Rudolph "Syver" Syverson, Mrs. Syverson, and Pastor Luther Berven, at the Syver Day festivities that dedicated Syverson Pool on July 14,1963. Photo by George Wentland.
Forty-eight years ago this July, Spring Valley paid tribute to the man who led Spring Valley Schools longer than anyone before or since.
Rudolph Syverson (affectionately called "Syver" by just about everybody, but not always to his face) came to Spring Valley in 1923, and for nearly 40 years was principal, bookkeeper, and superintendent all rolled into one. In all those years, he never completely lost his Norwegian accent. But he had no problem communicating (especially if you had been sent to his office). He managed to get his message across quite well, Norske accent and all.
He held Spring Valley Schools together through thick and thin, and it was not easy. One January not many years after he started, the wooden high school building burned to the ground. A new one was built (of brick) and was in operation by 1930. Then came the Great Depression. Then World War II, when many young men left school to enlist. Three weeks after school started in 1942, the Big Flood ripped through Spring Valley. The school, right next to the Eau Galle, did not escape its destructive power. After WW II and the loss of many, many young men, those who had left school to defend their country and survived came back to finish their high school educations--and they were not innocent farm boys anymore. In the fifties, consolidation of the rural schools became an issue, a controversial unification of the country schools that surrounded the village into one coordinated system. Syver dealt with all of these challenges.
Just about everyone who went to school during those years has a story or two to tell about Syver. If a teacher could not handle a student, that student got sent to his office. Quite a few of us made that journey for one reason or another. In addition to those three titles mentioned above, he had another one: Chief Disciplinarian. Sometimes the discipline was serious, and expulsions did occur. More often, the punishment was much less serious, applied judiciously, just enough to get the miscreant headed in the right direction. The parents were notified, often resulting in MORE punishment and harsh words at home that night to persuade the offender to take the same direction that Syver had suggested.
Some of his tactics would probably not work in this sophisticated age, but when he threatened over the PA system to bring in the FBI to take fingerprints, the guilty party often 'fessed up to the offense in question, hoping to avoid being carted off to a federal penitentiary.
Sunday, July 14, 1963, was a day to honor Syver and to dedicate the new swimming pool in his name. Former students came from far and wide to do him honor; local dignitaries, including school board president and local dentist Dr. E. H. Fast and Mayor H.K. Olson gave testimonials. Pastor Luther Berven, one of the many SVHS grads returning to honor Syver, also helped in the dedication ceremony.
It was a great day, a day to pay back Syver for holding it all together and helping mold and guide all those many students who passed through the halls of Spring Valley Public Schools for all those many years' worth of days--- a few staying close to home, but most scattering across the country and the globe. He was certainly not alone in those efforts, being aided by many excellent teachers, board members, and support staff. But he was the leader. He was Syver.
More information on Rudolph Syverson and other Spring Valley history is available in Doug Blegen's two books, Spring Valley: The Early Days and Spring Valley: Yesteryear Revisited, available at Matt's Valley Drug in Spring Valley.