News Column

Participants gather to preserve classrooms

June 16, 2014

By Kristin Hoppa, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

June 16--Class was back in session for nearly 80 individuals interested in the preservation of country classrooms at the National Pony Express Museum Sunday.

Guests from organizations such as museums, academic institutions and cultural centers gathered inside the one-room school house Pony School on at the National Pony Museum, located at 914 Penn St., Sunday afternoon for the 2014 Country School Association of America (CSAA). Participants from 21 states across the country registered before visitors began to exchange ideas and issues on historical preservation.

"There are a lot of people who have a lot of passion for preserving (country schools) by making them into museums so younger generations do not forget what school was like then," said Gloria Hawkins, board member of CSAA. "Country schools were the backbone of education, the center of the community and it was just a way of life that we still need to know and learn from."

Beginning in the approximately 900-square-foot, one-room schoolhouse 1860s reproduction, CSAA guests registered for the four-day conference before visiting the Pony Express Museum. Attendee Betty Stukenholtz, of Nebraska City, Neb., said she saw a strong resemblance Pony the Pony School and her childhood one-room schoolhouse that she independently purchased in 1999.

"I still have the dress that I wore to school there and the lunch pail," she said, adding that she purchased the schoolhouse on a whim during a public auction. "Something just came over me and I just love history."

Ms. Stukenholtz said throughout the past 14 years she has spent thousands of dollars of her own money in maintenance to upkeep the historical significance of the structure. Fellow attendees Diane McGowan, of Algonquin, Ill., and Arden Spooner, of Lake in the Hills, Ill., said conservation of country schools is a lot of work, but is a necessity for education preservation.

"We saved our one-room school house by moving it in 2012, but we were able to move it back to where it had originally been," Ms. Spooner said. "It was built in 1886, but it had been turned into a home before we purchased it to restore it."

As a part of the annual event, guests will participate in conference discussions, seminars and have the ability to travel to regional portions of Kansas and Missouri to visit about five other country schools in the area. CSAA board member and Pony Express Executive Director Cindy Daffron said hosting the annual conference is an honor this week.

"We really want people to see what we have here and stay with the same era of history of the Pony Express," she said. "Last month we had 5,105 people come out and visit."

On Tuesday, CSAA will honor the Pony School and President of the Pony Express Museum Board of Trustees Dick DeShon with two separate awards for their community engagement throughout the past few years. Ms. Hawkins said each year is a reminder of how the past and teach lessons to the future.

"A lot of the ideas that were taught in one-room school houses are being used now," she said. "We really can still take away from what history has taught us and that is why the preservation of (the schoolhouses) means a lot to a lot of people."

For more information about the Pony School, visit

Kristin Hoppa can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHoppa.


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Source: St. Joseph News-Press (MO)

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