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NCHS Rural Schools project to be displayed

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly three years after launching a county-wide quest for information about rural schools that once dotted the local landscape, the Nobles County Historical Society is ready to share its collection of photos and documents in a pub...

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Jerry Fiola (left) and Paul Hoffman showcase a pair of the approximately 35 photographs that will be on display at the Worthington Event Center as part of the Nobles County Historical Society's Rural Schools exhibit. An opening reception is from 1:30 to 5 p.m. May 20 at the Event Center. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Nearly three years after launching a county-wide quest for information about rural schools that once dotted the local landscape, the Nobles County Historical Society is ready to share its collection of photos and documents in a public display.

On May 20, an opening reception is planned at the Worthington Event Center, where approximately 35 framed images of district schoolhouses and other memorabilia will be displayed. During the reception, from 1:30 to 5 p.m., NCHS volunteers will be on hand to visit with the public about the project, collect more information and showcase binders from each township that detail rural schools once operating here.

“We’ll be giving them a little background about the rural schools system and are hoping to give a panel presentation about some of the former teachers and students,” said NCHS Board Member Jerry Fiola.

Historical society volunteer Paul Hoffman compiled much of the information and took current photographs of the remaining school buildings in the county. He will also present information on some of the known schools that still exist, including those that have been turned into homes.

“There were 115 school districts in Nobles County,” Hoffman said. “Of those, 102 were rural schools; the rest were town schools.”

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The historical society is still searching for any information the public can provide about the county’s rural schools. So far, volunteers have compiled data such as when the districts were formed, when the schools were built, highest and lowest enrollment numbers, different names the school had and any history about the naming of the school.

“We found these sites by going back through the plat books,” Hoffman said, noting that as he spoke with people now living in the vicinity of a rural school, he learned if the building itself was moved, had burned, was destroyed or was turned into a house.

“There’s probably still more (former rural schools) out there, but the people aren’t around anymore that knew where it went,” he added.

While the NCHS continues to seek original photographs of Nobles County rural schools, Hoffman said it have made significant progress, going from 10 photos in October 2015 to more than 60 photos today.

“I don’t want people to think this is the end of our project,” Hoffman said. “This is a culmination of what we’ve done.”

Fiola said time is of the essence to gather the information before it’s lost with that generation. He also put out a call for donations of items people may have from rural schools in Nobles County. In addition to photographs, the society has received over the years items such as a school bell, water crock, coat hook, paper towel holder, Ivy Christensen’s teacher program report from 1929 and other papers, as well as souvenir books.

The exhibit at the event center will remain in place for nine months to a year, Fiola said, adding that if the society is able to continue producing exhibits, it will assume the responsibility of rotating exhibits at the site.

Refreshments will be served during the May 20 opening reception.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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