Northern Lakes College started out as a Community Vocational Centre, which provided adult education in various communities. In Kinuso, Lorentz Lorentzen was the teacher for 13 years.
In a cutline in a 1974 Northland Free Press article (reprinted on Page 17), he’s referred to as ‘Teach.’ He, his wife Mary Lou, and their six children (soon to be seven) came to the Lesser Slave Lake area the summer of 1968.
An unexpected profession
Born and raised in North Dakota, Lorentz started his university degree with an Associate of Forestry but decided that wasn’t for him. He switched to sciences. Part of the summer before he met Mary Lou, Lorentz worked at a fire lookout tower.
“After I spent 30 days up there alone, I wasn’t a loner anymore,” he says.
Lorentz and Mary Lou met while at university in Missoula, Montana, just before Christmas break. Lorentz was in his third year. Mary Lou was in her first semester of pharmacy.
“A friend of mine had borrowed a car,” says Mary Lou.
This friend knew Lorentz’ friend, who convinced Lorentz to return the car and drive the four of them to a movie. The friend suggested Mary Lou ride in the front, so he could be with her friend.
Lorentz and Mary Lou had ‘Coke dates’ every night that week. By some miracle, they passed their final exams. Then Mary Lou went home to her boyfriend and family. Lorentz had been dumped by his previous fiancé the month before.
After Christmas break, they picked right back up. In February, Mary Lou broke up with her boyfriend with a Valentine.
Around Lorentz’ birthday in April, they went to a dance.
Apparently, I danced with Lorentz’ friend the whole night, says Mary Lou.
Lorentz asked her to marry him shortly afterward. Neither remembers the exact date or how he asked.
“We never kept track of anything like that,” says Mary Lou.
“We were going steady from the first night,” says Lorentz. It is “pretty hard to have a real date without money, but we did. She was 18 when I met her, and she was still 18 when I married her. But she was quite mature for her age, I think. She was the only girl in the college who wore overshoes.”
Lorentz and Mary Lou were married on June 10, 1956, at the Lutheran church in Deadwood, SD. Both dropped out of college.
The summer after they were married, both Lorentz and Mary Lou lived at a lookout by Missoula. After that Lorentz took various jobs as a laborer. Even working one summer for three different railroads. He would quit work to return to school from time to time.
However, when he was working up in East Glacier, near the Canadian border he decided to try teaching. At first, he thought he had a job lined up in Browning, MT, but that fell through. However, he heard that a local Hutterite colony was looking for someone to teach Grades 1 to 8.
“This simplified my life,” says Lorentz. “I’d never had a job for nine months before. I thought, ‘hey, I could come back and do this again.’ It snuck up on me, I never thought I’d be a schoolteacher.”
That same fall his two brothers also started teaching, but neither of them caught the bug.
For three years, Lorentz taught at the colony. Over the summers, he finished a bachelor of education at Missoula University.
Lorentz and Mary Lou became born again Christians.
Lorentz taught at village schools around Montana. They lived in an eight-by-35-feet trailer house. Then an eight-by-45 one, which they towed to Slave Lake.
“The first one we had would have made a perfect camper,” says Lorentz. “I even pulled it with a car.”
One of the villages was so close to the Canadian border that their fourth child, Anita, was born in Alberta.
In 1965, Lorentz taught at Prairie High School in Three Hills, AB. It is connected with Prairie Bible Institute (PBI).
Lorentz started doing door-to-door evangelism and decided “I need to go to Bible School. I don’t know the Bible, so I told my wife that. There was a crisis,” he says.
Lorentz attended PBI for three years.
Lesser Slave Lake
The summer of 1968, the Lorentzens went to High Prairie to give some missionaries a break.
The next summer they did the same thing at Atikameg. They left their house trailer in Three Hills.
“That was quite different, especially going from Three Hills,” says Lorentz.
On a Sunday afternoon in September 1969, the Lorentzens were in Three Hills. High Prairie School Division called to ask Lorentz to teach in High Prairie the next day. The family went to a friend’s for supper, piled into their vehicle and drove to High Prairie. They arrived at their friend’s home, in time for Lorentz to grab a bite to eat and go teach.
That week, Lorentz learned HPSD wanted him to teach Grade 5 in Slave Lake full-time.
“I hadn’t heard that at all,” he says. This resulted in another flying trip to Three Hills and back. This one with a trailer home in tow.
Lorentz’ Grade 5 classroom was in a four-room schoolhouse in the grassy area next to E.G. Wahlstrom Elementary School. In the same building, their oldest son, Michael, was in Grade 6 and their second son, Timothy, was in the other Grade 5.
That October their seventh child, Jonathan, was born in the Slave Lake Hospital. The doctor didn’t arrive in time, so nurse Winnie Lehman (who still lives in Slave Lake) caught him.
Lorentz and Mary Lou first parked their trailer house in the northside trailer park and then in Fred Finley’s yard. Lorentz added a skid shack. Lorentz and Mary Lou bought a new couch which was folded out into a bed and slept in the living room. The kids slept in the two back rooms and the addition. One room had a triple-deck bunk bed.
