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Woster: Chamberlain's show of support is needed growth for future generations

Education — a well-rounded public education — has never been more important.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
We are part of The Trust Project.

In just one month, folks in Chamberlain have broken ground on a new elementary school and passed a $45.5 million bond to pay for part of that project and other upgrades on the school site.

I read that 84 percent of voters favored the bond issue. I reported news for 49 years in South Dakota, and I rarely wrote a story about such a strong positive vote on anything involving taxes. The show of support recognizes the value of education and of proper facilities to provide that education to area children. I hope that’s what it shows, anyway. Education — a well-rounded public education — has never been more important.

When the project is done, Chamberlain’s public schools will be centered on a campus atop the Missouri River Bluffs set north of Interstate 90. Just to the south is the hospital. Further south, across the interstate, the breath-taking sculpture of Dignity rises over the river valley.

Truth be told, it surprised me years ago when the high school and middle school buildings were constructed on top of the hill. It surprised me too, when Don Giese Field, site of the track and football field, was built there. It makes sense though, it’s a community growth area, where housing developments have been joining the school and the hospital. I just didn’t see it coming when I attended school in Chamberlain.

I started school in Chamberlain in third grade in the fall of 1952. I spent my first two years of school at Reliance, eight miles from the farm. School in Chamberlain really wasn’t so different from school in Reliance, except it was a bigger town and I knew exactly nobody. That’s what worried me the most, I guess. I was leaving every friend I had in the world and entering a new universe where I was an outsider.

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When I started school in Chamberlain, the building was down in town, south of old Highway 16 on a hill of its own. Like the school building in Reliance, and most school buildings in South Dakota towns in the 1950s, it was a brick fortress, strong and square, a couple of stories high with a full basement. Town schools then held all classes in one building, with a basement gym and usually a lunchroom. The floors were wooden, worn by years of kids’ feet, and the desks squeaked every time you shifted your weight.

I said the old Chamberlain school building was a square, but it was actually two squares pushed together. One square, on the east side, had a flat roof and housed elementary grades and junior high school. Students gathered at the east door in the morning. They filed inside to start the day after a custodian or teacher walked across the playground to a stand-alone bell tower and pulled the rope that sent ringing notes across the town.

The other square, to the west, had a four-sided pyramid of a roof. Where the two squares met, the north side had a set of granite steps leading to the high school entrance. Grade school students dared not enter those doors. To the right just inside the high school entrance was the journalism room. That’s where students published the CHS Hi-Life. There, adviser Merle Adams sparked a fire in me for news and writing. If I remember nothing else, I’ll remember that room and teacher.

Of course, I’ll also remember the study hall at the top of the steps to second floor. That’s where a brown-eyed sophomore girl turned around one day to say hello. I was a goner, then and now.

At some point, a newer, ranch-style building was added down the slope north of the main school. We called it the Egleston Vocational building. I first entered that building for science in seventh grade. It was developing cracks even then. I had a locker in one Egleston hallway throughout high school. Howard Elrod taught me physics and chemistry and three or four algebra and geometry courses there. He taught them well.

My personal history is with the old buildings, but times change. Generations to come can develop their own histories with the new school campus.

More from columnist Terry Woster...
Sometimes when my newspaper and the governor’s office were at odds over our coverage, I’d be unable to get formal interviews.

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