Former Graduate Gives Darby Public Schools Internet

By SUZANNE WARING

If you remember the old days in the world of technology—such as in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s—you will be sympathetic with Darby, Mont.

In this community, the Internet has always been painfully slow for the individual subscriber who was still using dial-up, but even DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) users found it difficult to use, especially students in a classroom setting.

If one student was connected to the Internet, others would have no access. When nearly everyone else in the country was using high-speed Internet, this community was being left behind.

The situation was beginning to feel even more isolating about the time a benefactor remembered his home community.

Superintendent of Schools Loyd Rennaker learned about and then made the announcement that through the will of Archie and Sue Lorentzen, who died within four days of each other of natural causes in December 2014, the Darby Schools would be receiving a portion of their trust.

Archie Lorentzen was a 1949 graduate of Darby High School, and his mother had been a teacher in the school system. After high school, Archie had enlisted in the Air Force.

He took the pilot aptitude test and scored so high that he was trained as a pilot despite his not having a college degree. He flew 128 combat missions in Vietnam. After the military, he and some other Air Force friends had a business in California, selling manufactured homes.

When the Lorentzens retired, they moved to the Flathead area in Montana. He and his wife decided to create a trust, giving the Darby School District 75 percent with the remaining going to the Air Warriors Courage Foundation, a national group that assists war veterans and their dependents. This amounted to approximately $3 million for the Darby School District.

Lorentzen appreciated that Darby High School had given him an outstanding foundation for doing what he was able to do without a college degree.

He wanted to give back. The Darby School System had an imminent need, as did the public library and other businesses in Darby: they needed high-speed Internet access.

Fiberoptic cable had been laid as far south in the Bitterroot Valley as Hamilton, but that was the end of the line. It was not economical for it to be laid on down the valley to a community of around 400 houses.

That 17 miles meant that this community in a beautiful setting was technologically cut off from the world.

Because of the lack of high-speed Internet, students were missing out on a 21st Century education, compared with the outstanding education Archie Lorentzen had received for its time in the Mid-20th Century.

The Lorentzens set no stipulations for how the money was to be used.

That money became available early in 2015. Superintendent Rennaker, the school board, and a special selection committee made high-speed Internet a priority.

Although it is highly unusual for a community itself to pay for fiberoptic cable to be laid, the school district solicited four requests for proposals.

Century Link came back with the best proposal, and the fiberoptic cable was laid and operative by mid-March 2017. The cost of this project was $800,000.

Using federal e-rate for 80 percent of the cost, the school district used the trust money to pay the final 20 percent. Now all members of a class can work on the Internet to do research at the same time.

“The entire town also has access to high-speed Internet, especially the Darby Public Library, which is a community center for many activities,” said Rennaker. “It’s our community’s hope that an Internet provider will go ahead and run fiber optic cable up the nearby canyons, so that others who are part of our community will also have access from their homes.”

The remaining amount of the gift has been placed in an endowment. Each year the school district will use the interest earned for scholarships and projects.

The principal will be left in the endowment in perpetuity.

When the Lorentzens’ attorney went to Darby to work out the particulars of the will, he took Archie Lorentzen’s money clip. Lorentzen had carried this clip his entire adult life. On the side, “DHS ’49” was inscribed.

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