Missouri Schoolhouse Holds Open HouseSubmitted by Jane L. Ragan
The following article appeared in the Oct. 21st edition of The
Gasconade County Republican as written by Mark Schaeperkoetter who is
also a graduate of our Mt. Sterling, Missouri schoolhouse.
It was a Monday just like any other Monday over the past forty-six
years, the school bell in the old one-room country school was silent, no
children were scattered across the playground, the carom board was
against the wall in its box, a squirrel scurried around gathering
walnuts where "fox and the geese" was played, no coats hung on their
hooks, no lunch buckets or pokes awaited lunch time, the school desks
were empty, the organ sat in silence with its songbook open to the Star
Spangled Banner and the doors to the bookshelf were shut.
The noise of a humming vacuum cleaner was the only sound as Terry and
Jane Ragan swept the floors after a weekend school reunion and open
house at the Mt. Sterling School.
Graduates and former students came from Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Ohio,
Arkansas and all over Missouri, rekindled old acquaintances and
memories, tried to guess who some of the people were and were startled
at what they witnessed when they rounded the slight curve in Mt.
An old county songwriter who attended a one-room school should write a
song about the experience. The lyricist could talk about school when the
hot lunch program was bringing soup in your thermos, a bathroom that
worked because of gravity not water pressure, lunches shared and traded
with other students without the threat of a lawsuit, "Teacher" not being
afraid to use a hickory stick with the full support of the parents,
drinking water from a collapsible cup not a fountain, eight years of
grade school with boiling water and phosphorous when exposed to air
being the extent of a science experiment.
Graduates and attendees, some who had not returned for a high school
reunion, proudly brought their children and grandchildren to show them
where "I went to school".
The songwriter would write about how generations of families that from
1896 through 1963 within a three mile radius of Mt. Sterling received
their education at a typical white frame building that was similar to
ones that sprouted up within four to six miles of each other in rural
counties all over Missouri. Gasconade County had more than seventy.
In an era when attending school was more often than not learning only
the basics of the 3 Rs, probably less than half graduated from the
eighth grade over the span of years mentioned above.
Teachers in their annual report to the local school board often repeated
a line from the previous year's teacher, "Adequate building, learning
materials, library, textbooks and grounds but something needs to be done
to encourage the students to attend school on a regular basis".
It wasn't until Ray Schaeperkoetter, who is the oldest living graduate,
and Alvera Schneider entered school in 1925 that students at Mt.
Sterling began the traditional path in education of being promoted to
the next grade in a sequential pattern.
Above: Bronze Statues at the front of Mt. Sterling
Prior to this time, sporadic attendance often precluded completion of
academic classes in an adequate manner to progress to the next grade.
It was not unusual in the 1920's and 30's for a school year attendance
book to show enrollments in the upper 30s. It would be difficult to
imagine that many students inside such a small building but students
eighty to ninety years ago where sort of like C&E (Christmas and Easter)
churchgoers today, they attended only the important days!
The biggest drop in attendance was spurred on by the Depression. Of the
seven students at Mt. Sterling in 1946, three were siblings. No one was
in grades 1, 2 or 7 and three were in the sixth grade.
After World War II, attendance increased slightly as the Possumtown and
Pin Oak Schools were shuttered, expanding the school bus route to Osage
County and Horseshoe Bend.
Attendance never did grow sufficiently to warrant a new school but the
patrons of the Mt. Sterling E2 (Expanded) School District voted twice,
failing both times (both received a majority but not the 5/7 super
majority required at the time), to levy an increased tax on themselves
to build a new school on ground donated by a former graduate.
After two stormy days which dumped seven inches of rain, reunion day
dawned foggy on the school grounds but a big sun up on the hill shown
bright and greeted over two hundred fifty visitors to the event.
Students from the Owensville FFA provided parking and general
assistance, heard stories from graduates and watched a group picture of
those that attended being taken.
In an era when teachers taught only a few years, female teachers could
teach if they were single or married, but must resign if they began to
"show". There were a number of (several) male teachers but none of them
taught as long as "Teacher" did.
Basil Leach known only as Teacher-taught from 1946 to 1963 and came to
Owensville after the Mt. Sterling School closed-the last one room
country school with all eight grades in Gasconade County.
The old school bell peeled loudly again on that afternoon but the
excitement of seeing the building and the events of the afternoon began
to turn throats lumpy as the schoolmates with whom we spent our
formative years began to pull away. Reunions are that way, always
filled with the question. Will I see them again?
If you would like to see 192 images of the Mt. Sterling Schoolhouse Reunion you may visit the link below:
Thanks to GRathertImages for the additional photo gallery! Simply Open the Site and click on Gallery (upper left) and select Mt. Sterling Schoolhouse.
The CSAA thanks Mark and Jane for their interest in our schoolhouse blog and for their generous submission!