When the Unified School District 428 School Board Monday voted to sell Shady Grove School, there was one nay vote. Casting that vote was Kevin Mauler.
Mauler, a farmer who was born and raised west of Great Bend, attended school at the small, red-brick Shady Grove. Still sentimental, he just couldn’t get himself to support getting rid of the building.
“That was a pretty hard thing to do,” Mauler said. “I have a lot of memories out there.”
None the less, it will be sold. After having the school and the acre of land it stands on appraised, the district will try to sell it, by auction if necessary.
Now, Mauler and others hope it goes to someone who will care for it.
“It’s a great building that has served its purpose for a long time,” said district Business Director Dan Brungardt. “We hope that someone will be able to use it for something else.”
Little remains in the building as reminders of its service as a school. There are a few desks, an American flag in a closet and a map of the school district pinned to a wall. But, despite the lack of use, the hard-wood floors shine, and there is little structural wear and tear. It appears to be ready for the start of another school year.
Shady Grove, located on Southwest 40 Avenue across from the Great Bend Municipal Airport, was the last operational country school in Barton County. Although it was closed to students in 1991, it still housed Barton County Special Services, a county-wide cooperative serving children with special needs.
However, starting this school year, BCSS moved its offices to Washington Early Childhood Center (the former Washington Elementary School) in Great Bend. Shady Grove is three miles outside the Great Bend city limits, and that distance became cumbersome and costly.
According to information provided by USD 428, Shady Grove School was organized on April 2, 1873, and the first district meeting took place just a couple weeks later. It was one of a host of country schools that dotted section corners across the state for over a century.
This was later replaced by a second building which also served as a community center as well a school, and even hosted church services. This was moved into town for use as a church and, later on, an apartment building. The current building went up in the summer of 1929.
It had a full playground and a kitchen in the sub-story. There are stories of teachers ringing their bells, playing baseball, ice skating on the pond behind the building, hot lunches and camaraderie.
“It was very family oriented out there,” Mauler said. “It was very tight knit. It was quite an educational experience.”
The school boasted as many as 60 students. At that time, there was only one teacher.
But, enrollment dwindled to 10 by the 1940s and there were fears the school would close. Shady Grove (District 4) consolidated with districts 7 and 28 in 1948. It eventually was incorporated into Great Bend-based USD 428.
The consolidations helped the numbers, but enrollment was never the same.
By the time Mauler arrived in the late 1960s, there were 36 students, the one classroom had been divided into two and there were two teachers, one of whom was the principal.
None the less, in 1972, a multi-purpose building was added. It served as a gym and venue for other school programs. Also, Mauler said, for the first time they could still have recess in bad weather.
“It was very collaborative learning,” he said. “The older kids helped the younger kids. It was a very good way of learning, I felt.”
However, by the 1980s, it there were 17 students. With a predicted enrollment of five for the 1991-92 school year, the Great Bend board decided Shady Grove’s days were past.
The school may be closed, but Mauler said former students still keep in touch with one another. “We were friends with the kids who were older than us and we were friends with the kids who were younger than us.”
Many of the former students, like Mauler, still live in the area. Others have scattered. Regardless, they have their country school experience that stays with them wherever they go.
In the meantime, Mauler has one unfinished assignment at Shady Grove. “We buried a time capsule out there when we were in the fifth grade,” he said. “We can’t find it.”
Planted in 1971, it contains news clippings and one item from each of the 36 students. He said he may have to bring in a metal detector.