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Family full of Jefferson graduates

Sylvia (Forster) Klimek, class of 1963, her daughter Janet (Klimek) Schiltgen, class of 1986, and grandson Jacob Schiltgen, class of 2014, are three of the 20 Jefferson High School graduates in their family. (Annie Harman/Echo Press)

On June 8, a rush of bright-eyed teenagers will emerge from the doors of Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria in celebration of their hard-earned high school diploma. 

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Among those celebrating, one can find Jacob Schiltgen, the last of his family to become a JHS alumnus.

Going back to Jacob’s maternal grandparents, Charles and Sylvia (Forster) Klimek, there will be a total of 20 JHS alumni in a single, direct bloodline. The extended family members expand the alumni-base even further.

“Looking back, the building really is not very old,” Sylvia said with a smile. “It makes me wonder, ‘What did we do to it that went so wrong!’”

Though Jacob was active in National Honor Society, the FFA, and was co-captain of the wrestling team, he spent most of his high school career at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

“The industrial arts classes were shifting to be more classroom-based instead of hands-on,” Jacob said, explaining what helped him make his choice. Sylvia and Janet agreed that over the years industrial arts and home economics classes at JHS had faded away.

“I think the academies will be positive so long as kids have the option to move between the academies,” Janet said, regarding the re-introduction of the hands-on classes her son longed for. “Just in case they find something they decide they don’t like and want to try something new.”

Collectively, the family is looking forward to the new Alexandria Area High School (AAHS) being available for their community.

“You get used to change happening,” Janet commented, regarding her family’s alma mater closing. “We’re just excited for the future.”

Twelve years ago Janet was part of a group that started looking at JHS and the possibility of building a new high school.

“At that time I had come to the conclusion that a new school was needed,” she added.

“It will be a tremendous addition to the community,” chimed in Sylvia, who is personally anxious for the new auditorium to open.

Though so many of their relatives had passed through the halls of JHS, the family doesn’t feel they are on a losing team with the school closing.

“I see it as Alexandria, not necessarily Jefferson,” said Janet. “I will always be a graduate of Alexandria, Minnesota.”

“This is home,” Sylvia added, filled with nostalgia. “We are a very blessed community from our possibilities, climate, and people.”

As the group welcomes AAHS with open arms, Jacob is still excited for his final walk at JHS in June.

“It will be funny to see everyone together,” Jacob laughed. “Just to look at everyone in one place for one last time.”

His grandmother put it best, though, reminding everyone that as a community, Alexandria is very rich.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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