OLMITZ – The population of Olmitz could nearly quadruple a week from Saturday, Sept. 21.
The residents of this small northwest Barton County community of 114 souls are planning the first-ever all-school reunion for the now defunct St. Ann’s School for next Saturday. It will feature a full day of activities designed to rekindle the memories made in the century-old limestone building, said Janet Pechanec, one of the event organizers.
“Planning this reunion has been so much fun and we’ve talked to people who are so excited to ‘come back home,” Pechanec said. In fact, the theme for the event is “Life takes us to unexpected places ... Love brings us home.”
“We’re excited to renew friendships and see people we haven’t seen in years,” she said. “For a day, we will put Olmitz on the map and celebrate our ancestry, our childhood, friendships and new acquaintances. Our reward is to witness the excitement for the day and the smiles it’s sure to bring. We are proud of our school, our heritage, and our God. It’s worth celebrating.”
The reunion is scheduled to begin with a social from 1-4 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Olmitz. A polka mass will begin at 4 p.m. at the Catholic church 2 1/2 blocks from the hall.
A bag piper will lead a procession of 11 Precious Blood sisters (former teachers from the Wichita order that provided instructors for the school), one Franciscan brother from Rome, and a deacon or two. Bishop John Brungardt, will conduct mass along with church’s pastor, the Rev. Ultan Murphy.
After mass, the activities will move back to the K of C Hall. There will be a trolley to take people back and forth.
At 6 p.m., the Wheatland Cafe will cater dinner. After dinner, there will be an open microphone, and entertainment provided by the Night Winds, a band that originated in Olmitz and is coming back together to play for the reunion.
The school will be open from 1 p.m. to dusk for the teachers and students to reminisce the past.
How it all began
“The idea of a St. Ann’s all-school reunion was on our bucket list,” Pechanec said of her and close friend Janice Moore. “So we gathered 10 other committee members of all ages to made a perfect dozen.”
Next, they began searching for a list of students who had attended the school, but found that there were no records in the rectory. “After the initial shock, we decided to call the diocesan office in Dodge City,” Pechanec said.
They were two weeks from storing all the records in the Hutchinson Salt Mines. “We saw this as a sign that our reunion was meant to be,” she said.
The diocesan office sent them every report card from the history of the school. “We have invited everyone we could find that was listed on the report cards and our attendance number has risen to around 400 people.”
Pechanec said they have cleaned out the school and did some remodeling for the reunion. After a lot of painting and other housekeeping, they are ready.
As a side note, she said while cleaning out the school, they found a few treasures which they put up for bid in a silent auction on Labor Day weekend. All of the proceeds from the auction were given to Sister Denise (Darlene) Stoecklein’s mission on the border of Mexico. Sister Denise taught at St. Ann’s school in the 1970s.
A little history
According to information provided by Pechanec and Moore, the Olmitz community was settled primarily by Austrian Catholics in 1885 to whom a Catholic education was a very high priority. St. Ann’s parochial school began operating grades one through eight in 1903 with the Sisters Adorers of the Most Precious Blood from Wichita provided the teaching staff throughout the operation of St. Ann’s school.
Both the church and school burned in 1913 and were rebuilt.
High school classes began in 1927, and ended with the graduating class of 1949. Until the 1976, the school still provided schooling from grades one to eight.
In 1976, due to a shortage of teaching sisters, St. Ann’s was informed that the Precious Blood Community would not be able to provide teaching sisters for the following year. After much soul searching and many hours of considering alternative solutions the parish succumbed to the closing of its school.
Youth-oriented Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) and Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) classes are still held every Sunday morning during the school in the stately building. “After our classes we walk the children to the church (at St. Ann’s Catholic Church) for mass at 10 a.m.,” Pechanec said.
Now, they also plan to use the school for Summer Bible School, which they would like to bring back to Olmitz. “This is another item on our bucket list,” she said.