

Published 9:33 am Friday, May 15, 2015

0515 full circleNo one has ever asked me, but if they had I would have told them somebody sure missed the boat when only those four presidential figures were carved into the granite side of Mount Rushmore. You see, in my book, one face was overlooked. If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of an old Austinian, you’ll know who I mean.

S.T. Neveln, that’s who! I never knew what the “S” stood for, but I’m thinking he was the superintendent of Austin Schools for so long, that his first name just morphed into his title. But, then, I suppose there’s always the possibility that his parents could have hoped their new son would one day hold such a lofty position and thus gave him the name of Superintendent to inspire him from the very beginning. But, I doubt it. Still I find it hard to believe that the “S” in S.T. Neveln once stood for a little boy named Shorty or Snuffy or Sam. No, I choose to believe he was little Superintendent Neveln from birth.

During his administration, how many Austinian Yearbook prologues do you suppose he wrote? He must have scratched his head over what to say year after year after year … world without end. Furthermore, what in heaven’s name was there left to say that would inspire the students that he hadn’t already said? I’m wondering if any of the students ever actually read his well-thought-out words or did they, in their rush to see the ping pong photos of themselves, skip over them?

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As a student, I remember seeing Mr. Neveln. He was in every sense of the word a gentleman, and a handsomely fashionable one at that. Dignity and respectability were his middle names. He wasn’t one to invite the students into a conversation nor did he ever joke around with them. No, he always maintained the composure that accompanied his elevated position, causing us kids to be in jaw-dropping awe of his importance. There was one mystery about him, however. Did he or did he not have teeth? I say this because I never saw them in either a photograph or in life. Perhaps only his dentist knew for sure.

Mr. Neveln’s career as Superintendent began in 1921. To put this in an historical perspective, Warren G. Harding was president, a first-class postage stamp cost two cents, Rudolph Valentino was every woman’s heart throb (and, secretly, a few men’s, too!), Vitamins A and D were discovered, the Yankees bought 20 acres in the Bronx to build their stadium, the zipper appeared for the first time, Life Savers were created, and I would argue quite possibly the most important of all (in a doubled-barreled effort to support America to its fullest), the bra was invented! Forget about women across the country sighing over Valentino, they were now sighing for more personal and more uplifting reasons.

Our steadfast superintendent must have been very tired (exhausted?) when he retired in 1949, for he unfortunately died shortly after his resignation. It makes me sad to think he gave the greatest chunk of his life — more than a quarter of a century — for the Austin High School cause. The stress must have been mind-numbing, for during his tenure, the school enrollment made the leap from 1,929 students to 4,881. I sit here now imagining what it must have been like for him to walk into that same school building for 28 years. If you discount Saturdays and Sundays, that means he stepped over the selfsame threshold 7,280 times! Holy cow! It’s no wonder Mr. Neveln didn’t go around with a full-toothed grin.

By a long shot, I do believe Mt. Rushmore and Austin, Minnesota missed a golden opportunity by not including Mr. Neveln on that South Dakota mountain side. You might argue he wasn’t a national leader like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln. But, heck, he was our leader! And, I would argue, with a noble profile like that, he was perfect mountain-side material.

Thus I propose an idea. Before it’s too late and Mr. Neveln fades into the dust of our memories, I believe fences can still be mended. Here goes: if the comely Princess Kay of the Milky Way can be carved and molded out of fresh churned Minnesota butter, then why not immortalize Mr. Neveln out of fresh churned and molded Austin Spam?