Geneseo School celebrates 100th anniversary

Efforts underway to commemorate school’s location

The original 1921 Geneseo Consolidated Schools building located roughly five miles east of the town of Buckingham along D65 pictured on July 7. This section of the school is the only section visible from the county highway anymore due to immense overgrowth. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

About five miles east of the rural farming town of Buckingham and almost entirely hidden from the county highway by tall trees and overgrown grasses and saplings, Geneseo Consolidated School quietly observed the 100th anniversary of its first graduating class this past May.

The rural school district’s first building was completed in 1921 in section 15 of Geneseo Township and the following spring the very first high school class including David Ewing, Mary Hayward, Anna Raudabaugh, and Florence Stoakes graduated.

The final class, a class of 18, graduated 44 years later in 1966, bringing the total number of Geneseo graduates to 472.

Today a group of Geneseo graduates including 1956 graduate Judy (nee Wood) Holst is spearheading an effort to commemorate the school site permanently with a marker before more of the once mighty rural school is further lost to both time and the elements.

On a sunny, hot day in early July, Holst visited the new Geneseo Consolidated School display located on the upper floor of the Traer Historical Museum.

Judy Holst, a 1956 graduate of Geneseo High School, looks at a page from her graduating class’s yearbook in the Traer Historical Museum on July 7. —Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

As she examined old yearbooks and gently turned through newspaper clippings and photographs that are part of the display, she spoke about her and other Geneseo graduates’ feelings regarding the school now buried by the wilderness – only the front of the main building which features the name of the school is still visible from the county highway.

“We’re of the generation that feels too much history is being ignored and forgotten,” Holst said. “Before [the school] is completely disintegrated, we’d like to do something to have it commemorated for the future … a sign or a memorial stone.”

After the final 12th-grade class graduated in 1966, Geneseo high schoolers began attending nearby Dysart High School – forming the new Dysart-Geneseo district – while Geneseo’s elementary and junior high students remained at the Geneseo school.

In 1982, the Geneseo school building was closed permanently when Dysart-Geneseo consolidated with La Porte City Community School, creating the current Union Community School District.

Today Church of Promise, a nondenominational Evangelical church, owns the property which includes the school buildings. Originally the church – which was founded in 1997 – had plans to use the school buildings but the presence of asbestos and the general disrepair of the buildings precluded such use, according to Holst.

Portraits of Geneseo High School’s very first graduating class, the class of 1922, are pictured on July 7 at the Traer Historical Museum. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

In 2012 the church built a new place of worship directly in front of the Geneseo School buildings.

Several signs warning visitors to stay away from the buildings stand sentinel around the school now including a sign warning of video surveillance near the separate teacher dormitory which is located behind the main school building.

Standing in front of the Geneseo school buildings today is a difficult scene to absorb. The demise of a once vibrant rural community hub, nestled among the idyllic rolling fields of northern Tama County, is probably not how the last nor the first class of Geneseo graduates would have wanted their school to spend its waning years.

For those like Holst who still consider the building’s brick walls a familiar space, the need to recognize what once was, before it’s completely lost, is urgent.

Geneseo School is fairly unique among Iowa’s many school districts – both past and present – as it was never connected to a town.

The far eastern corner of Geneseo Consolidated School’s elementary wing is mostly obscured by trees and overgrowth on July 7. The school is located roughly five miles east of Buckingham along county highway D65. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

“No town was ever associated with it,” Holst explained. “Everybody had to be bussed. It was a very close-knit farming community. Between the school and the Methodist church – very close.”

“The Geneseo Consolidated school was the cultural center of the community,” declares a description of the school district found among the museum’s many display items on July 7. “Music and drama productions were important events and well attended. … In the early years, there was an orchestra, but it was a victim of the Depression years.”

The school’s colors were purple and gold and the school’s mascot was the Wolves.

Part of Holst’s desire in recognizing the 100th anniversary of the school is to put out a call for Geneseo alum to contact her. The more individuals she can track down, the easier she feels it will be to kickstart any effort to place a commemorative marker or rock near the school site.

Two school songs are included as part of the Traer Museum’s Geneseo School display. A document details both songs’ lyrics but questions which is the “official” song.

Geneseo Consolidated School’s teacher dormitory pictured on July 7. The dormitory is located north of the main school building. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

“We’re loyal to you Geneseo / We’re purple and gold Geneseo / We’ll back you to stand against the best in the land / for we know you can win Geneseo,” the first song states.

Holst is hoping all these years later, those Geneseo graduates still here have never lost that loyalty to the little rural school without a town.

“No one wants to give up their identity,” Holst said as she closed the yearbook for the class of 1956 – her class – that she found among the museum’s treasures.

As the front cover flipped shut, Holst’s photo – a black-and-white image of a young high school girl nicknamed ‘Woody’ – located on the first page in the bottom right corner smiled back proudly.

Any Geneseo alum who has not been in contact with Judy Holst, is asked to contact her as soon as possible with both their current contact information and school years via email: jaholst@windstream.net.