Minnetonka Public Schools, which had possession of a ship's bell and wheel taken from a Minneapolis war memorial under mysterious circumstances, has agreed to return the artifacts to the Minneapolis Park Board.
"As the ship's bell and wheel were given into our care by the American Legion, it is appropriate that if the Legion has made a new determination of where they should be kept, that we respect that decision," said school district spokeswoman JacQui Getty in a statement. "It has been our honor to maintain and enhance the naval items during the years that the Legion asked us to provide full supervision for the artifacts."
The wheel from the battleship USS Minnesota went missing in 1975 from Navy Rock, the memorial at Bde Maka Ska honoring Minneapolis' sailor dead. The bell from the armored cruiser USS Minneapolis vanished in 2014.
The Southwest Journal tracked both to Minnetonka High School last spring. The nautical-themed school, whose mascot is the Skipper, had hung the wheel in its atrium. The bell had been stored in the weight room and used as a game day prop.
As the school came under increasing criticism, the bell was moved to a high-visibility place in the student commons. Nevertheless, Minnetonka Superintendent Dennis Peterson refused to give up the artifacts, challenging the Park Board's ability to properly care for them.
Earlier this year, the Park Board renewed demands for the return of the bell and wheel, with Commissioner Brad Bourn threatening to send Park Police to seize them. State legislators urged Peterson to come to the negotiating table. The Navy formally divested its claim over the bell and wheel, refusing to become entangled in a local power struggle.
The end of the conflict is in sight. The Park Board has now struck a deal with American Legion Post 1 in Minneapolis, in which the Legion will work with Minnetonka Public Schools to return the artifacts by Sept. 1.
The reconciliatory resolution, which the Park Board will vote on during its regular meeting on Wednesday, thanks Minnetonka Public Schools for refurbishing the bell and wheel.
The Park Board promises to provide surveillance for the artifacts to ensure they're not vandalized or stolen again, and to create a process for the Legion to monitor their continued care.
Minnetonka Public Schools stated it will abide by that agreement.
According to Joyce Rose, a past commander and historian of Minneapolis Post 1 a couple of rogue Legionnaires took the bell and wheel down from Navy Rock, apparently without permission from the Legion, the Navy or the Park Board.
One of those Legionnaires, Richard Ward, entrusted the items to Minnetonka High School. A letter from Ward accompanying the bell was specifically addressed to Dave Nelson, the retired Minnetonka football coach.
Ward and Nelson are brothers-in-law who came up with the idea of Minnetonka taking the bell and wheel after a chat at a family gathering, according to e-mails uncovered in a data request by former Southwest Journal editor Zac Farber.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028