ELLINWOOD —Celebrating 125 years, St. Joseph Catholic School in Ellinwood has scheduled several events to commemorate its history beginning with a tree planting.
On Wednesday, students planted a Cleveland pear tree, and Bishop of the Dodge City Diocese, Ronald Gilmore, was present.
"We plant this tree in memory of 125 years of existence," he said. Bishop Gilmore told the students to be flexible, moving in the winds of life like a tree.
The students each took a turn throwing a fistful of dirt into the hole.
In the 1870s, with the Homestead Act and the development of the railroad, immigrants came from southern Germany to Ellinwood, according to research done by Sisters Noella Blick and Francella Bahr. The Catholics organized a parish and opened the first Catholic School in 1885. The schoolmasters were from Germany and conducted lessons in German.
The first instructor was August Smithausen. Classes were discontinued in 1890 when Smithausen left the area. He returned in 1893, and the school opened once again averaging between 30 and 60 students.
In 1894, summer school classes 50 cents per month for German speaking reading and writing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. By 1903, teaching responsibilities were transferred to the Dominican Sisters from Great Bend.
In 1911, Father Werner Emmerick asked the Sister Adorers of the Blood of Christ from Wichita to staff the school. They continue to this day.
The current St. Joseph School building was built in 1926 and has undergone many changes such as adding a computer room, although the basic structure remains the same.
From its beginning classes have been taught for first through eighth graders. In 1937, kindergarten was added, but was discontinued in 1957 due to a lack of space. School enrollment was at an all-time high of 230 students. It was added back in 1982.
The public and Catholic Schools in Ellinwood have always cooperated, and when St. Joes began offering a hot lunch program in 1945, the high school students came to the school for lunch. In 1955, a hot lunch program was begun in the public school.
There are 72 students today. Five full-time teachers, three part-time teachers, one para and a principal teach at the school.
The school will hold a Catholic basketball reunion later this year, and have more events planned for Catholic Schools Week, with a special dinner planned for April 3.