A few months ago my sister-in-law, Bernice Studnicka Cada, sent this group photo of the students of Clarkson Elementary School in the 1949-1950 school year. And better yet, she included an nearly complete identification of the students. [I have to credit Bernie with an astonishing (some might suggest unbelievable) memory.] It is a marvelous picture 0f 59 children in grades K-6, and you can almost feel the energy from these kids. Energy that had to be bottled up by the the 3 longtime teachers – Marie Vavrina, Anna Husak, and Louise Zelenda.
Some of you will find yourselves in this picture. It is a high-resolution photo, so you can download it, blow it up, and make out many details – everything from Hopalong Cassidy neckties to braided pigtails and Toni home perms.
Where was this picture taken? The scuffed up walls and polished wooden floors (with painted lines) makes me think it was taken in the basement of the old high school. I was only in that basement once, but I recall a claustrophobic experience – a tiny basketball court with non-existent out-of-bounds areas, perhaps a set of bleachers on one side (?), and a narrow set of steps as the only exit in the event of an emergency. I’ll bet a lot of the boys and girls basketball players suffered bruised elbows from crashing into the walls.
Clarkson has had a series of school buildings in its 125+ year history. The first grade school and high school were wooden frame structures built in the 1890s. According to the Diamond Jubilee book, in 1894 the District 58 Board of Education determined that the school term would be 11 months long, with only 1 month vacation (the first vacation period was 2 weeks at Christmas). Teachers were hired who had a good command of both English and Bohemian. A teacher was hired to teach Bohemian on Friday afternoon (later changed to Saturday morning).
What follows is a series of photos of those white, wooden framed schoolhouses. They are taken from different directions, so I’m a little unsure about which is which (anyone who might have been educated in these buildings, please correct me. Ha). This next picture is Clarkson’s first elementary school:
First Clarkson High School (?):
First Clarkson Elementary School:
First Clarkson High School:
By 1911, Clarkson had 352 students in District 58, and there was increasing sentiment to build a larger, brick school building. A vote was taken to issue $35,000 in bonds, excavation for the building was begun on April 15, 1913 and the building was dedicated on November 4, 1913. This new building, the finest school in Colfax County, had the basement basketball court that I spoke of, one that allowed the players to wear “suction shoes” for the first time (don’t ask me what that is):
This red brick building served as the Clarkson High School from 1913 until 1952, when the high school students (and 7th and 8th graders) moved up the street to the present high school. At that point, the first “old” brick high school was remodeled for graded K-6 and the old grade school was sold and torn down.
The old 1913 high school still stands, solid but looking for a purpose.
This week’s quiz – notice the long fire escape tube in the picture below (it isn’t in the black and white picture above). What percentage of the students in the 1949-1950 class picture slid down that tube at least once?
This photos jogged loose some old memories:
In the summer the Catholic Church would have religion classes in the grade school in the AM for approx. two weeks. I would stay at my grandmother’s. Would allow time in the PM for pick up ball games in a vacant lot with the kids in the neighborhood – Kathy and Paul Cada, George Sedlacek, the Hobzas, Ken and Janet Karel, and Pospichals who were also staying with grandmas among others. Also would have a chance to bike ride on paved streets! When the nuns weren’t looking we would sneak rides down the fire escape. The school reminded me of the old high school in Hoosiers. – Darrell Podany
[Editor's Note: Good point about bike riding in town. For a country kid and his Hiawatha bicycle, paved streets were a dream come true. It was so EASY to ride around in Clarkson, compared to pedaling through loose gravel, grassy pastures, and puncture weeds. And if you wanted to visit a friend on a quiet summer afternoon, you didn't have to pedal 3 miles to get there!]
