By Darla Sathre (This story is part of the electronic portion of The Depot Express newsletter, Spring 2014, and did not appear in the print edition. It will be a regular part of future newsletters.)
I am a new volunteer here at the Beltrami County Historical Society. I was born and raised in Bemidji, but moved to Brainerd 23 years ago. Do not worry – even while in Brainerd I remained loyal to the real Paul Bunyan on the shores of Lake Bemidji! The last five years there I worked at the Crow Wing CountY Historical Society & Museum, where I developed a fascination for local history tidbits. We recently moved back to Bemidji, and I am so pleased to be able to volunteer here now.
In the research library at the History Center I am adding to and organizing the vertical files, the collection of research materials arranged by topic. As I file new articles, I cannot help but get sidetracked by all the interesting old files. Hence the name “Sidetracked” for this column. Plus, it is a railroad term meaning to switch from a main railroad track to a siding which is a short track connected to the main track, so the term seemed appropriate for being in an old depot.
This time I got sidetracked by a file labeled French’s Business College. It contained a letter written by Ira M. French recalling when he and his wife moved to Bemidji on May Day in 1917 and bought half interest in a business college on Minnesota Avenue owned by Elias Martin Sathre. (Notice the last name? Yes, he was my husband’s grandfather. You can understand why this sidetracked me!)
Elias, or E.M. as he was known, founded the Bemidji Business College (as well as the Sathre Abstract Company) in the fall of 1913. Sathre and French were partners from 1917 until 1932, when they dissolved their partnership, each going on to have their own business college. French’s Business College continued in the Troppman building (with a short stint in the Nangle building).
E.M. Sathre started the Northern Business College (NBC) which was located on Third Street over the Northern National Bank. Later, it was located in the Dickinson building. According to an old letterhead, they specialized in stenography, accountancy, civil service, and business administration. NBC, a member of the American Association of Commercial Colleges, was affiliated with both the Beltrami Consolidated Abstract Company and the Lakeland Farmers Insurance Company. These were just two of E.M.’s many other involvements.
Are you ready for the short sidetrack that I find humorous? NBC had a telephone number of 2. I remember asking my father-in-law who had telephone number 1. He told me that belong to the liquor store! I hope that does not say anything about Bemidji’s priorities.
NBC was actually somewhat of a family business. E.M. was the president. His wife Grace was the principal. Their son Martin taught there and served as their tax accountant. In the 1930s, E.M.’s daughter Doris organized a “NBC-Bemidji” club in Washington, D.C., consisting of former students who had jobs working for the government.
Both French’s Business College and Sathre’s Northern Business College came close to a close in the early 1950s. The former closed in August 1951, while the latter closed in June 1952, after the death of E.M. Sathre from a diabetic insulin reaction. This was the era of many business colleges closing, as new vocational schools were coming into existence. Bemidji’s Area Vocational-Technical School opened for the 1966-67 school year. But, that would be another whole new sidetrack. Let’s not go there now.