For All The Small Schools: Years of Trips To Capture Iowa History

By Chris Earl, KCRG-TV9

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — This August, Barb and Dave Else will mark a true achievement in life. Fifty years of marriage in a story out of a storybook.

“I was an athlete, Barb was a cheerleader,” said Dave from their Cedar Falls home. “High school sweethearts.”

Yet, over the past fourteen years, the couple has found their spare time traveling through each corner of Iowa in pursuit of buildings that were full of children and teenagers decades ago.

All because of a movie from decades ago.

“Our kids were very active in athletics and music,” said Barb. “We watched the movie ‘Hoosiers’ over and over and over.”

The 1986 movie about high school basketball in 1951 Indiana triggered a notion of nostalgia that overcame the Elses.

“We actually started in northeast Iowa and caught some of the schools there,” said Dave. “We went down to the Cedar Rapids area but we didn’t have a plan. We would pick a section of the state and drive to every small community hoping we would find a high school and got really excited when he did find a high school.”

Since their first voyage of school hunting in 2000, the pictures and stories piled up, from their alma mater in Sibley to small towns where the schools had been long forgotten.

Their recently-released, 284-page hardcover book, “For All The Small Schools: A Photographic Pursuit of Iowa’s Forgotten Schools” (ISBN-13: 978-0991652815) marks this collection of each pocket of Iowa. “For All The Small School” is published through The Write Place in Pella (www.thewriteplace.biz).

“When we set out to do this, the idea was to rekindle some of the memories of schools in Iowa and rekindle those memories,” said Dave, a longtime former school administrator at the high school level and with the University of Northern Iowa. “We wanted some recorded history of those old schools so they wouldn’t be forgotten.”

Many of these schools the Elses photographed are about 100 years old, turn-of-the-century brick architecture buildings. Dave Else said not only is the architecture often similar but the layout on certain vintage buildings would be the same. He said, for example, a home economics room might be in the same location once inside the front door.

Yet, behind the buildings, are stories people wanted to share with the authors.

“Some of the older people there in their town just wanted to talk about it, when they were in school and what they did,” said Barb. “All kinds of history.”

While some of the photographed former schools are clearly not in use, others are. The high school in Brandon has served as Denton Castings for 42 years. Over in Coggon, a high school built in 1909 is part of the Coggon Center, a gathering point for people who live there.

l Comments: (319) 368-8609; chris.earl@sourcemedia.net

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