Reunion next weekend The Wheatland Reunion Committee invites Wheatland students, parents and students’ families, faculty, and staff from 1950-1966, along with their families, to take part in a school reunion Saturday, July 16, in conjunction with the 2011 Ellinwood After Harvest Festival. E-mail the committee at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and updates.A legacy of educators Attendance at Wheatland School made it the largest rural school in the county and was served by the tenure of two county superintendents, Edna Sheldon Shinn and Marie Hester. From its inception in 1950 to 1953, the school was served by three faculty, Vivian Carver, Virginia Carver, and Verle Ivan Wright. The fall of the 1953, Lorrayne Eveleigh joined the staff for first and second grade, making it four. Then in 1955, the Kansas Department of Education made it mandatory that a school with four or more faculty have an administrator. Stanley Ringering, a school board member at that time, contacted Joe Hickel, who had just completed his master’s in school administration about coming on board. Hickel served for eight years and then joined the faculty at Ellinwood, teaching history for three years before becoming the elementary school’s principal after Walter Bollinger’s retirement in 1967. There was a new principal hired in the fall of 1963 by the name of Lloyd Shepard, from Pawnee Rock, but he only served for one semester. Making due from within, Millicent Meyer served as acting principal for the second semester until the board hired Merle Gentry, who served until the school’s consolidation with Ellinwood in 1966. USD 355 teachers and staff that served at Wheatland (which handled only sixth grade) after consolidation were: Larry Peter, Gordon Mettling, Millicent Meyer, and Dorothy Hughes. John Banman taught the instrumental while his wife, Iris, took over the vocal, replacing Miss Mosier who taught for one semester. Alice “Buzz” Reubhausen traveled out once a week for art in all classes. Della Eggers was the cook. Fred and Doris Schmidt continued on as custodial staff, and Hickel continued too as elementary principal.
Looking at the griddle-flat sandy farmland with its golden stubble fields surrounding the former Wheatland School, it is easy to see how the school got its name.
However, today, it’s not so easy to tell the dilapidated yellow brick building south of Ellinwood was once a school house.
“I drove into the drive and my heart just broke,” said Lorrayne Eveleigh Tuesday afternoon. She taught first and second grade at the Wheatland in the early 1950s, back when it was a thriving country school serving elementary students from southern and southeastern Barton County.
“It’s not the Wheatland of old,” agreed Wayne DeWerff, an Ellinwood resident and former student who has researched and written about the building.
The two walked the tattered, littered, bird-dropping caked halls Tuesday. It was the first time in years either had set foot in the school. “I didn’t know what to expect,” DeWerff said.
Neither, both remembering the glory days, was sure they wanted to tour Wheatland in its current run-down state. They emerged shaking their heads with disgust.
DeWerff is part of the Wheatland Committee which is planning a Wheatland reunion July 16 in conjunction with the 2011 Ellinwood After Harvest Festival.
Wheatland School, District 105, in Comanche Township south of Ellinwood, was one of the last surviving country schools in Barton County. A consolidation of districts 38, 24, 47, 49, and 69, the school was built in 1949 and opened in 1950.
The name of the school is said to have been the result of a “give the school a name” suggestion box” eight years after it opened. The winning name was submitted by a fourth grader – Carol Hauser (Lenhart).
It handled grades one through eight from 1950 through 1966 until, in a wave of state-forced school consolidations, it merged with Ellinwood USD 355. Starting that same year, the site served as a transition between elementary school and junior high for the district’s sixth graders who were bussed to Wheatland. This lasted until 1977 when it was no longer economically feasible.
But now, gone are the students from its hallways. Instead, barn swallows dart back and forth, their mud nests clinging to the crumbling walls.
Assorted junk, vehicle engine parts, old tires, car parts and bicycles now crowd those halls. The tile floor is covered with a layer of dirt, grass and broken glass. An old wench truck sits parked outside on the front steps.
Some of the blackboards remain, as do some of the old student desks. The bell that once alerted students to the beginning and ending of their school days still works.
But, little else scholastic survives.
In 1977, the district sold the school at auction to Allen Isern of Ellinwood who made renovations and operated Glasco, a fiberglass tank manufacturer, there for several years. The land and building was then sold and a mechanic business has been maintained there to date. Several metal buildings were put up, eliminating the playground and outdoor play areas.
The schoolhouse serves mostly as storage and a garage (part of the old gymnasium wall was removed and a large rolling door installed).
This was tough for Eveleigh to stomach. Walking with a cane, the diminutive, white-haired woman climbed around piles of stuff to what was her classroom. “This was my chalkboard from days gone by,” she said.
One of the rooms walls was missing, leaving it open to the elements. “This is really sad,” she said.
DeWerff said his heart aches to see the continual deterioration of the school. “I believe that it’s possible to still have the school looking as it once did – but more important are the memories, experiences, and formidable years I was able to spend growing up with all my brothers and sister, neighbors, cousins, friends, in what I’ve always referred to as the greatest country school experience of all.”
At the time the school was in its heyday, county eight grade students would, as part of a rite of passage, go through an eighth-grade graduation before heading to high school. Wheatland kids were bound for Ellinwood High School.
“Even though I only spent my first two years at Wheatland (and then was able to return as a sixth grader) the memories there are still very vivid,” DeWerff said. These include meals with cook Della Eggers, extended recesses due to the extra-inning games of softball or kickball, the sledding during the winter, the great times on the playground equipment, the field days of competing against the “town” school kids, the all-school carnival around Halloween and field trips to Ringering’s Park
“I had three other siblings out there with me at the time – two older, and one younger,” he said. He even spent time in the same classroom as his brother.
“That school – its teachers, staff, students, family environment and it’s super location in a country setting – helped shape and mold me into what I am today,” he said. “For that, I am truly blessed and grateful.”