Orland School: building gone, memories remain

THE ORLAND EAGLES played Colman in a 1949 New Years tournament. Among those taking the court for the Eagles were No. 26 Jim Nugent; No. 29 George Stanford; No. 28 Tom Williams; and Keith Kappenman, standing, number unknown. The tipoff was between Colman's Jack Zwart and Eagles' No. 31, Jack Miller. Nugent reports that Orland won both the game and the tournament.

A memorial stands at the crossroads these days -- a crossroads where children learned and community gathered for nearly five decades, a crossroads where a school constructed less than a decade before the Great Depression demonstrated the sacrifices parents will make for the sake of their children's future.

Orland Consolidated Schools is just a memory now, but a memory that graduates and former students hold dear. Located at the intersection of 451st Ave. and 241st St., the school was dedicated on Jan. 26, 1921, and closed in 1969, two years after joining the Lake Central School District.

Don Hoff, owner of CarQuest in Madison, was in the last class to graduate in 1967. The high school had 31 students at the time; 11 were graduating seniors.

"My education started at Orland with first grade," he said.

His family lived just three miles from the school. He recalls the school and the grocery store being the heart of a tightly-knit community even though no town existed on the site.

"Everybody knew everybody," Hoff said. "Sports and band were the highlights of activities for the school."

While the school was small, the band excelled in competitions. The school did not have a football team, but the Orland Eagles did have a basketball team, which played home games in a small gym in the school's basement.

"In 1967, the Orland basketball team made it to the regional tournament. It was the pinnacle of our career," Hoff said.

What he remembers most, though, was enjoying school.

"Education was fun, because everybody knew everybody and classes were small," he reported.

The teachers were dedicated and the graduates successful.

According to the "History of Lake County," published by the Lake County Historical Society in 1995, Orland was the first consolidated school district in Lake County and one of the first in the state. Although it was brought to a vote several times before passing, the consolidation was approved by a 64-17 vote on March 27, 1919.

Initially, students were educated in a structure formed when three school buildings from elsewhere in the township were moved to the site and joined with a large central room to form a "T." However, the brick building was constructed in 1920 and dedicated on Jan. 26, 1921.

The building was described in a souvenir brochure as "a modern two-story brick, with full basement." Measuring 64x72 feet, it featured a gymnasium with balcony and double shower bath equipment, fully-equipped manual training and domestic science rooms, four classrooms for grades 1-8, a sewing room, library, and auditorium with stage, balcony and moving picture booth.

With bonds issued for construction of the $88,000 building, the district also purchased "five modern autobusses which haul the pupils from and to their homes." The bonds were issued on an assessed valuation of nearly $2.8 million.

The souvenir brochure, which also listed the names of all enrolled students and their teachers, stated, "This building was erected in the heart of one of the richest farming regions in South Dakota." The tax levy was stated as 8.76 mils and also covered operational expenses.

Jim Nugent of Bella Vista, Ark., whose sisters graduated from high school in Orland and who attended until his family moved to a farm closer to Madison, recently found one of these brochures in his mother's memorabilia. It brought back memories.

"It was a nice place to be," he said. "I had a lot of friends."

Initially, he attended a one-room school, but by the time he was in second grade, he was among the students being bussed to the Orland school. As much as he enjoyed attending school with his cousins, he was not fond of the trips to and from school.

"I was deathly scared of snow and mud on the bus routes," he said. "If it was raining or unpleasant, the bus might get stuck on the muddy roads. I would hate it because I was afraid I wouldn't get home."

Initially the bus didn't stop near his house, which required him to walk with his siblings to the Hart School where students were picked up, unless weather conditions were adverse. Then his parents would shuttle them to the school.

Among the teachers he remembers from his school days at Orland was Adelia Hart.

"She was sharp as a tack and didn't let anyone get away with anything," Nugent said. "She was a legend in Orland."

Life Hoff, he remembers school activities being the heart of community life in the Orland area. School plays, concerts and basketball games were all well-attended.

"The thing that held the school together was the people," Nugent said.

According to the "History of Lake County," state aid and a declining population caused the school to close less than 50 years after opening. It reports, "In the 1960s, the state government began to provide some financial assistance to education in the form of `state aid.' A larger type of consolidation was mandated, and to achieve this, state aid was denied any school with a high school enrollment of fewer than 35 students."

While consolidation might have been more cost-effective, for some of the school's graduates, the small size was one of Orland's assets. Bonnie Funk, who graduated in 1951 with a class of seven, compared it to Brookings High School, which she attended during her freshman year.

"None of them wanted to be my friend," she said of students in the larger school. "I started school in Orland in the fall of my sophomore year and they all wanted to be my friends."

She recalls the way parents would step up to help with school activities, including the junior senior banquet. Parents prepared the meal.

"I had to have a formal which I sewed myself. It took hours," Funk said, recalling the occasion.

Families also helped provide food for the school lunches. Funk recalls mothers canning vegetables during the summer months to be served as part of the hot lunches.

Like the others, she recalls the strong sense of community that surrounded the school.

"It made families close. We centered our lives around things that happened at the school," Funk said.

It also created a sense of camaraderie among the students. Funk recalls her class taking a senior trip with school Superintendent Richard Gardner and his wife. Six of the seven -- the seventh was married and pregnant by this time -- went to St. Louis in the Gardners' Buick.

"While we were there, we did all kinds of exciting things," she said, recalling details of a rollercoaster ride and going to a Cardinals' game.

As much as anything, though, Orland graduated students who were able to succeed. Funk said that five of the seven with whom she graduated went on to higher education. Hoff noted successes of which he was aware, including several graduates who held positions with the federal government in Washington, D.C. He is a business owner. Nugent is a retired university professor.

"I think Orland must have done a good job," Funk said.