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Newspaper Archive of
Walsh County Press
Park River , North Dakota
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November 24, 2021     Walsh County Press
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WALSH COUNTY PRESS - WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24,202! Pa e 7 Days of Park River Past: The beginnings of WCAS part II By David Larson for The Press e To sum up last month’s article: the earliest years at WCAS’ brought mixed results at best. The new school’s facilities were some of the best in the state and the school continued to add buildings in the fol- lowing half-decade. It had a fully equipped dairy barn, a forge room to teach blacksmithing, and a fill— ly equipped mechanical shop where the boys could learn to rewire an electric motor, or completely re- build an auto engine. The domestic science students learned to bake in some of the best ovens in the state. Our School is Growing leis ~ 45 I!" “a: 1920 71 1921 “In 1922 105 I923 * 116 1924 m :7 1928 I74 I926 _‘ up But there were unsolved problems. There were, for example, no dormitories. Students contracted with local homeowners for room and board. Prices were reasonable, but rooms were some- times difficult to find. There was almost no social life; in the first year, there was one school party dur- ing the entire session. One result of all these short- comings was a chronic shortage of students. So things stood in 1919. The 1920s were years of growth. The growth came in no small measure from a much-needed change in leadership. The influenza epidemic killed irascible Erasmus Smith-Peterson, president of the school’s board of trustees since its opening in 1913. To put things gently, Smith-Peterson had not been an easy man to work for. The school’s first super— intendent, William Broyles, lefi abruptly a month into his fourth year. His successor, Fredrick Oldenburg, lasted less than six months before returning to Madison, Wisconsin “for fiirther graduate study” (in the middle of a semester?!) The Gazette seldom commented about local leaders, but it went sofar as to state there had been “considerable petty and tact— less managerial interference in the executive de- partment,” at the ag school. The next person to suffer the position, Miss Nora Walsted, served for the remainder of the school year, and then for another year. ,In June 1918, while Smith- Peterson was still chairman, Walsted severed her eon— nection with the school. Her successor, EH Jones, stayed until 1921. On average each of the school’s first four principals lasted two years. The fifth, EJ Taintor, stayed much longer. His re- placement, John Walters, arrived in the fall of 1942. Under Taintor’s leadership, WCAS grew and became a first-class institution. Principal Taintor was very successful in solving the enrollment problem. Throughout the post—war period, the school’s enrollment grew steadily. In the mid-19205 it had become by far the larger of the two local high schools. In the ag school’s first few years students had been scarce. Smith—Peterson announced it as the largest enrollment in its history, double the enrollment of the previous year. The old WCAS building was huge; it needed more than the 32 students it was supposed to have had in 1916. More often, though, the county school under Smith-PetersOn spoke only in generalities like “A good enrolhnent, considering wartime conditions.” The county nurse’s figures shed more light on en- , rollnrpentgrowth. -InMarch 1922,- by whichtime enxf‘i/ivijAfter World war I the agripulttr‘r '5 heig'a, , rollme‘nthadistabilized, she examined 59 students. "'"Fo‘iir'years later, in April 1926, she examined 136. The school finally revealed its enrollment figures on the back cover of the 1928 Aggie, the school’s ’yearbook. The 45 students of 1918 more than dou- bled to 106 in 1922 and doubled again to 217 by 1927. Two years later there were 75 graduates, more than the school’s entire enrollment in 1920. The ag school had eleven teachers in 1925. A decade earlier there had been six employees total— four teachers, one secretary, and C.B.Wright, the jan- itor from 1913 to the late 19205. The early 205 were good years, but there were problems. Living space was a need from the very beginning. Most of the students were rural and thus needed board and room. The domestic science stu- dents and teacher helped with the problem of board- ing by providing five noontime meals a week, but the problem of finding living quarters for the students was a constant problem. In 1919 an announcement ap- peared concerning rooms for the short course stu- dents: All families having rooms to rent for young men in the short course, were asked to correspond with the principal, stating the number of boys to ac— commodate, and whether the rooms were heated and lighted or not and how.” Room rent was rather rea- sonable: an article from four years later stated that the monthly average Was generally $4.00. “It is an ill wind that blows no good,” goes an old folk saying. The hard times of the early 19205 were When enrollment reached 64 in 1917, an ill ‘wind for Clinton Dewitt Lord and for his 10- cal bank. Both went bankrupt. For WCAS, though, his bankruptcy was a godsend. His mansion, the largest in town before Jake Birder built Rosedale, came on the market in a forced sale, and the house . and its barn were located right next to the Ag School; property. Some federal funds helped WCAS trans-' form the house into a girls’ dormitory for 25 to 30 girls. The problem of a boys’ dormitory would not, rf’fie solved fog another decadent: “ " " f to participate‘mOre actively in athletics. For itsfirs ., five years, WCAS had played only intramural an]: letics, chiefly basketball. Costs were one of the‘fac- tors cited, and perhaps the abrasive personality of Mr. ' Smith-Peterson had something to dowith the mat- ter. He died in 1918; in the next year, WCAS began to participate in interscholastic athletics. Their facilities were a bit cramped. A report on the 1920 game with Minto provides some indication of the size of the facilities. The reporter criticized the loose play but praised the spectacular shooting: Minto made four consecutive shots from the defen- sive side of the court! The local newspaper never mentioned where the games were played, but I sus- ‘ pect they might have been played in the third-floor assembly room. (see the attached photo) Supt. Tain- tor got funding for a new gynmasium in, I think, 1927. The new gym, the old Peanut, was an athletic palace by comparison. (Itcertainly' put Grafion’s gym to shame, and alSo shamed Park River High School’s Gymnasivm). It must have been one of the largest courts in the state. The boys’ teams had some impressive achieve- ments. WCAS’ newly organized team began to schedule the city high school, playing two games and losing both in 1919. In 1922-1923 the school played a regular schedule with the city school. They also mixed it up with the big boys: in the early ‘20s, the Aggies also played against colleges. They lost to Val- ley City Normal and Mayville Normal on consecu- I927 “217 "-2. The schools. 