National School of Business’ Youngest Graduate Also Among the First to Graduate in 1941.
In 1941, Miriam Wagner was just 16 years old when she left to attend National School of Business (NSB), a college founded that same year.
“My mother wanted my older sister and me to go to school together, so when my sister went to school at 5 years old, I went too,” said Miriam who was just four years old at the time.
School was never hard for Miriam, however, even when she was the youngest in the classroom. She attended a small county school, so she could hear the teacher instructing the older kids even while she was working on her own subjects.
“I learned a lot just by hearing what the older students were learning.”
When her family moved to a ranch, she attended high school in Reliance, South Dakota, graduating at age 16. Clarence Jacobson, the founder of NSB, visited her high school and the college seemed like a good fit.
“My parents were supportive. I wanted to work at the Air Force base, so going to a school in Rapid City made sense.”
“Mr. Jacobson drove me and another new student, Lois Meckling, to Rapid City,” said Miriam.
“When we arrived at the college, Lois and I were very impressed by the Courthouse. It was a large building right across from the National School of Business. Mr. Jacobson teased us that we should be more impressed with our college, not the building across the street,” Miriam recalls with a laugh. “He never let me forget that.”
That same year, the now 17 year old Miriam, received her degree, making her likely the university’s youngest graduate in history, a record set in the college’s first year.
Staying true to her goal, she set her sights on getting a job at the base.
“Unfortunately, I learned that the base couldn’t hire me because I was only 17,” she said. “So, that didn’t work out as I had hoped.”
Mr. Jacobson intervened and called on friend and area businessman, Art Dahl, for assistance. At the time, Mr. Dahl was president of then-called Rapid City National Bank (now U.S. Bank).
“I told Mr. Dahl that I was not very good at math,” said Miriam. “He replied, ‘we’ll try ya.’”
Miriam made her career at the bank, working there for 25 years. She worked as a bookkeeper and teller for the bank, including many years in the bank’s drive through.
Miriam enjoyed her days following graduation. She and her friends enjoyed dancing and dating, a nice change from ranch life back in Reliance. By now her sister, Pat, had joined her in Rapid City and they, along with a friend, formed a singing trio that performed at dances and other events.
“My parents had a dance band,” said Miriam. “They couldn’t afford a sitter, so my sister and I always tagged along when they performed. When we were little, we slept in the drum case. Singing and performing came naturally to us.”
She even received two marriage proposals in the years following her college graduation. But, reflecting back, she says these romances were just fleeting.
“It was great fun. I had grown up on a ranch and attended most of schooling in a small country school. I basically had two outfits – a dress for school and either a dress or overalls for the ranch,” says Miriam. “For me, fresh out of college and still very young, Rapid City seemed like the big time.”
In 1946, while working at the bank, a customer approached to open a new account.
Don Dunmire, a young veteran, was new to Rapid City and just starting his career as a Certified Public Accountant.
“I went home that day and told my sister that I had met the man I was going to marry,” said Miriam.
Miriam made Don some cookies and the two started dating.
“He always joked that after we got married that he never saw another batch of cookies come out of the kitchen,” said Miriam, smiling. “He was only joking. He actually really enjoyed my cooking.”
The couple dated just three months before they got married. Don was very “quiet and dignified,” while she is self-described “loud and full of stories.”
“They say opposites attract,” said Miriam.
Don built a successful accounting business, Dunmire & Short. The couple lived in Rapid City for 68 years. Throughout their marriage and retirement, they enjoyed golfing, boating, fishing and traveling.
Don passed away in 2015, after a two year battle with Myasthenia Gravis, a rare neuromuscular disorder.
“I still miss him, but I’m blessed with many friends, good health and enjoy living in West Hills Village,” said Miriam. “We had a good life together and for that I’m very grateful.”
Miriam now spends most of her time reading, doing puzzles and playing computer games.
“I’ve played enough golf and bridge to last a lifetime.”
About the author
Tamie Hopp is the Director of Alumni & Foundation Services for National American University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on alumni relations, visit nauconnect.com. Information about the NAU Foundation can be found at naufoundation.org.