ROCORI AT 50 YEARS
Earlier in the year, I have shared some information about the early years of the ROCORI School District. As we continue to move through the 50th year of ROCORI’s history, there is a lot we can learn from the very early part of ROCORI’s organization.
ROCORI AREA SCHOOLS—EARLY HISTORY
Much of the early history of the district was captured by the first superintendent of schools, William J. Virant. He gathered a lot of information in a book called, ROCORI Area Schools: Early History. The book was published in December, 1997.
I find the book to contain some fascinating bits of history about the conditions in the 1960s and the events that led to the formation of the ROCORI Schools. The information from Bill Virant offers tremendous insight into the organizational efforts of the district!
As information has come back to us regarding the early years, there is one correction that we have learned about. In an earlier article, the quotation from the book indicated that Kenneth Frank was a member of the first graduating class. We have since learned that Kenneth Fuchs was the member of the class rather than Kenneth Frank as recorded in the Early History book.
REFLECTIONS: CHARTER MEMBERS
The last part of the book, ROCORI Area Schools: Early History, includes reflections and memories from a number of the people who played a part of that early history! Although I don’t have space to offer all of the information, I thought I would offer some of the thoughts of the time.
Comments were offered by Jerome Kollmann, Joe Willenbring and Fred Stein, members of the original School Board. Bill Virant added his own personal reflections.
Within Jerome Kollmann’s comments are these. “Kollmann and Bill Virant…began holding meetings at area country schools. These meetings were to inform people of the new public school system being formed and find out which rural districts were interested in becoming part…for at least 30 nights, he and Virant had a meeting every night in a country school.
“Without the work done to form an independent school district, students in the Rockville and Cold Spring areas would have been part of the St. Cloud school district while Richmond students would be assigned to Eden Valley and Albany.
“Kollman says he is very proud of the way ROCORI and the district have grown in all areas and feels District 750 has an excellent school system.”
Joe Willenbring’s summary offers his memory of how Rockville became a part of the district. “…Willenbring received a call from Stearns County Auditor, Arnie Hinnenkamp, stating, ‘the Stearns County Commissioners are going to annex Rockville to St. Cloud this afternoon. If you don’t want Rockville in the St. Cloud District, you better come to St. Cloud.’ Willenbring and Bill Virant went to the meeting.
“At the meeting, Commissioner Mauer stated that they proposed to annex Rockville to the St. Cloud District ‘because the people in Rockville hate Cold Spring.’ Willenbring stated that all Cold Spring wanted was to allow Rockville people to vote on the matter and then have the commissioners honor their wishes…Rockville voted 98% to annex to Cold Spring.”
REFLECTIONS: EARLY STAFF
Principal Merel Hough offered insights on the experiences along with Ellen Wahlstrom. Hough was ROCORI’s first Principal and Wahlstrom was a remedial Reading teacher.
Hough “describes his involvement as ‘an experience I would never want to repeat, but would not have missed.’”
“By the summer of 1967, the plans were in place to form a public school for grade K-9…Teachers had to be hired and textbooks and supplies needed to be purchased. (Hough) remembers a carload of newly graduated teachers arriving from Valley City State Teachers College and ‘we hired the whole kit and caboodle.’”
Ellen Wahlstrom had thoughts recorded as well. She “remembers the first years of the district as ‘pretty exciting.’ There was a good spirit. ‘Everyone—teachers, administration—worked together toward the common goal of a school district. We were a very close knit group.’
“The people who came on at the beginning were ‘dedicated and excited. We were not coming into programs, we were creating them.’”
REFLECTIONS: GRADUATING CLASS
Comments from Mary Anne Daniels and Matthew Walz were included as members of the first graduating class.
“’ROCORI was new and everybody was excited,’ (Mary Anne Daniels) said. There was a tight connection between the students, staff and administration, not typical of a high school.
“She remembers with special fondness taking field trips with Pat Putzke, an instructor. ‘We had a small enough class that we could just get in a vehicle and go—it was great!’ She also has a special fondness for the huts that were their classrooms, and memories of running between them. The huts were either freezing or too hot, she said.”
Matthew Walz reflected on classes. “In some of his classes both junior and seniors were in the same classroom. ‘Because our senior class was only ten people, if you got out of line the teachers knew it right away…We did manage to pull our share of pranks.’
“One of their favorite pranks was turning the clocks ahead in the small huts that served as classrooms. Walz remembers with amusement his class was the first to start…a senior skip day, something he says got later classes into trouble.”
J NIC DEMUTH
During the course of the 2016-2017 school year, an interview was conducted with J Nic Demuth about the early years of ROCORI history. The interview information was provided to me by RHS English/Language Arts teacher, Linda Liebl. I will share a few of the highlights from the interview!
Q: What was your part in the formation of ROCORI?
“During many of the initial planning sessions with Bill Virant, our superintendent and Jerry Kohlmann board chairman, I was appointed as the elementary director. This included all aspects in setting up a graded elementary system pre-kindergarten through grade 6. After many months of summer preparation, the elementary program was in order for the fall beginning.
“A larger task was the hiring of teaching staff all all support employees. I remember on one day 17 teachers K-12 were hired. Designing the educational program with articulation and assessment with emphasis on masterly learning designated for each grade level in the elementary was the plan.”
Q: If ROCORI had not formed, what school options were available?
“The elementary students could go to St. Boniface elementary. Older students could go to the neighboring Districts of St. Cloud, Albany, Eden Valley, Kimball and Paynesville which would involve more time in bussing, something the state wanted to see reduced.”
Q: What are you most proud of?
“When one worked hard for 35 years to establish school system and see it year after year continuing its success -- it is a great joy. All staff involved deserve praise for their dedication.
“After 50 years, the ROCORI Community Area should be very proud of ROCORI establishing a school system. What a great school with academic success, athletic and other program success and accomplishments in the total ROCORI program design.”
Q. Any additional comments?
“I wish those original members of the initial planning committee with their forethought who are not living could have a flashback of the well-established and successful ROCORI program. Thanks to all who have served and continue their service and focus in the development of the District #750 ROCORI Area Schools.”
With the efforts of many people, the ROCORI School District was organized and became an official public school district in the state of Minnesota. There was a lot of hard work, lobbying, and political strategy exerted to develop the ROCORI Schools and the first two years offered a great deal of challenges in getting staff, providing space, and ensuring the organizational structure.
It has been a great deal of fun to consider the thoughts of those who were involved in the foundations of the district! It is an honor and privilege to help celebrate 50 years of ROCORI history—a tradition of excellence across all the programs of the system!