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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Capturing Time (Capsules) at Inverness School
   Chester High School

At the suggestion of community members, this year’s Chester-Joplin-Inverness junior heritage class has been examining, cataloging, and preserving the physical history of the now closed Inverness school building. It is part of our larger 2005-2006 heritage project effort to preserve as many memories and mementoes as we can of the schools that consolidated this year into Chester-Joplin-Inverness and to understand and honor the combined histories.

In mid-November, an Inverness parent told the heritage students that the Inverness school grounds were home to three unretrieved time capsules.  With less than three weeks until the building sold and with cold weather just around the corner, the students quickly planned a small ceremony to retrieve the capsules and mark the building’s closing chapter as a school.

Six students, four of whom had attended the Inverness School, chose “Capturing Time” as a theme for the event, researched the capsules, called people who knew about them, and planned a small ceremony.  Students scheduled the event for the morning of the building’s sale: Saturday, December 3, 2005

As the day approached and temperatures dropped, the committee opted to prepare printed programs rather than ask community members to endure long speeches.  The students’ program contained lists of the capsules’ contents; it identified those who “planted” the capsules; and it provided a short history of the school along with suggestions for creating a time capsule. Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

Teacher Comments
As December 3rd approached, we decided that a “pre-dig” might be advantageous. Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

Student Comments
Monday, November 28:  Called Craig Fraser, set up digging times and discussed marking capsules.
Friday, December 2:  Borrowed tools from school, found 2 of the 3 (1980 and 1982) capsules and uncovered them.
Tools:  7 shovels, 4 tamping bars, 2 Pick axes, and 1 Ditch Witch.
People Involved:  Spencer Fisher, Roger Rasmussen, Renee Rasmussen, Kirk Skari, Derek Fraser, Mikinzie Fraser, Craig Fraser, Dale Pimley, Heather Pimley, Chase Pimley, Hannah Pimley, Matt Wicks
Saturday, December 3: Used ditch witch (courtesy of Dale Pimley) to uncover the third capsule (1989 Centennial). Let classmates from Inverness and Joplin-Inverness Schools lift the capsules from their protective casing.  Project Student Spencer Fisher

The capsules were in remarkably good shape.  Each item had been wrapped in plastic, then all items were wrapped in plastic as a group, placed in a galvanized container, and then that container was wrapped in plastic.  The whole unit was then placed in a large square, red chimney tile sealed on both ends with a small concrete slab.  Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

When I first heard that we were going to have a ceremony while digging up the time capsules, I though it was kind of stupid and I didn’t think anybody at all would be interested in it.  I just went along with the idea.  The more we got into details, the more excited I became and I started thinking that maybe people would actually show up. Then, we started getting interviewed by newspapers and that helped to spread the word.  Pretty soon, people from everywhere said they had seen the article in the paper and they started asking me questions and became interested in what we were doing and said they would try to make it to the ceremony. Project Student Hannah Pimley

Inverness school still stands a block from the highway.  Next to the school are three holes.  The snow-covered ground is darkened with dirt that once buried three time capsules.  People are wrapped in coats, scarves, hats, and mittens.  As classmates stand by their buried memories, time capsules surface.  I feel my hands and nose go numb as I see my breath in front of my face.  Smiles light up classmates’ faces as they open the untouched past. Project Student Chelsea Stokes

The roads from Chester to Inverness were fairly good for how cold it was that morning.  When we arrived at the school I was surprised to see many cars parked along the streets next to the school.  Bundled up in three layers of clothes, I sat outside with about 50 other bystanders awaiting the time capsules’ rebirth.  Hannah Pimley started the ceremony with a long list of thank yous.  Then the fun started.  Since the ground was already dug up, it was easy for two members of the Inverness school to lift out the 1980 time capsule.  Soon after came 1982 which was taken out by taken out by folks who had attended the Inverness School. The 1989 capsule was retrieved by everyone who had attended the Joplin-Inverness Elementary.  The 82 and 89 capsules remained closed.  Afterwards, we gathered in the school to take pictures.  The 1980 time capsule was opened and many Inverness alumni were lost in the memories of the school’s past.  Leisa and I realized our opportunity and video interviewed many members. Project Student Brittany Kolstad

After retrieving the capsules, everyone rushed to the gym to thaw out. Project Student Matt Wicks

There people visited, reiminisced, and remastered the ascent to the ceiling via the old climbing rope. Renee Rasmussen

Personal Reactions
The day was a fitting end to this place as a school. Inverness community members had a chance to gather, mourn, and say goodbye. Many thanked students and personnel from the new C-J-I school for understanding their loss and taking time to care about the artifacts left. That was important to them.  Renee Rasmussen