In 1970, the Lorentzens moved to Kinuso. They left in 1988. The first year, Lorentz taught a Grade 2/3 split. Then, he was a full-time bus driver and subbed.
One Sunday, Lorentz noticed cars by the Kinuso Legion. He checked it out. The adult education meeting was over, but he learned that adult ed would close because it didn’t have a teacher. Lorentz said he was a teacher and needed a job. They said “come into the office in Slave Lake and we’ll sign you up.”
Lorentz didn’t get a chance right away, but at a function in High Prairie someone told him he was already on the payroll. The next day, he turned down a subbing job to go to Slave Lake.
“There were some characters working there (CVC) in the early days,” says Lorentz.
Lorentz taught various adults whatever they missed in school.
“I didn’t do much of (Grades) zero to five,” he says. “It was mostly five to 12 or five to nine. As long as they were serious, I loved teaching anybody.”
The first year there were students ready to graduate, Lorentz told his students “We’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a ceremony. We’ll have a little dinner, and someone said, ‘do we have to wear a dress?’ (Lorentz thought) Here’s another loaded question, I’ve never seen any of them in a dress, but I said yes, so they did.”
One of these students recently stopped by Lorentz and Mary Lou’s house in Three Hills to chat and the graduation came up.
One memorable student zipped through all of her courses. She’d dropped out of high school after Grade 9, went to Edmonton, and came back as a single mom.
Another student left school after Grade 5, then lived in the bush.
“He was a sharp-minded guy,” says Lorentz. “Read anything that had print,” between when he left school and took up adult ed. He was doing Grade 10 stuff within half a year. He also introduced Lorentz and the other students to curling.
“Curling wasn’t a natural thing for me, no sports are,” says Lorentz. However, he, Mary Lou and the younger kids signed up for regular curling. If they had a 9 p.m. curling time on a school night, the second youngest, David, would fall asleep.
In Kinuso, Mary Lou worked as a teacher’s aid for “I don’t know how long,” she says. Also, as a short order cook at Strawberry Service off Hwy. 2 between Kinuso and Faust. Her last job was home care.
On any given Sunday, Lorentz preached at the church in Faust, he and Mary Lou led Sunday school at a building with a wood furnace and no water in Kinuso, and often attended Slave Lake Alliance in the evening.
“We always did the Nativity,” says Mary Lou, about the Sunday school. One year, two of the three wisemen were Chinese, the sons of Lorentz and Mary Lou’s friends the Looks, who owned a restaurant in Kinuso.
Mary Lou also led ladies’ Bible study, whenever she could find some interest.
In the summer, the Lorentzens went to family camp in the bush and the kids went to Sturgeon Lake Camp, by Valleyview.
Lorentz was also on the Lesser Slave Lake Family and Community Support Services board for a long time as the Kinuso represenative. When he started, it was called Preventative Social Services. Meetings were held in High Prairie, with representatives from Slave Lake, East Prairie, Gift Lake, and other communities.
At first, the Lorentzens lived in a house in Kinuso. Then they house-sat for the Sims, for three years.
“We had a cow for two years,” says Mary Lou. It was a cute little black milk cow.
The Lorentzens bought the Beaupre place, which was near the Swan River and not far from Lesser Slave Lake.
When they first moved in, the dike around the property was new, so the yard flooded.
“That little flood plugged up all of the pores,” says Lorentz.
It also made a small pond that kids skated on.
In the 1988 flood, the dike held.
“The river came to surround us,” says Lorentz. “A helicopter landed in our yard and wanted to evacuate us. But I said thanks, we’ll see how it goes. We were living in the middle of the river for a while.”
Lorentz was born in April 1935 to Osborne and Blanche Lorentzen near Washburn, ND.
“It wasn’t even a log cabin,” he says. “It was just a shack.”
Lorentz was the oldest surviving child. His parents lost their first, a daughter.
“The doctor was drunk, and she didn’t make it,” says Lorentz.
“We were in one area, but we were in different houses,” he says. “Some of them wouldn’t classify as houses, but we didn’t know. My brother Lee was born in Grandma’s house (Martha Lorentzen), but by the time Les was born in 1940 we lived up by the White Earth River.”
“My first memory is when I was five years old,” says Lorentz. “My mother was away waiting for Les to be born, and I was under the supervision of my father, who was busy.”
Being basically unsupervised, Lorentz was out in the field “rolling tires” during the first week of March 1940.
Mary Lou was born in October 1937 in Denver, Colorado. To Marice Elaine Lindfors and Charlie Dearmond.
Mary Lou was born in Mercy Hospital, because it was cheap, she says. After a terrible delivery, her mother took Mary Lou home to a not good family situation.
“My birth father and my mom divorced by the time I was walking,” she says. “My mom was only 18. He dropped us all off, I mean the two of us, at the mailbox. Anyway, that’s the story I heard.”
The mailbox was at the end of the drive leading up to Maurice’s dad’s farm by Strasburg, Colorado. This was the last time Mary Lou saw Charlie until she was 50.
For the next few years, Mary Lou lived with her grandfather, aunt, and teenage uncle. Her mom lived with her grandmother in Denver.
