History lesson offered for JCPS anniversary

To celebrate its 175th anniversary, Jefferson City Public Schools has created a coffee table book highlighting its history.

To celebrate its 175th anniversary, Jefferson City Public Schools has created a coffee table book highlighting its history.

The Jefferson City Public School Foundation has published a coffee-table book to celebrate the district’s 175th anniversary.

Two of the JCPS’s retired teachers — Laramie Thompson and C. Suzanne Richter — wrote the narrative for the coffee-table style history. Thompson and Richter taught English together at Simonsen 9th Grade Center for years, said Karen Enloe, executive director of the JCPS Foundation. Enloe said she was sold on the two retirees as authors when the women joked they “could finish each other’s sentences.”

Enloe said the book — titled “Jefferson City Public Schools: The First 175 years of the Journey” — explores “how the life of the school developed, set against what was going on in the larger community.” Printed by Donning Publishing, a subsidiary of Walsworth Yearbooks, the books are now available for purchase and delivery.

In the morning, the two women took long walks together where they chatted about aspects of the book.

“And then we’d get together later in the day and work like heck,” Richter said.

Richter did most of the feature writing and Thompson handled the main narrative.

“We both did research,” Thompson said.

Other leaders from the school community — such as Clarence Lawson, who worked as the assistant superintendent of schools from 1962 until 1986, and Helen Laux, who taught English for 36 years — helped inform and guide the book.

“They never forgot a thing!” Richter said.

“Holy cow! What memories!” Thompson added.

And the two women weren’t afraid to pillage other people’s private collections. With permission, of course.

“Walter Schroeder had wonderful archives,” Thompson said, noting the former alumnus kept a collection of newspaper articles, report cards, magazine clippings, awards and medals that were useful.

The volume is filled with photographs from the 1800s through the present. Both black and white and color pictures are included in the 178-page volume. The authors also gleaned information from old Marcullus yearbooks, first published for the 1911-1912 school year, and a previous history of the district, “The House on Hobo Hill,” published in the 1960s.

First lady Georganne Nixon — who was a student, parent and teacher in Jefferson City — wrote the book’s foreword.

The book tells the story of how the first public school was established in Jefferson City on Feb. 19, 1838, when a two-room building — commonly known as the “House on Hobo Hill” — was established. W.S. Dawson was the only teacher.

“They met three to four months a year, because they lacked the funds to pay him and have utilities,” Enloe said.

In 1867, a German/English school was erected and in 1892, Jefferson City High School was accredited by the University of Missouri.

Enloe said people tend to think of

overcrowding as a modern problem. But she noted that in the 1860s, five teachers taught 500 children. And in 1905 the district had to install portable classrooms, which were derisively called “the outhouses” at the time.

The two authors said the project really underscored how arduous the workday was for the district’s early teachers.

“They made such sacrifices ... they couldn’t marry; they taught enormous classes,” Richter said.

The authors said students from earlier eras appeared to be more courteous and gracious, and the community seemed more proud of the events happening at the school. For example, in 1885 about 1,000 people paid 10 cents each to attend the high school graduation ceremony that took place in the hall of the Missouri House of Representatives.

“There was such a sense of community,” Thompson said.

The book also explains when new school buildings were constructed, and decommissioned, in the district.

And it includes surprising factoids about life in the schools. “The first cheerleaders were male,” Enloe said. “And the Miller Performing Arts Center used to have a pool inside.”

The book also tells the story of how black students were originally educated, and later integrated, into the public schools in Jefferson City.

“We’re really excited about this project,” Enloe said. “It’s something different we’ve never done before.”

Get a copy

People who would like to buy a book can visit www.jcpsfoundation.org or call Karen Enloe at (573) 659-3549. The books are selling for $52.

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