Celebration at Mantua Center School spotlights 100 years of history (photo gallery)

By Dan Pompili | Staff Writer Published:

By Dan Pompili | Staff writer

Kay McGowan's parents

knew each other all through their school years, and as school children will, they grew and became interested in one another.

Her mom, Florence Kuchenbecker, in about 1920, dropped a handkerchief from the window of one of the upper floor classrooms.

Keith McGowan picked it up, walked it back upstairs to her, and they began dating.

They graduated in 1924, when 202 students were enrolled in the school, and were married for 66 years until Keith's death in 1992 at the age of 89. Florence died in 2009 at 103 -- five years after her alma mater stopped being a school and 85 years after graduating from it.

The Kuchenbeckers put nine children through the school, from its opening in 1914 to 1948 -- more than any other family. The McGowans had seven.

In 2004, the Mantua Center School's last year, a great-grandson of Florence's brother, Virgil, was attending the school. The building at the time was the oldest school facility still in use in Portage County.

The principal that final year was Tom Rauber, who served as master of ceremonies Saturday at a gathering that honored Mantua Center School's centennial.

"Times change and the school has been closed to students for 10 years, but the history lives on in this building and those students, staff members and community who have been part of its history," he told an audience of alumni and former staff. "To see it still standing strong and proud and waiting for new uses is a testament to all the thousands who have passed through the doors."

The Mantua Restoration Society and Mantua Historical Society held the gathering to allow the community to rally around the building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places last year.

The school received the distinction when officials recognized that it was among the first schools built in the country with new fire-safety mechanisms in the wake of a national outcry after a 1908 school fire in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland killed 172 children.

Keynote speaker State Sen. John Eklund said the school helps answer the question of why things like that fire happen and help the community answer questions about itself.

"This school stands as a shining monument to those children," he said. "Generations of children and their families could come and learn."

Eklund addressed a growing concern among the community that despite its historic value, the building may not survive concerns about the cost of keeping it open and operating in some fashion. He praised those in attendance Saturday.

"You all have the opportunity to come together to preserve a part of your past, so that some day more answers to that question -- 'Why?' -- might be found," he said. "The only thing that will get in the way is if this building is not preserved. I believe it will be."

The building is now owned and operated by Mantua Township, which acquired it after the Crestwood school district closed it following the opening of a consolidated elementary school. The final payment on it will be made in November. Groups such as the restoration society continue to propose new potential use ideas for it.

Guests at the school included alumni such as 1938 graduate Carrie June Albers Foster, who graduated in a class of about nine students. Her husband, George Foster, graduated the year prior, and his sister, Grace, was in the school's original graduating class in 1916.

Foster said she, too, worried when she heard it might be torn down after it closed. "It's very close to my heart," she said. "And to see it still standing, I couldn't be happier."

Wilma Peairs Trende, the valedictorian of the class of 1941 also was in attendance as was 1942 graduate Betty Evans, and Carol Oros, the youngest graduate from the Boone family. The Boones put eight children through the school from 1914 to 1950.

Lynn Harvey, treasurer of the Mantua Restoration Society, shared much of the school's history for that period.

She described events such as the school's first woman principal, Victoria Mansfield, taking over when its first principal Howard Fram was drafted for World War I, and the 1937 scandal that arose when the principal had his second divorce. He was placed on leave and eventually resigned, but the school board's failure to fire him immediately forced two members to resign and there was a fist fight in the audience at that meeting.

More than anything, though, Harvey said, the school was something that made Mantua special and it was special to the people who learned, taught and worked there.

"This building represents community," she said. "Just as it has for the last 100 years."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1127 or dpompili@recordpub.com

Facebook:Dan Pompili, Record-Courier

Twitter: @DanPompili_RC

Kay McGowan's parents knew each other all through their school years, and as school children will, they grew and became interested in dating.

Her mom, Florence Kuchenbecker, in about 1920, dropped a handkerchief from the window of one of the upper floor classrooms.

Keith McGowan picked it up, walked it back upstairs to her, and they began dating.

They graduated in 1924, when 202 students were enrolled in the school, and were married for 66 years until Keith's death in 1992 at the age of 89. Florence passed away in 2009 at 103 -- five years after her alma mater stopped being a school and 85 years after graduating from it.

The Kuchenbeckers put nine children through the school, from its opening in 1914 to 1948 -- more than any other family. The McGowans had seven.

In 2004, the Mantua Center School's last year, a great-grandson of Florence's brother Virgil was attending.

The principal that final year was Tom Rauber, who served as master of ceremony at a gathering Saturday that honored Mantua Center's centennial.

"Times change and the school has been closed to students for ten years, but the history lives on in this building and those students, staff members and community who have been part of its history," he told an audience of alumni and former staff. "To see it still standing strong and proud and waiting for new uses is a testament to all the thousands who have passed through the doors."

The Mantua Restoration Society and Mantua Historical Society held the gathering to allow the community to rally around the building, which was placed last year on the National Register of Historic Places.

The school received the distinction when officials recognized that it was among the first schools built in the country with new fire-safety mechanisms in the wake of a national outcry after a 1908 school fire in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland killed 172 children.

Keynote speaker Ohio Sen. John Ecklund said the school helps answer the question of why things like that fire happen and help the community answer questions about itself.

"This school stands as a shining monument to those children," he said. "Generations of children and their families could come and learn."

Ecklund addressed a growing concern among the community that despite its historic value, the building may not survive other residents' concerns about the cost of keeping it open and operating in some fashion. He praised those in attendance Saturday.

"You all have the opportunity to come together to preserve a part of your past, so that some day more answers to that question -- why? -- might be found," he said. "The only thing that will get in the way is if this building is not preserved. I believe it will be."

The building is now owned and operated by Mantua Township and the final payment on it will be made in November. Groups like the restoration society continue to propose new potential use ideas for it.

Guests at the school included alumni like 1938 graduate Carrie June Foster. Foster said she too worried when she heard it might be torn down after it closed.

"It's very close to my heart," she said. "And to see it still standing, I couldn't be happier."

Foster graduated in a class of about nine people.

Her husband George Foster graduated the year prior, and his sister Grace was in the school's original graduating class in 1916.

Wilma Peairs Trende, the valedictorian of the class of 1941 was also in attendance as was 1942 graduate Betty Evans, and Carol Oros, the youngest graduate from the Boone family, who put eight kids through the school from 1914 to 1950.

Lynn Harvey, treasurer of the Restoration Society, followed Ecklund at the podium, and shared much of the school's history for that period.

She described events like the school's first female principal, Victoria Mansfield, taking over when the first principal Howard Fram was drafted to World War I, and the 1937 scandal that arose when the principal then, a man Named McCully had his second divorce. He was placed on leave and eventually resigned, but the school board's failure to fire him immediately forced two members to resign and there was a fist fight in the audience at that meeting.

More than anything though, Harvey said, the school was something that made Mantua special and it was special to the people who learned, taught and worked there.

"This building represents community," she said. "Just as it has for the last 100 years."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1127 or dpompili@recordpub.com

Facebook:Dan Pompili, Record-Courier

Twitter: @DanPompili_RC

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