“My aunt told me, my grandpa took me in to see my mother every week,” says Mary Lou. “It wasn’t horse and buggy.”
The trip was around 20 miles.
By the time Mary Lou was five, she was living with her mom in Denver. Her mother remarried.
When Mary Lou talks about her dad, she means her stepdad, Ammon Lanphear.
“He was a wonderful man,” she says.
According to Mary Lou, her mom and Ammon met when they were in Grade 4. Ammon was living at a farm near Mary Lou’s grandfather’s place. He was in foster care, but when his mother showed up, he ran away with her.
Exactly how Ammon and Marice got together as adults is a bit of a mystery.
“I kinda get the impression, he came back looking for her,” says Lorentz.
As a child, Mary Lou had no interest in meeting her birth father. When she was 17 or 18, her birth father’s mother reached out.
“I don’t know if it would have bothered my dad at that time,” she says. “I just wrote back to my aunt and said no.”
Later in life, Mary Lou’s daughter Anita and daughter-in-law Vanessa wanted to find Charlie.
“I thought I’ve got nothing against him,” says Mary Lou.
Mary Lou contacted the Salvation Army’s missing persons department.
“And they found him, and he was thrilled,” she says. “I guess he used to keep track of me through his sister who knew my aunt.”
About meeting Charlie and his other family, Mary Lou says “I was double glad that I’d never agonized over my birth father. They (her half-siblings) had had a not nice life compared to mine.”
For example, the same year that Mary Lou had a big Christmas list, her half siblings didn’t even have money for a Christmas tree, because Charlie drank it all away.
Out of Mary Lou’s long list, the main thing she wanted was ice skates, she says. Her dad came home after a night shift. The family opened all the presents. She’d received everything on the list, but the skates. Even though she was a big girl, she was close to tears. Then her dad said, ‘did you hear something?’ He went to the front entrance, which was a small cold porch they didn’t use. He pulled out a wagon for Mary Lou’s brothers and skates for her.
Ammon would go into debt for Christmas, adds Mary Lou. Growing up, he got very little (often nothing) for Christmas. A highlight was when he and his brother were in foster care and they received oranges.
“I was taken care of and loved dearly all of my life after I was one or so,” says Mary Lou.
Lorentz started elementary school at country schools in North Dakota. The biggest issue was that school started in the fall, then the teacher would get sick, and the school year would end.
“All that ended when I moved to town,” says Lorentz. “I skimmed through school like a bird.”
Before they moved to town, both of Lorentz’ parents taught at country schools. Both had high school diplomas, which was unusual.
“I had all of the childhood diseases, Grade 7, 8, and 9,” says Lorentz. “We (he and his brothers) had mumps together and went out riding calves.” They got sick in October just in time to miss the school carnival.
One childhood disease both Lorentz and Mary Lou escaped was polio.
“One boy I went to school with had it,” says Mary Lou. He was one of her fellow students in Deadwood, South Dakota. He’d had it before, Mary Lou and her family moved there.
“It was nasty stuff,” adds Mary Lou.
“We waited and looked and prayed for a vaccine for something like polio,” says Lorentz.
Mary Lou has a memory of coming home and seeing a “soldier boy on the porch” – her stepdad Ammon. He was a private in the U.S. Army. He served in the Philippines.
“He didn’t talk a whole lot about the war,” says Mary Lou.
Lorentz’ dad, Osborne, was too old to serve in WWII and too young for WWI. However, his oldest uncle Emmanuel served in WWI in France in the Keystone division.
Lorentz was in the National Guard and the Army Reserves starting in 1955. He joined, “to get a little extra money and still be able to go to college. By ‘65, I was in Canada, so it was over. I lived too far from the local contingent.”
During WWII, Mary Lou and her parents lived in Denver. One school had stairs leading up to big doors.
“I was a dawdler,” says Mary Lou. “I would not go in the great big doors by myself.”
Mary Lou remembers one day she and a friend were supposed to be watching her brother James, who was a baby. They were in the fenced yard. They were playing house. They left the gate open and forgot about James. When Mary Lou’s mother came out, she realized that James was gone. There was a busy street out front and a lot full of weeds and a big hole next door. After a frantic search, they saw a strange man coming across the busy road carrying him. James had crawled after a cat, out the gate and across a busy street, but was stopped when the cat jumped a fence. The stranger found him bawling next to that fence.
After WWII, Mary Lou’s family moved to her mom’s dad’s farm.
While they were on the farm, Mary Lou’s dream was to be old enough to drive the grain truck to the elevator. Mary Lou went to the country school for Grade 3.
They stayed there until her grandpa died.
Around Grade 4, Mary Lou’s family moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota. They moved back and forth between there and Denver a few times, but settled in the Black Hills.
After leaving Kinuso, the Lorentzens moved to Three Hills. Mary Lou worked for some local farmers from their church during harvest. For two years, Lorentz drove a tank truck in the oilfield.
Then they moved to Key Way Tin Bible Institute by Lac La Biche. Lorentz did maintenance. Mary Lou oversaw hospitality.
After they retired, they moved back to Three Hills, where they still live.