Gail Nahwahquaw looks at the boarded up buildings that once made up the Intermountain Intertribal School and prefers to think of happier days when she was a student from Wisconsin.
The school was once home to thousands of American Indian students, many of whom returned to Utah over the weekend for a reunion. The event marked the 10th anniversary of the facility's closure."Every time I see the campus I get this big lump in my throat," said Nahwahquaw, who enrolled at the school when she was 14 years old. "It's really sad."
Nahwahquaw served as student body president at the school before its closure in 1984. Ray Midget, who helped organize the reunion, also recalled the final days of the school.
"A number of people stood here with tears in their eyes, when students went home for the last time," said Midget, who worked as a dorm supervisor for 19 of the 34 years the school operated.
National boarding schools were developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which started renovating buildings across the country after World War II, Midget said.
The original Intermountain school was a hospital for prisoners of war, he said. But after BIA fixups, it opened as a school in the fall of 1950.
At the time, the school was the largest of its kind in the United States, boasting more than 100 buildings, Midget said. By the 1970s, tribes from across the country began using the school, and enrollment blossomed up to 2,400 with staffers numbering 500.
But by the early 1980s, more schools were emerging on reservations, and places like the Intermountain school were deemed too expensive, he said.
Enrollment was shaved, and the facility graduated its last class in May 1984. Now there are about 58 buildings on the property, and 29 of them are occupied by small businesses and social service agencies, said property manager Lenord Jensen.
"I'll never agree that the school should have been closed," Midget said.