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Perham High School teacher plans book about notable grads

Over the course of Perham High School's 100-year history, scores of graduates have gone on to achieve great things.

Now, in an effort to preserve some of those past successes and inspire future generations, one teacher has hatched an ambitious plan to collect and publish graduates’ stories.

Shelley Bunkowske, a longtime Perham social studies teacher, is working on a book about Perham High School grads who went on to lead lives worth celebrating. She's hoping to include students from every era, from the present day all the way back to the school's first graduating class of 1917 (or even earlier, as Perham’s first K-12 school was built in 1875 so its first crop of grads came well before the separate high school was built).

Bunkowske is currently seeking ideas and suggestions for the book, as well as submissions of photographs, newspaper clippings, family stories and the like, from former and current community members familiar with noteworthy grads. She'll then compile those submissions and edit them into book form.

Her plan is to have the book released by fall 2018 -- in time for the grand opening of the new Perham High School, which is now in the planning stages of construction.

In an interview Monday, Bunkowske said it was the current high school building's 100th anniversary, and the anticipated transition to a brand new high school, that helped inspire this project.

"Just thinking about 100 years of this school and now packing up and moving... Thinking about all the people that have graduated from here and gone on and been so successful," she said of what’s motivating her. "I think it's so important for our students now to see who came before them and to see how successful they can be, and that they can be that person, that they can do that graduating from Perham High School."

For Bunkowske, success is not necessarily defined by a particular career, income bracket or popularity. Instead, it applies to anyone who has led a full, productive life. Graduates selected for her book could hypothetically range from well-known TV personalities to local family farmers or small business owners.

"Success and achievement is more than just going on and becoming a world-renowned brain surgeon," Bunkowske said. "Success in adulthood can be measured in so many ways, and the book...will be designed to celebrate the many different facets of professional, educational and business achievements."

"Not all students have taken a traditional track in their professional careers," she added, "but everyone has a story to tell. The public deserves to know how successful so many Perham High School graduates have become, and the great heights they have reached."

Bunkowske will be taking submissions through Sept. 1, 2017, but she's hoping some will come in earlier so she can start compiling and editing them this summer. She's not sure yet exactly what form the book will take in the end -- it could become a collection of essays about various grads, for example, or it could be more of a nonfiction novel -- but she knows it will take some time and plenty of her own research to complete.

She considers it a labor of love. Proceeds from the book will go to the school's Close-Up program, a cause that is close to her heart.

Bunkowske currently leads the school's Close-Up trips, which bring delegations to Washington, D.C. every other year for a weeklong learning experience about American government. She hopes money raised through her book sales will alleviate some of the trip's expense for students.

Bunkowske has been teaching in Perham for 24 years, first at the Alternative Learning Center and then at the high school. This will be her first writing venture, though she’s been wanting to try her hand at authorship for a long time.

Ideas for the book may be emailed to sbunkowske@perham.k12.mn.us, or mailed to: Shelley Bunkowske, Social Studies, Perham High School, 200 5th Street SE, Perham, MN 56573. A submission form is also available on the school's website, at  http://perhamschools.org/phs-noteworthy-graduates/

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

(218) 844-1452
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