- Associated Press - Saturday, October 14, 2017

NELIGH, Neb. (AP) - Birds now roost and mice run amok where students once learned the three R’s - reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic - at the District 70 schoolhouse.

But that hasn’t prevented a former educator from trying to save the long-shuttered and gutted country school from a date with destruction.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that Gloria Christiansen, a retired grade school teacher at Clearwater and media instructor with the local educational service unit, has been on a mission for the past year to move the District 70 School, known as the Midland School, to a county complex of historic structures in Neligh.

The schoolhouse now sits about 10 miles away, in a farmyard not far from its original location on the flat farmlands south of Clearwater.

The goal is to move the old school before winter so it can be transformed into a living history lesson for area school kids about the days when classes were taught on slate chalkboards around potbellied stoves, and inkwells and red Big Chief notebooks - not laptop computers - were on every desk.

“Telling the stories and keeping the past alive is pretty important to me,” said Christiansen, who lives in Neligh, as she stepped through the dusty school recently.

The overall project is expected to cost $120,000, and about $25,000 has been raised already. But another $15,000 in donations is needed to pay for the move, as well as a new foundation and basement for District 70.

Christiansen and a fundraising committee, including Neligh’s former mayor Jeri Anderson, are frantically trying to raise the extra cash, as well as recording interviews with area residents who attended one-room schools.

Among their money-raising efforts: selling T-shirts with the message, “I’m a Product of a Country School.”

Don’t count them out.

There’s a whole lot of sentiment for these old one-room schools from former students and teachers in both Nebraska and Iowa.

At Sheldon, Iowa, this weekend, the 18th annual Iowa Country School Preservation Conference was held. The northwest Iowa town features a tour of restored one-room schools at a local historical park.

The late Betty Stukenholtz of Nebraska City founded the Nebraska Country School Association last year. Before that, she had saved the country school she attended, the Harmony School, and preserved it into a historical showcase.

About 70 people attended the Nebraska association’s second annual conference at the University of Nebraska at Kearney this summer, according to Stukenholtz’s niece, Beth Stukenholtz of Auburn, who promised her aunt that she would carry on her lifelong passion.

She’s done more than that. Now Beth is involved in raising funds to restore an old limestone country school, the Mt. Zion School, which sits in Nemaha County.

“I’ve met too many interesting people,” she said. “And it is an affliction.”

Up in Neligh, Christiansen caught the bug when trying to figure out what to do with her collection of educational memorabilia, from old desks to “Dick and Jane” books, to noisy filmstrip machines and a 16 mm film projector.

Her attempts to acquire two other local country schools were unsuccessful. Then Christiansen was told about the District 70 School and the owner’s plan to burn it down.

The owners, she said, “have been kind enough to wait” as her committee of one-room school preservationists work to raise the money.

“We’re pushing,” said Christiansen, who attended a country school in nearby Holt County.

The original District 70 School was built of sod in 1884. In 1915 a 24-by-42-foot wooden schoolhouse was built to replace it, probably, she said, by the farm families whose kids would be taught there.

Generations of members of the Taylor, Rice, Reinke, Pendleton, McCurley, Schlecht, Filsinger and Rittscher families attended the school, which once had as many as 40 students overseen by one teacher.

In its last year, 1972-73, the school had nine students.

Over the decades, the school survived a measles and whooping cough outbreak in 1917, and in 1930 erected a new windmill despite losing funds in a bank failure before that.

“The more I study about this one-room school, the more I feel the need to save it,” Christiansen said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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