3. The completed WCAS catalog. ll gie annual. tive nights, by 15 and 5 points respectively. The next year the team played three college teams in one week and managed a 23-19 victory against Mayville. How- ever, the local newspaper’s coverage of their games was very hit-and-miss; I’d like to let you know how they did overall, but the.Walsh County Farmers’ Press never reported the school’s season records. There were few mentions of other Aggie athlet- ic or extracurricular activities, besides two tennis courts, and, .in 19234924,. a debate team- . In. 1928 .. the WCAS iLivgestock"1Judgirig; team§(HoWard. Cfr‘e‘e',’,"" ‘ Henry Larson, and Norman'L‘arson) ‘finished'fir's’t "7" among the 43 teams participating in the State Live- stock Judging Contest. Aside from these small pieces of specific infor- mation little survives about the day—to-day workings of the agricultural school. The school brochure list- ed 5 routes to a degree: Agriculture, General, Com- mercial, Teacher’s Training (apostrophe in the wrong place), and Home Economics. One thing about the course arrangement that would have ap- pealed to several of my fellow 1960 graduates: if you chose the right route, you didn’t have to take Eng- lish IV! It’s been difficult to find information about the I school in the 19205. The local paper was Stingy in its reporting and I only have access to" about 3 of the really old Aggie annuals. So, ifyou don’t mind too ‘ much, I’ll devote the rest of this article to a batch of random, but interesting, observations about the school. , WCAS was sincere about its motto “Hands and Heart.” Its students were not just expected to think, they were also expected to “do.” For exam- ple, the class of 1917 designed (and presumably made) its own graduation regalia. The picture is of Selina Gunhus, a 1917 grad. Her father was a wealthy radical socialist farmer from Edinburg. Many old- time Park Riverites who attended the local grade school would recognize her married name; her first name gives you old folks a clue. WALSH COUNTY AGRICULTURAL TRAINING SCHOOL ‘ ,1.‘ Bus-m it train. for earning u livlnl. [God chino-hip nod V whole-on. community life. 2. Bod-use (In Long Term from October In to Mo; 39th, ind Short Tom from November 12th to Much I!“- “he only “I. "In. fibula you can but he owed from tho hm. Tho Ion." vnution [iv-c more opportunity to help turn ono’o way though school, and “to shorter school torn meant lou oxpunco for boon! Ind mil. 3. Boo-use of the large solution of course: and subject. tough. L'Bouhuu instruction is prhclieol and is taught by hlllaly klhld and Iklllful when in vol! equipped clue room. Ind laboratories. 5. Become it in Ion oxponlivo for you. No tuition i. chart-d. Both]. Non“. AMI on tuPPliu no cold It the ukual coal. Thorn I: no tuition darn to the district from which you come. 6. ‘Blcuuoe it offers old-n Itudenu ml those who may not IIon education of proclicd VIII-a. START SCHOOL ON OCTOBER IST OK NOVEMBER 12m ‘ This steady loci-casein enrollment is probably explained by: l. Thepehool not. only ranks as a First. Class High School, but offers in addition a number of special vocational courses to train students for ' later profitable employment. cost of attending school here is lower than at Limostinll other school is provided with exceptionally good equipment. 4. Only well trained teachers are employed. a. Courses are arranged to fit student’s time. it an TO ATTEND THE; the common uth count In opportunity to neuro A good . Photos: Submitted Top: Photo of WCAS from the water tower, later 1920s. Middle Lefl: Seli- na Gunhus was from the original graduating class of WCAS. Some of usolderloltswill remenirerherasoursecondgradeleacher, Mrs. Biome- by. Middle: Albeit Bennington's traction engine. Bottom: From the 1917 illustrated a party. But for us — it shows a REALLY small basketball court. Right: From the back cOver of a late 19203 Ag- An even better example of “doing” was the cre- ation of Albert Bennington. In the school shop «Ben- nington designed and built the steam tractor pictured along with this article. I don’t know how well Ben- nington’s tractor worked, but it did impress. The ed- itor of Popular Mechanics mentioned it in the Au- gust 1917 issue. I In 1917 the boys got out the school’s bull tractor and levelled the land east of the school building :(roughly where the football field is today). . “Why,” you ask, “did that land ‘need'levelling?” Well, let me provide the anSWer‘ you Crave. If you should ever encounter a tum-of-the-century map of Park River, take a look at the far south-west corner of town (bordering on the ecunty road and what would become Eighth Street). Your eyes will fall on a strange oval shape, on a piece of property owned by “The Park River Racing Association.” (It was ac- quired by the ag school in ’1913) In the 18905 thor- oughbred horse racing was a very popular sport in the area. Park RiVer was one of many towns that had . their own racetracks, along with Grafton, St. Thomas, Crystal, Morden, Winkler, and others. The local half- ! mile track, with its raised infield, was one of the very best in the state. When horse racing fell out of fash- ion in the 18905, bicycle racing took over for sev— eral years. It was even fashionable for young men to “wheel” over to Grafton and back. (I have seen a 1940 aerial photo that still showed a clear outline of the track.) That’s all for this month. I’ve about exhausted my knowledge of WCAS “back when.” Any more sto- ries about the school will have to come from some other eager old historian. Next month I will retell a story that I heard when I was young. It has stuck with me for about 70 years. Although the story of Mayor Dougherty doesn’t have any direct connection with Christmas, it has inspi- rational elements. If anyone ever asked me what sets Park River apart from the rest of the small town hometowns, this story is it. 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