During those first two decades following the end of World War II, Iowa — indeed, all of America — began to change dramatically.
One of the most dramatic of all changes took place within education. In an effort to give Iowa students wider access to curriculum, smaller schools within the state began a movement that would last for several decades. Smaller, rural schools began the process of reorganization. Other small districts became parts of larger, nearby school districts.
That school reorganization caused rifts among adults in many districts who feared that their small communities would lose their identities if they lost their school. Although more than a half-century has passed, those fears continue to surface as the ever-decreasing number of small school districts in Iowa face a serious financial crisis if they continue to operate on the also decreasing tax revenues available.
It was just that scenario when reorganization began in northern Polk County. Reorganization had been a topic for a few years in the rural northern portion of Polk County. That reorganization became reality in the fall of 1956 when the North Polk Community School District was formed by the joining of the Alleman and Elkhart school districts, along with a portion of the Sheldahl district. The unincorporated settlement of White Oak had already been gobbled up, but was also in the new district. A year later, the “new” North Polk school district was formed when the balance of the old Sheldahl district, as well as Polk City also became part of the new school.
In that fall of 1956, I entered my eighth grade of school — my third year of what had been Alleman. Suddenly, as an eighth grader, a whole new group of classmates were joined together. The high school and junior high school were both housed in the Alleman building, while grade schools operated in both Elkhart and Alleman.
A year later, when the balance of the Sheldahl district, along with the Polk City district became part of the new school, Sheldahl also housed a grade school.
It made for an interesting combination. With football and track suddenly becoming part of the extra-curricular offerings, sites at all three locations were utilized. Track meets and football games were held in the field south of the old Alleman school. Basketball home games were played in the Sheldahl gymnasium and the “home” baseball field was located in Elkhart. When softball was added, those games were played in Alleman.
Last Saturday night, a group of those first North Polk students got together to celebrate a reunion. The Class of 1960 — the first to spend all four high school years at North Polk — and the Class of 1961 — the first to spend four years together as the “new” North Polk — spent the evening reminiscing about those now long-ago school years.
We shared the common bond, members of both classes able to claim being “first” when it came to four years in a new school district.
Our numbers continue to decrease. There were 43 members of my graduating class; 36 graduated the year before. Eleven of my classmates have passed away during the ensuing years and the Class of 1960 has also been decimated by a proportionate number of deaths.
But a bond remains among us.
We gathered last Saturday to remember our classmates who are no longer with us. We talked of our own families, our grandchildren and, most of all, our memories of time spent in the long-gone old Alleman building where we went through four years of high school. We remembered our teachers; we talked of humorous classroom antics. We talked of senior trips spent in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
We talked about class plays, music and athletics. We remembered those times we were “sent to the office” and those times we shared together in 4-H. We talked about chili suppers and car washes. We recalled an ice storm in early spring of 1961 and how we used the storm to earn enough money for our senior trip … and we reminisced about those week-long trips taken by each class to mark the end of our school years and the beginning of a life journey.
We all agreed, too, that the more years each of us lives, the more important it becomes to treasure the years of our youth. And, the evening passed far too quickly. Good-byes were sad. The thought that Saturday’s “good-bye” could be the last one for some classmates weighed on us all.
But, the thought of another reunion not too far away also gave us reason to smile.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.