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Farewell Friedell: Students and alumni say goodbye to a beloved Rochester school

Seated in the shadow of the ear-of-corn water tower, the building functioned as a furniture store and a DMV before becoming a school.

Friedell Middle School says Farewell
Alex Borisch, 11, stands over a “Going out of Business” chalk art during a “Friedell Middle School says Farewell” event on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at the middle school in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The sidewalk outside Friedell Middle School was covered with a collection of chalk messages Wednesday night.

One said “Bye Fellow Falcons.” Others mentioned students and teachers by name. One of the largest, though, carried the most punch.

“Going out of Business.”

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The messages were made by students and alumni who descended on the school Wednesday night for the “Farewell Friedell” open house – a collective goodbye to the odd school building adored by many over the past three decades.

“Just because Friedell’s closing down doesn’t mean the community of students that they’ve created here is going to go away,” said Julia Behnke, a 9th grader who went to Friedell. “It’s not something that’s very easy to replicate, and I’m very glad that a bunch of us had the chance to come here.”

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The Rochester School Board voted in 2020 to close the school , with the 2021-22 year being its last in operation. The district plans to repurpose the building for several other needs, but its days as a middle school are quickly coming to an end.

Nestled at the corner of south Broadway and Highway 14, the Friedell Middle School building has served multiple roles throughout its lifetime. Seated in the shadow of the ear-of-corn water tower, it functioned as a furniture store and a DMV before becoming a school.

According to Principal Levi Lundak, the district purchased the building before the construction of Century High School. To help ease crowding, the Friedell building served as a “ninth grade center.”

A "Friedell Middle School says Farewell" event took place on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at the middle school in Rochester.

“They would bus students from Mayo and JM here to have math, English and social studies,” Lundak said. “When Century opened, that alleviated some space. That’s really when they decided to augment this site and turn it into a middle school.”

In its later years, the school served two purposes. It housed the district’s gifted program, but it also served as a district-wide option for families who wanted a smaller environment than the three mainstream middle schools.

Former principal Monica Bowler helped establish the gifted program at the school.

Bowler said the Friedell culture always existed in the fact that it was tight-knit, accepting and welcoming. But, she also said the presence of that gifted program helped benefit the student body overall.

Friedell Middle School says Farewell
Rosie Cox, 11, left, Amara Wilson, 7, and sister Jael Wilson, 10, try out different poses in the photo booth during a “Friedell Middle School says Farewell” event on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at the middle school in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“I guess what we realized is that all the methods you might use with gifted children – with some adaptation, those methodologies are that much more interesting and good for all kids,” Bowler said.

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Time and time again, students would refer to the unique learning environment as something they loved. It was the culture that captured the hearts of so many throughout its 20-plus years as a middle school.

Sisters AmberLee Aguilar and Megan Hoye were among the many former students wandering the halls Wednesday night. Hoye, who went to the school from 2005-08, said the school helped her catch up when she had a second grade reading level as a sixth-grader.

Aguilar, who went to Friedell from 2003-05, said the school helped her overcome her anxiety, explaining she was "scared to death" of going to high school.

Friedell Middle School says Farewell
Friedell music teacher Jason Wright plays the piano as students perform during a “Friedell Middle School says Farewell” event on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at the middle school in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“They made you feel comfortable. They took us on tours of the high school. I was still scared, so the school counselor drove me and a friend over personally and gave us a personal tour,” Aguilar said. “I think if I would have gone to a big school, I would not at all be who I am today.”

The school became a similar haven for Gabriel Martinez, who was a Friedell student from 2012-15. He was bullied constantly in elementary school to the point where he would stay inside at recess and have lunch in different rooms.

Once he moved to Friedell, he became ingrained in a group of friends and started thriving. He's still close with the first person he met at the middle school.

“When I came here, everything felt so different. … It helped me become more confident. I discovered myself,” Martinez said. “This school definitely meant a lot to me. It really was a turning point in my life.”

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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