When the morning was over, Brittney Kolstad, Candice Osterman, and I videotaped the empty corridors at Inverness School and its doors closing for the last time. We’ll end our documentary about the school with these shots. Project Student Leisa Kolstad

The entire project acted as a good note to end on for the Inverness High School and Joplin-Inverness Elementary. Project Student and former Inverness student Heather Pimley

I’m really happy that we uncovered the capsules--otherwise they probably would have been underground forever or lost or ruined. Project Student and former Inverness student Hannah Pimley

When everything was said and done, Spencer Fisher and I filled up the empty holes in the frigid cold. Retrieving the past was a good experience to share. Project Student Derek Fraser

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/07 at 11:30 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, December 10, 2004

Chester Students Ask Abandoned Buildings to Yield Stories
   Chester High School

Chester Heritage Project teacher Renee Rasmussen is asking her Montana Project students to wade into the waters of Montana Heritage Project work one step at a time. They began by researching heirlooms important to their families. Next, they took photographs of historic and usually abandoned rural buildings, conducted preliminary research about them, and wrote a five-paragraph essay.

Renee invited me to come up with a box full of architectural history books and whatever ideas I might have for further research that might help her students expand their essays.  I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity.

I found these Chester juniors already attached to the buildings they had documented and the stories that they gathered. Ultimately, they will tackle questions such as: what do old farm buildings tell us today about success and failure of past residents and what clues can we gather for our present and future; how do old buildings tie into a clichéd expectation of western beauty; what do these abandoned buildings tell us about technology and its effect on Montana.

Already, Ashley and Brianne have evaluated conflicting stories about when a schoolhouse/teacherage was moved from one part of Liberty County to another--and why. Amanda and Caleb have unearthed one of the country’s little known episodes while they researched an abandoned homestead house. In the 1940s, area ranch families hired Native Americans from the Rocky Boy’s reservation to remove rocks up from their fields. Ranchers housed these laborers in first-generation homestead structures. The elegant but empty Victorian house that Joanna and Kayla (pictured here) have photographed and researched turns out to have earned its local reputation as having a scary and complicated past. And these are only third of the structures whose pasts point students into lively contemporary issues, such as: will the Galata get to keep its post office; what happens if it does not? 

Renee orchestrated our conversations and still had time to consult with a school board member on consolidation: a phenomenon that students now realize began right after the nineteen-teens.

Meanwhile, Renee’s sophomore English students have been creating metaphors.

What a delightful—heartening way to spend a day? Every single building that the nine teams selected provides a cutaway view of issues, technology, architectural styling, and community patterns that are worth pursuing. Every team was ready for me and took notes.

Renee’s students will now choose whether they want to tease more information and meaning from the buildings they’ve already studied or select new topics for their longer research paper.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/10 at 09:57 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, October 17, 2004

“Caught between two worlds, one dead, the other struggling to be born.”
   Chester High School

Visiting Montana’s Hi-Line on the northern Great Plains brought to mind Matthew Arnold’s line about the rapid industrialization of Nineteenth Century England. The world changing dramatically. New possibilities were emerging but important continuities were snapping.

Along the Hi-line today, everywhere one sees the abandoned and neglected traces of a world that is passing--a country of small homesteads and small communities, organized around the Great Northern Railroad that gave family farms access to markets as well as to the manufactured goods of a booming industrial nation. The homestead boom early in the twentieth century was part of the Progressive Era, a forward looking period when faith in the future was a cultural norm.

The forces Arnold witnessed continue apace through great tracts of the Great Plains. Some of the young people I’ve talked to in Montana recently are aware that they live in a wonderful place where the natural world is stunningly beautiful and uncrowded and yet, because of modern transportation and communication, they don’t suffer the isolation of earlier generations in this place. They don’t remember a world in which rural people rode horses to country dances. They don’t even remember a world without the internet.

But they know life at this moment is mighty good, and the world out here feels young, full of possibility. It’s a good place for youth, and we may yet be amazed by what they make of it.

It is still, after all, the American West.

When homes are abandoned on the Great Plains, the buildings aren’t often torn down to make room for new development. Usually they are turned to simpler uses--to store a bit of hay or grain or to provide shade and shelter to cattle. In the dry climate, they deteriorate slowly, inviting passers-by to wonder whose labor built them and how life came to feel to those unseen people, once young, who have long since moved on.

Abandoned stores still stand in nearly abandoned communities, such as Galata, a few miles west of Chester. Advances in the built environment, such as improved irrigation and telecommunications systems, are less picturesque and easier to miss.