I attended District 57 country school from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Around 1st grade ( ? ) our school had a furnace fire which damaged our school. While it was being renovated, our student body of about 15 students temporarily was relocated to the Clarkson Elementary in the mid 50’s. They gave us a room upstairs. We needed to climb that flight of stairs and I remember that it had a stage on one end. That is where our teacher “called” us to each of our individual classes. I remember going into the basement basketball court on occasion, but as a little girl from a country school, it seemed huge to me. The stairs and cement bleachers seemed very steep. It was a cavernous room to us. We didn’t interact much with the town kids, as I recall. Honestly can’t even remember sharing recesses with them. We were pretty much our own entity for classes, lunch and recesses, with our teacher our sole supervisor just as she had been in the country. As for the percentage of students who slid down that fire escape, I would imagine that the number would be 100%. If it wasn’t for pleasure, they surely would have all used it during a fire drill. - Donna Hockamier Adams
Yes, the gymnasium was in the lower level with concrete bench step-type seats on one side. That is where the students are standing on this picture. It was a rather depressing room. Across from the entry to the gym was a storage room which was sort of like Mom’s attic–all the costumes from operettas were stored in there, plus who knows what. I remember going in there with one of the teachers and I wanted to explore every carton. No opportunity given, however. On the third level of the building was a theater sort of room. We would go there to take tests. Can’t remember doing anything else up there. They made us spread out for the tests to reduce temptation to cheat, I presume. Yes, the fire escape was visited by me and friends many times, especially during the summer. I just remember crawling up and sitting there looking around through peep holes. It was a challenge! I do remember that Mr. Krejsa caught Vicki Harper and me up there once and more or less told us to get lost. Wax paper helped to make the descent more exciting! Wish our grandkids were able to have the opportunity to gather memories like this. Mom told me good bye after breakfast and presumed I would be back for “dinner” at noon, no questions asked. And, no, I did not have a cell phone to check in with her. I would return for dinner and then be gone until supper time. What freedom! – Bernice Studnicka Cada
Since I don’t know when the fire escape tube was added, I can’t say for sure if any or all slid down it at least once. If the tube was installed before the class picture was taken then 100% of the students slid down it at least once and I think that it was installed by then. I remember sliding down it during the summer when we had Catholic religion class in either in the old grade school next door or in that building. That was sometime in the 1950’s. – Dean Bayer
Oh I remember the “fire escape”!! Not only used to slide down but to sit up there with a “boyfriend”.. – Edith Kudrna Welch
Glenn, you did good!! I remember the high school students talking about them opening the trap door in the assembly room at the top during a fire drill…the boys would slide down first so they could stand around at the bottom to watch the girls slide down hoping their skirts would fly up…naughty boys! Ha! We as children used to climb up inside from the bottom to the top and slide down for entertainment…I can still feel the sensation of flying down the slick fire escape especially after we sat on wax paper (that we brought from home) a few times…we would get it so slick that we would fly out at the end and compete to see who could land the farthest…when it was slick like that, we would carefully straddle our way to the top so as to not smudge the main part…Oh what fun that was…the best entertainment in a little village for young children…it was like being at an amusement park ride, but it was FREE…It is esp. memorable for I received my very first kiss at the top of the fire escape…awww…Eleanor Sousek Loseke
When we were in 7th grade, we were moved to the big brick High School…when you walked through the front door from the southside, there was a hallway with class rooms leading from there (two on the left and two on the right)…in front of you was a wide stairway leading down to a level with wide doors leading down hill to the grade school area (class pictures were all taken outside that door on the cement steps)…on each side of the stairway that lead down stairs were stairs on both sides leading up to a landing which led to a wide stairway heading up to the second level…at the top was a foyer or open hallway with the office and a couple of classrooms leading from there to the right…to the left was a large wide doorway opening to the large one room assembly room…as you approached the assembly wide door opening you could see the wide aisle straight ahead that divided the room into two parts…on the left were desks for all the high school students (several rows of them)…to the right were several rows of desks for all junior high students all facing the stage which was far right of the room where announcements, skits, etc. took place…down the wide aisle across the room to the right was the rectangle door with a rope attached for the fire escape door…
I can remember as a 7th grader, how intimidating it was to walk down that wide aisle between the high school and junior high students…Heaven forbid if you were late, you had to walk solely in front of all of the high school students and find your place on the right in front of the stage…I can still picture Miss Bloss (this wonderful English teacher and librarian) who would stand in the doorway of the assembly when she was in charge of monitoring and keeping students quiet, sticking her tongue partly out, looking from one end of the room to the other, still with her tongue sticking out…It was the funniest thing to see…she was a dear, though, in spite of her unique habit..ha! I don’t remember where the library was…as you entered the doorway that lead from the grade school area, the wide stairway was in front of you, but to the sides were doors on each side of the wide stairway that led to the gym and the band room..the band room was on the left…this is where Edith Kudrna and I would take flute lessons with Mr.Johnson, the band director when we were in 6th grade…the gym was used for exercise and PE…the only locker room with showers was at the east end of the gym…I remember Mrs. Cakl teaching us twirling down there…I still remember assembling for that grade school picture in the gym that day…wonderful memories… – Eleanor Sousek Loseke
We especially enjoyed the grade school picture. It was taken just a few years before we moved to Clarkson and we know most of the kids. Bob Moore, the biggest kid in the picture, was a junior when we came, and CHS was at the state tournament my first day there. The whole town was gone that day.
Could the Blecha girls have been the basketball coach’s kids? I heard stories about Clarkson playing BB in the city hall in those days and the locker room was in the basement. They had to lift a door in the floor to go down there at halftime, and there was also a heat register in the floor which made the players’ tennies stink.
They tell of a time when coach was so mad that he was chewing his team out. He bounced the basketball so hard that it hit the ceiling and stuck between two floor joists above. They all had a big laugh then. Both Wayne Prazak and Carolyn Cada worked for us at Sundries. – Dale Gentzler