New school in 1965 named to honor Robert Gage
Gage, a longtime school board member, died at the age of 50 a year before the new school opened.
Robert Gage was Rochester’s mid-century Renaissance man.
He was a biomedical statistician, a professor, a long-time school board member, a champion ping-pong player, a supporter of the arts and an occasional amateur thespian.
So it was a somber Rochester School Board that met in regular session on Jan. 21, 1964. This was, noted school board member Richard White, the first time in 16 years that the board was meeting without Gage at the table.
Gage had died of a heart attack a week prior at age 50.
White said that Gage’s positive impact on Rochester, and especially on public schools, was so great that it would still be felt well into the future, “perhaps long after (present board members) are through with their lives.”
In a bulletin to school district staff, Dr. James Moon, superintendent of schools, paid tribute to Gage’s unstinting efforts on behalf of Rochester Public Schools.
“His encouragement, his understanding, his concern for the youngsters of Rochester, his integrity, made him a man and a friend to remember,” Moon said.
But how best to remember such a dedicated public servant? For starters, White urged a continuation of Gage’s efforts to secure quality education for all of Rochester’s pupils.
It wasn’t long, though, before others in the community spoke up in favor of naming one of the city’s new schools after Gage. It would be an unusual step in a school district where the names of Founding Fathers and national figures were most often chosen as school names.
Gage, though, transcended that tradition. Letters to the editor supported the idea, and the Post-Bulletin editorialized in favor of a Robert Gage School saying it “will surely meet with overwhelming support of the local citizenry.”
Gage, a native of Chicago, came to Rochester in 1937 and worked as a statistician at Mayo Clinic. During World War II, Gage took on leadership of Mayo’s statistics department when Dr. Joseph Berkson, head of the department, was called to Washington to work for the Defense Department.
After the war, Gage became a member of the school board. During his tenure, the city and its public schools would grow rapidly. Meanwhile, in 1952, Gage was appointed an instructor in statistics at the Mayo Graduate School of the University of Minnesota. In 1952 he became an assistant professor, and in 1963 an associate professor. He was a delegate to the 1955 White House Conference on Education.
Those in the community who were familiar with Gage knew that he wasn’t strictly all business.
He was an avid golfer who could frequently be found on the links at Soldiers Field and the Rochester Country Club, won numerous medals at table tennis tournaments, and was an enthusiastic bowler. At the 1950 Mayo Clinic Christmas show, “Cosmorama of 1950,” Gage played a part in a Corps de Ballet comedy sketch.
When it came to schools, though, Gage was always serious. And so was the school board with the announcement in late 1964 that the city’s newest school, located on the northwest edge of the city, would be named Robert P. Gage Elementary.
The school was dedicated on Dec. 5, 1965, and Gage Elementary is still here today. As was predicted, the legacy of Robert Gage continues to influence the lives of Rochester’s public school pupils nearly six decades after his death.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.