The Little Red Schoolhouse PART THREE


Future of the Little Red Schoolhouse


By Terry Bailey



Beloit’s Little Red Schoolhouse, located in the roadside park on the north edge of town, has a well-documented history. Most folks understand how it came to be located there. Its future, on the other hand, is as uncertain as a Kansas thunderstorm.


Harold Boetcher, Maurice McDonald and Harold Hill located the building in 1960 and it was moved to a location near the Dairy Queen in 1970 and then to its current location in 1975. The Little Red Schoolhouse received the red carpet treatment during the Bicentennial Celebrations in 1976.


Helen Babb, Mitchell County Bicentennial Chairperson, was the driving force in a movement to turn the Schoolhouse into a Living History Museum. Working with Babb were Mary Kulp and Louise Matheis. The vision of these women was to create a place where the history of the one room schoolhouse could be preserved for generations to come, far into the future. The institution that had served the educational needs of the pioneers for decades, the one room schoolhouse, had ran its course by 1976. Babb understood that if action was not taken, subsequent generations would lose sight of what a one room schoolhouse was all about.


Since that time those closely associated with one room schoolhouses have slipped away. Very few folks are alive today who can tell stories about attending a one room schoolhouse. Aging baby boomers can recall stories told by their parents about walking to school through snow as high as the fence posts, uphill both ways.


Folks in rural Kansas know that tractors, machinery, and buildings need constant upkeep to keep them in good working order. Regular maintenance applied on a systematic basis will keep things in good working order. However if maintenance is delayed, the environment will take its toll and what would have been a small expense becomes a huge bill to fix all the things that have gone wrong. If repairs are deferred too long, the cost of fixing the structure can be more than its value.


This describes the current structural condition of the Little Red Schoolhouse. Years of minimal or no maintenance have taken its toll. The windows are loose letting in the wind and rain, the floor is rotting, the roof is in dire need of repair, and the foundation has lost the ability to hold the building up correctly.


At one time, retired teachers from the Alpha Pi Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma sorority staffed the schoolhouse every afternoon from April through September. However, years have passed since the building has been open on a regular basis so that local citizens or tourists can stop and look through the interior of the building.


Historically the City of Beloit has spent very little money on the Little Red Schoolhouse as was the original plan. The vison of Helen Babb and the others in 1976 was for patrons and interested citizens to raise money to take care of maintenance and upkeep. That plan seems to have fell by the wayside.


City Councilor Andrew Grabon said, “Honestly, I would like to keep it going. It has important cultural and historical significance. I believe it needs an individual or individuals or an organization to adopt it and do what it takes to get it back to speed and maintain it as the years pass. It belongs to the City and surely there are people in the City who could take a leadership role for the Little Red Schoolhouse. I am sure they are out there. Finding them is the big challenge.”


City Manager Jason Rabe had these thoughts, “I think everyone in the community wants to keep the Little Red Schoolhouse going as a local landmark. I think everyone would like to see it fixed up and have it open on a regular basis so the local people and those passing by could stop in and have a quick history lesson. It is slowly falling into a state of decay and will continue to do so if stabilizing measures are not taken soon.”


Rabe said that estimates to repair the building range from $30,000 to $50,000 depending on how much work is done. He also commented that the City Council is highly committed to holding the line on the City budget and not allowing the mil levy to rise.


Ideally,” said Rabe, “the City needs a community led initiative or task force to assume the care of the Little Red Schoolhouse. I think many citizens would donate to a fund that was going to directly fix up the school. There are also very skilled folks in the area who could help with the repairs on a volunteer basis to keep the cost down.”


One does not need a crystal ball to foretell the future of the Little Red Schoolhouse. If the vision of Maurice McDonald, Helen Babb and others from 40 years ago is to remain alive, someone must step forward to assume a leadership role. Someone has to make things happen. If nobody does so, the future of the Little Red Schoolhouse is very tenuous.


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