Chester today has a robust sense of community as well as good information connectivity to the rest of the world. It’s a relatively properous place, and since it’s too far from larger towns to be a bedroom community people there turn to the town for their goods and to each other for their social needs. It is large enough to provide commonly needed goods but small enough that everyone is known. Surrounded by wheat fields and within hailing distance of the Sweetgrass Hills, it’s a place where people live intimately withlandscape and weather.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:31 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms, Chester students connect with family history - Part 1
   Chester High School

The first impression one gets in listening to Renee Rasmussen’s students talk about the family heirlooms they’ve brought to school is the solidity of family life here. The students talk knowledgably about grandparents and great-grandparents. Some of the students’ families have been in place in this community for five generations.

She has asked students to bring an object from home that has significance for the family. Many of the students acknowledged that they hadn’t known the stories that went with the objects they brought until the assignment served as a catalyst for family conversation and interviews of parents and grandparents.

Michael Wood brought a hat from each business his grandfather owned or managed, including “Hi-Line Farms” and “Hi-Line Chemical Company.” Renee: “Why didn’t your grandfather farm?” “Because he likes to help other people with their farms.”

Michael’s family ranches in the Sweetgrass Hills.

A teacup of bone china that a grandfather bought in London while there with the Air Force during world War II. . .

Tara Balsley shows a pocket watch her great-great-grandfather traded a pig for. Though it still works, her grandfather quit using it and put it away. Renee: “How does an object go from being in every day use to being put away? Why are some ojects ‘special’ from the start, but others attain that status at some point?”

The antler of a moose shot by a grandfather. In 1994, the antler received a carving of an eagle. “Our whole family are hunters.”

Ashley Martin brought a homemade keepsake box made by a great-great-great-grandmother as a Christmas gift for her granddaughter in 1910. It is a cardboard box decorated with sea shells. “I didn’t know anything about this until I had this assignment.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:16 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms: Chester students connect with family history, Part 2
   Chester High School

Small rural towns and Indian reservations may be the only places in America where the newest and costliest buildings are those owned by the federal government. Montana has it’s share of towns where the Post Office is the only building that appears to have built in the last twenty years. This is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center for the Liberty County Conservation District.

Joanna LaSorte shows a photo that includes her great-great-grandmother on her mother’s side. She brought a butter former she had owned. Joanna is the fifth generation of her family to live in the Chester area (her family originally homesteaded in the Sweetgrass Hills). Another student in the class has a great-grandmother who was a sister of Joanna’s great-grandmother.

Keyla Wendland wears a diamond ring which is one of three rings made from a three-diamond ring owned by great-grandma Sadie. Sadie arrived in Montana on a steamboat from St. Louis and became a millner in Fort Benton. She married a man who rode a dogsled down from Canada. After they had three daughters, a man showed up in limousine, wearing a tuxedo. The three daughters spied on this from the barn. The man gave Sadie a small gift. Afterwards, the girls tried to get their mother to tell them what it was all about, but she refused. Later, they sneaked into her room and found the gift. A ring with three diamonds.

“She went to her grave with saying a word about it.”

After Sadie’s death, her daughters had three rings made, each with diamond from the original ring.

Renee: “Did people once keep more secrets or keep secrets better than people today? Why do we live in such a ‘tell all’ culture?”

Mary DeVries brought a gold nugget from Alaska, discovered on a honeymoon trip. . .

Lewis Johnson shows a Winchester semi-automatic shotgun he inherited from Grandpa Johnson, who once ran a hardware store in Wilco, Kansas. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:07 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms: Chester students connect with family history, Part 3
   Chester High School

Where are the boundaries that define “us”? How do they get established? How do they change? How far toward Joplin would someone need to live before they quit being “us” and start becoming “them.” What other boundaries affect our perception of how big “our” place is? School and fire district boundaries? Church attendance patterns?

Though the higway department erects simple green signs telling travelers the name of the town they are entering, many towns erect their own signs facing outward at their boundaries, announcing something about themselves that at least some group in town deems important to their identity. Sports accomplishments are often touted on these signs, probably because it’s easy to get people to agree these are noteworthy accomplishments. Some places, though, announce more individual accomplishments. St. Ignatius, for example, announces that it is the home of Tim Ryan, a country music singer of some renown.

How does your town mark its boundaries or present itself to travelers?

A book about the Belle Grove Plantation in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which was where the family lived before moving to Montana. This student brought a spoon owned by great-aunt Delores, which was part of the silver used at that plantation

Carly Weinert brought her mother’s wedding brooch. . .

A great-uncle’s bugle from the Canadian army. . .

A ring. . .

Renee notes that this project gets some students in touch with their families’ values. Also, in many cases the history of an object is not attached to the object--it exists only as oral history. At the end of the unit, each piece will have a written history. This serves as an introduction to research and writing.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 12:48 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project
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