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Sibley, Iowa, school song mystery unveiled through local resident's research

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Sibley, Iowa, school song mystery unveiled through local resident's research
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Alumni of Sibley-Ocheyedan High School may never know for certain who wrote their school song and when it was written, but after a Sibley resident spent hours researching the song, they have a few possible answers.


What the school song still doesn't have is a name.

Instead of leaving it nameless or simply calling it "The Sibley-Ocheyedan School Song," the Sibley-Ocheyedan Board of Education instead opted to let alumni decide what to call the song during the third annual all-school reunion this weekend.

"I have no idea (what alumni will choose)," said Jeff Knobloch, who launched the search for the song's origins about a year and a half ago. "It really belongs to the alumni of Sibley."

The board asked the public for potential title submissions and received a variety of title ideas. Some were fairly generic. One suggestion was the "Henry Hastings March," tying the town's namesake, Henry Hastings Sibley, to the name of the school song.

After all the submissions were gathered together, the school board narrowed it down to a list of three possibilities: "General Salute," "We Believe in the Generals," and "Pride of the Generals."

Attendees of the all-school reunion will vote on which title they like best, and then the alumni band will play the tune. The person who submitted the winning title will receive $100 toward the purchase of Sibley-Ocheyedan spirit gear.

The lyrics of Sibley's school song, as printed in a vintage 1915 school annual, are as follows: "Sibley High School better than all to (sic) high you can not (sic) rate her/For she's our alma mater if you ask us who we will back/We will answer the orange and the black! Rah! Rah!!"

Modern versions correct the two typographical errors and substitute "Ocheyedan" for the words "High School."


In 2005, Knobloch's idle curiosity over the Sibley-Ocheyedan school song sparked his search for its composer and date of origin.

Then new to town, he and his family attended a football game, and checking a program, learned that the school song was "On Wisconsin," a popular college march adapted many times for high school fight songs.

When it came time to stand for the school song, however, what the band played was definitely not "On Wisconsin."

"I started asking around, and nobody really seemed to know (the origin of the song)," Knobloch said.

Over the next year or two, Knobloch kept asking around, chatting with older people who he believed might remember details about the school song. None of them recalled who wrote it, but they did recall playing the same song.

Finally, Knobloch had a breakthrough, in the form of a copy of the 1915 Sibley Booster provided by one of Knobloch's partners at Sibley's Family Medicine Clinic, Scott Helmers.

Sibley High School's first annual came complete with the music and text for the school song. The music was hand-written over a background featuring the old high school building, and in the middle of the song was a small hand-drawn portrait of a woman.

The portrait had no name, and neither did the music, although Craig Overholser, the artist who drew the picture, signed his work.

Through research, Knobloch came to believe the woman was Ethel Cromer, the music and penmanship instructor, and Cromer's portrait was included because she had written the song.

So where did "On Wisconsin" come into the picture?

At home games, pep bands traditionally play both their own school song and the opposing team's school song, if the other team did not bring its band.

For this purpose, high school band directors typically keep simplified music for the commonest school songs on hand for their students.

Apparently, no one had the music for Sibley's school song except Sibley.

Sibley started telling other schools to play "On Wisconsin" as an alternative to its real school song. It even had alternative words fitting the tune.

Now, the band no longer plays "On Wisconsin," but the name stuck.