MPCSD's 'twins' turn 50 years old this school year
Editor’s note: The following history surrounding the building of Van Allen and Salem Elementary schools was written and submitted by Donald Young. Young’s account no doubt is highly accurate because he happened to be principal at Van Allen Elementary School when it opened in September of 1963.
By DONALD YOUNG
This fall marks the 50-year anniversary of the opening of the Mt. Pleasant Community School District’s “twin schools” — Van Allen and Salem Elementary schools.
Both schools were approved by voters of the school district by a 70-percent majority on Sept. 2, 1961.
Planning for the project began, but on Feb. 7, 1962, the Henry County Superintendent of Schools J.J. McGrath, in a letter to Mt. Pleasant Community Schools Superintendent Robert Formanek, denied permission for the project. McGrath stated this project would not solve the district’s problems.
The Mt. Pleasant School Board, through their attorney, requested an opinion from the State Attorney General Evan Hultman, regarding McGrath’s authority over local districts. Hultman stated in his opinion the county superintendent could “advise, counsel and make recommendations, but his opinion holds no regulatory authority.” This opinion cleared the way for the board to proceed.
A new elementary school was proposed for the northeast section of Mt. Pleasant. This building would remove all elementary grades from the junior high building (now the middle school).
The Salem school would replace a two-story, wood-frame building constructed in 1892. After a fire destroyed the Salem High School in 1947 all classes were moved into this building. At one time the former Shriner Home on the north side of Salem served younger students. After the school reorganization and formation of the Mt. Pleasant Community School District, the high school was closed and the entire building served elementary students.
The school board approved a local committee to select a name for the Mt. Pleasant school. The committee consisted of Helen Virden, chairperson; Robert B. Young from the Jaycees, secretary; Robert Gibson, Rotary Club; Dr. Charles Toland, Kiwanis Club; and Mrs. Arthur Mills, Business and Professional Women.
After serious consideration the committee selected the Van Allen name, for the Van Allen family whose members had all been very successful in their chosen fields.
George O. Van Allen was serving as district court judge; Dr. James Van Allen was head of the department of physics at the University of Iowa (well-known space scientist); Dr. Maurice Van Allen was a neuro surgeon at the University of Iowa; and William Van Allen was associated with Hughes Aircraft Corporation in Los Angeles, Calif. The husband and father was a prominent Mt. Pleasant attorney and mayor. He was deceased.
Karl Keffer, a Des Moines architect, was hired to design both buildings. His drawing currently are on display at the Howard and Eva Hills Henry County Heritage Center in Mt. Pleasant.
At the bid letting, H. Eugene Construction Company of Mt. Pleasant was awarded the contract to construct both buildings for $525,000. C.E. Abel was the electrical contractor and Richard Menke the mechanical contractor.
Both buildings were completed so classes could start in September of 1963. At Van Allen the building was complete, but the playground was not. Grass has been planted, but due to dry weather, was not ready for the children.
Since the playground was not ready, East Henry Street was blocked off in front of the building during school hours for the children’s play area. The people living on the south side of the street were very patient and cooperative as they often had children and balls in their yards. In late fall the playground opened and what a great day it was.
The central offices — superintendent, assistant superintendent, board secretary and school nurse — of the school district were located at the east end of Van Allen School.
The Salem Elementary School was built on land already owned by the school district. The new school had its own kitchen (and cook) and multi-purpose room which served as lunch room as well as space for physical education classes and school programs. The wooden building, standing on the lot, was demolished while classes were in session which caused some distraction for class work.
After students had “settled in” at both building, an official open house was scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 6, 1963 (exactly 50 years ago to the date of Sunday’s open house to celebrate the anniversary). The Van Allen family received a special invitation and Judge and Mrs. George Van Allen, Dr. and Mrs. Maurice Van Allen, and Dr. and Mrs. James Van Allen atte3nded, touring the buildings and talking with teachers, students and city residents.
Several students in each building conducted tours and answered questions.
At Van Allen, the students were Karen Anderson, Patty McClure, Shirley Ford, Peggy Kaufman, Judy Logan, Tom Traut, Tom Galer and Mike Hudson. Salem representatives were Sharon Barrie, Deborah Frank, Merrye Cox, Helene Pidgeon, Donna Kudobe, Kay Curtiss and Carol Cooper.
The bus barn and lot on North Poplar Street was also open for public visitation. Assistant Superintendent Ted Urich was in charge.
The school board members who guided and directed the total project were: Mary Helen Curtiss, chair, Marvin Hunting, vice chair, Maurice Davis, Charles McCuen and Robert Young. Curtis of Salem was the first woman to serve on the Mt. Pleasant Community School District Board of Education. Robert Formanek was superintendent of schools.
The staff roster for each school during the 1963-64 school year follows:
Van Allen — sixth grade, Anna Von Seggen; fifth grade, Sandra Cormick; fourth grade, Ethel Virgina Calloway and Alice Hunt; third grade, Lucena Kerr; second grade, Ailene Morris; first grade, Mamie Olson, Martha Hill and Martha Uhlinger; kindergarten, Bessie Metzger, special education, Marcia Cammack; music, Winifred Evans; art, Paticia Walter; principal, Donald Young; custodian, Trenton Johnson.
Salem — fifth-sixth grades, Wanda Trueblood and Marjorie Townsend; fourth grade, Mary Trueblood; third grade, Mary Lou Hall; second grade, Ina Ballard; kindergarten, Lovina Barton; music, Irene Baylor; art, Patricia Walter; custodian, Elbert Watson.