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Remembering the 20th century


August 27, 2012
Billie Shelton ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Already it's been more than a dozen years since we stepped into this new century. Remember those days of Y2K? I was at a meeting of the editorial staff then when we were told the newspaper would be doing a special edition about this century we were leaving. What would be remembered about the 20th century? Just what was it that happened that had a big impact on Hamilton county during the twentieth century? What stood out?

That was an easy question for me because I'd long believed that the school consolidations of the 1950s and '60s changed our towns and our countryside forever. Some of the bitter feelings around those difficult decisions on consolidation lasted a lifetime. And while the old saw "when you lose your school, you lose your town" hasn't turned out to be totally accurate, when schools closed little towns just weren't ever the same again.

For starters, our county went from nine school districts to four. The classes were bigger now; no more graduating classes of a dozen. There were more academic opportunities at the high school level, to be sure. School sports changed, too; no longer did each school play each of the other schools in the county twice per season, once home and once away, and then have a county tournament.

As a student, I was part of that historic transition. Fifty years ago about now, my class was just starting junior high, a new concept in itself because up till then students went to kindergarten through eighth grade, had a graduation ceremony, and then entered high school as a freshman. Now junior high was grades seven through nine, and high school ten through twelve.

Suddenly, as a seventh grader, I was in a class of almost 100. There were two junior high schools in the district then, one in Stanhope and the other in Ellsworth. There wasn't any place in the district big enough to hold us all. The first bond issue to build a new junior-senior high school big enough to educate all these Baby Boomers in the new district failed. So did subsequent attempts as adults failed to gain consensus on where this building should be located.

That turned out to be the pattern all the way through the rest of the school days for my class. We finished junior high and then transferred to high school in Jewell with all of our classmates from the other junior high, but still no new building. The adults were still voting and defeating the bond. Meanwhile our education continued in buildings that were overcrowded and old.

Finally, on the seventh vote, the bond issue that was by then $215,000 higher than the first bond issue voted on in 1959, passed and construction could begin on a new junior-senior high school at its present location in Jewell. The class of 1969 that finished the year behind us was the first to graduate from the brand new building.

Yes, those were memorable times in the history of our county, difficult for both youngsters and adults alike. But we came through it. And I'm not sure it didn't make us all just a little stronger.



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