On Oct. 8, 2010, Phil Helgesen, the Iowa–Grant School District’s first superintendent, spoke to a packed gymnasium of students, alumni, teachers and community members.
The Iowa–Grant Educational Foundation and a school committee had invited Helgesen to speak at their 2010 Reunion, honoring 50 years of education at Iowa–Grant.
This reunion, filled with many memories, handshakes, hugs and smiles, sparked an idea in the minds of IGEF members Connie Gard and Peggy Biddick.
“After the reunion, the history book was a thought of Peggy and mine,” said Gard. “We both agreed we needed to continue this idea further.”
Gard and Biddick began looking back through the yearbooks of years past at Iowa–Grant. They decided to feature each of the five decades, from the 60s through 2010, covering music, sports, drama and many club activities that varied extensively over the years.
They also found it important to include information on all the small country and village schools that existed in the area before the Iowa–Grant School District, as they were educating children before the district was established in 1958. They had uncovered a great resource in the process of searching, a book highlighting the country schools of Iowa County.
The book Schools of Iowa County had been written by the Iowa County Bicentennial Education Committee, a group of teachers who had compiled the information 30 some years ago. Unfortunately, more hunting needed to be done to address the country schools in Grant County.
Gard and Biddick spent time conferring with the Register of Deeds offices in both counties, gathering information including censuses from the schools.
“Everybody holds their country schools to heart,” said Biddick.
Forty-three country and village schools are featured in the Iowa–Grant history book, including Hazel Dell School, which has been restored by the district through grants, memorials, donations and fundraisers and is visible from both the high school and elementary/middle school.
As the story continues, education began to change in Wisconsin in the 1950s. The state issued a mandate that every district have a high school, as the one-room school concept was no longer meeting the growing needs of the children at this time. This meant that consolidation had to happen.
The communities of Livingston and Montfort began talking of consolidating. They decided to invite the surrounding communities of Cobb, Linden, Mifflin, Rewey and all other adjoining rural school districts to begin thinking of their consolidating options as well.
Dozens of meetings were held between the communities and on June 28, 1958, a petition was filed with the county school committees of both Iowa and Grant counties, requesting the formation of the Iowa–Grant School District.
A little less than a month later on July 24, 1958, a public hearing was held at the Livingston High School and the petition received favorable support. Through this, a new district was born.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the high school were held on Aug. 13, 1959. A naming contest for the new school was sponsored by The Montfort Mail and 200 entries were submitted in the fall of 1959. Five entries had the same name: “Iowa–Grant.”
On Aug. 28, 1960, the new Iowa–Grant High School opened. Dedication ceremonies were held on Nov. 20, 1960.
“We really had some beautiful pictures of the dedication of the high school,” said Biddick.
As told in the book, an 8 x 10 album of photos from the dedication was found at the high school, perfectly preserved with many photographs taken by Ed Obma, a renowned photographer from Dodgeville.
“The gymnasium was packed with people dressed in suits and ties for the dedication,” said Gard, as she pointed to a black and white photo featured in the book.
In August 1992, the Iowa–Grant Elementary and Middle School was completed.
By spring 2011, Gard and Biddick had realized just how big of an undertaking the history book project had become. Biddick had looked into some self publishing options but after reading about Kristin Mitchell and Little Creek Press in Mineral Point, the two decided to approach her with their idea.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to have worked with Peggy and Connie,” said Mitchell. “It’s so amazing that the Educational Foundation supports this book as well.”
Biddick, Gard and Mitchell met several times to discuss their idea and vision for the book.
“It just went from there,” said Gard. “We’re very glad we went local.”
“Kristin was always helpful and encouraging,” added Biddick. “We reinforced that the history was a story that needed to be told.”
Over the following months, Biddick and Gard continued to collect material for the book. Mitchell continued to help them along the way, teaching them how to format all the photographs digitally. Around 1,500 images are included in the book.
After hunting down the names of everyone in every photograph, Biddick and Gard have what they believe to be a complete listing of everyone pictured or mentioned in the book.
“Roger Knutson was a good resource in Livingston,” said Biddick.
The book’s index, which is 27 pages long, includes the names of over 5,000 people linked to the Iowa–Grant School District.
“There was great value in including everyone that was a part of this institution,” said Biddick.
As well as listing the names of all 50 classes from Iowa–Grant, Biddick and Gard found it as equally important to include the names of all staff over the course of 50 years, everyone from administrators to bus drivers and cooks.
One of the most powerful images within the book is an aerial view of the land the district sits on with both schools, as well as the Hazel Dell country school, the football field and the baseball diamond surrounded by rural farm fields, almost as though the district was dropped right in the middle. The photograph had been spotted hanging up at Iowa–Grant Elementary and Middle School during a meeting of the foundation.
“That was one of the things that you just never know,” said Gard.
Information on the country schools kept coming in right up until the publishing date, Biddick said.
Retired teachers and other foundation board members helped with proofreading and accuracy. Finally, the book was ready to be presented to the public on Sept. 27 at the Homecoming events.
Meagan Fritz Eggers and Angela Volenec Schubert, two Iowa–Grant graduates, became the first people to purchase the book.
“Many longtime Iowa–Grant residents have purchased books for their children for Christmas,” said Biddick.
The Iowa–Grant Educational Foundation has sold about 250 copies since then. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go back to the foundation.
“The big point of this is that it’s a fundraiser for the foundation,” added Biddick.
The Iowa–Grant Educational Foundation is an important element of the district, awarding five $500 scholarships to students annually. The foundation also provides other opportunities for district students and helps provide funding ideas for projects unable to be covered within the district budget.
The foundation was founded in 1999 under the direction of J. Bruce Bradley. Bradley is a long time Iowa–Grant educator, serving 21 years as the district’s superintendent. The foundation had always been a dream of the influential Montfort veterinarian, Dr. Richard Bristol.
The most recent scholarship fund established through the foundation is the James E. Schroeder Scholarship Fund. Schroeder, who created the well-known Summer Kitchen in Highland, called upon students at Iowa–Grant to help him with his orchard after weather conditions had affected his crop. One such student remained working in the business with him for many years and today has assumed ownership.
Schroeder did not forget what the students had done for him and when he passed away in 2011, he provided a renewable, endowed scholarship for Iowa–Grant students planning to pursue agricultural-related studies.
“This is exactly what the foundation is there for,” said Biddick.
The Iowa–Grant History book can be purchased at several locations around the area, including Royal Bank in Cobb, Clare Bank in Montfort, the Edmund branch of Farmers Savings Bank, Livingston State Bank in Livingston and its Platteville location inside of Walmart, Rural Route 1 Popcorn in Montfort and Christianson Law Office in Dodgeville.
Books can also be purchased from both the Iowa–Grant High School and IGEMS. Biddick and Gard are also personally selling the books and can be reached via email or phone.
Biddick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 943-6228. Gard can be reached at email@example.com or 623-2095.
Books can also be purchased online through the Iowa–Grant Educational Foundation’s website, www.iowagrantfoundation.com, or through Little Creek Press’s website, www.littlecreekpress.com.
Both Biddick and Gard have throughly enjoyed the project and are pleased to be able to offer such a great story to those involved with Iowa–Grant.
“There were just so many good vibrations from people at the reunion, we just thought it was a story that needed to be told,” said Biddick.