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Melum was first special ed teacher

In the 1930s, Evelyn Forus and her siblings walked through the woods and then boarded a motorized wooden school bus for a bumpy ride on unpaved streets to school. At the time, the school system was one school that housed grades 1 through 12 and enrolled some 500 students.

As a student, Forus “never planned to be a teacher,” in the district. But teach she did, for over 40 years.

From the age of 30 until her retirement after the age of 70, Melum taught mostly in special education, and became the first Bloomington high school special ed teacher in 1959.

Working for the district connected with other phases of her life, too. She married her former high school music teacher, Arthur Melum, in 1943. Today, Evelyn Melum, at 97, is perhaps the oldest retired BPS teacher. She lives at Presbyterian Homes of Bloomington, which stands on the original site of the school she attended.

The Great Depression brought lean times to Melum’s family. In 1930, her family moved from Minneapolis to a farm near what is now Normandale Community College. Unlike their city home, the farmhouse had no electricity, phone, running water or indoor bathroom.

Melum wore dresses made from flour sacks to school. She usually took homemade bread and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Once a week she splurged on a three-cent lunch like baked beans in the school’s new hot lunch program.

The high school program, which began in 1918 and had about 39 graduates when Melum graduated in 1937, was also spartan. “I planned to go to college and be a chemist,” Melum recalled. But the high school had no labs for science courses and no typewriters for business classes.

The ambitious teen took two years of Latin, the only language offered, to fulfill the college entrance language requirement. For fun, she performed in plays and competed on the debate team.

Melum attended college three years, struggling to compete in chemistry classes against “big school” grads. In her 30s, as a married mother of two Bloomington students, she finished college and began teaching. She traveled to homes and taught homebound students for a few years. Then in 1959, she became the first high school “special class” teacher.

Those first years, Melum had no special education training, no guidance and virtually no parent input. Her curriculum came “out of my head,” she said. “I liked the fact I could develop my own program.”

She’s still proud of that curriculum, which emphasized career readiness, social skills, reading and daily living skills. Some of her students attended regular home economics, industrial arts and physical education classes.

Melum’s classroom was a beehive of activity because she was the advisor for the American Field Service (AFS) program, which placed international students. “Students were in and out of my class all the time, so that helped prevent a stigma” about special ed, she said.

Melum still showcases lifelong learning -- she’s reading her next book club selection.
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