Growth Of The Shawano County School System

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Growth Of The Shawano County School System

by Jane Glenz

It was the lake that first drew people to this area. Prior to the coming of the white man Shawano Lake was the hunting and fishing grounds of the Menominee and, to a some extent, the Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indians. Many bands made the lake their summer campground because of its wooded shores, sandy beaches and the great variety and abundance of fish and waterfowl. Also, the great fields of wild rice and wild celery which grew in the lake made a natural feeding ground for ducks, geese and other aquatic birds.

But it was the timber and the river that eventually attracted the white settlers. Lumber had become an important commodity in the Wisconsin wilderness during the 1840’s. Vast stretches of virgin timber were being rapidly cut by lumber barons such as Sawyer and Weyerhauser.  Another lesser-known lumberman, Samuel Farnsworth, from the Neenah area, paddled up the Wolf River from New London in 1843.

With him he brought Charles Wescott and a crew of workers. Together they built a small sawmill north of Shawano Creek (now the channel). Five years later they brought their families and, as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

The small settlement slowly began to grow as the lumber industry flourished. One of the first things these early Shawano residents knew, like so many others like them throughout Wisconsin, educating the young was a necessity. So early in the 1850’s the first two schools were built. One was located amongst a small group of homes that had grown up around the Powell Trading Post along the Wolf River (near the wayside on highway 22). The school, a lean to, was built adjacent to a house over a large pine stump which served as a desk.

The first teacher was Mary Murray, who had arrived in the Shawano area in 1853 from Indiana. Her permit to teach (next page) was signed by John Wiley, then Town Supervisor of the Town of Shawano and was dated May 19, 1855. Mary was only a child herself — she was just sixteen when she started to teach school. She had eleven pupils, including her younger brother and sister. The first term started in May and lasted three months. The second term began in January.

The other school was built on land just north of Shawano Creek which was purchased in 1854 by William and plastered schoolhouse in Shawano County was built on this site and was called the Grimmer School (near the present Ainsworth School). Records indicate the school session lasted only 16 days in January and February and at various times 25 students, ranging in age from 4 – 15, attended. Though this seems like a short amount of time, it was fairly common. Most schools were in session two months in the fall, three in winter, and two in the spring. It wasn’t until 1915, that a nine-month school session began in this area.

Other small, rural schools also were created but no organized school system had yet been developed. It wasn’t until the population had grown and Shawano had incorporated as a village in 1871 and then a city that an official school system came to be.

The first public school building was Lincoln School. The building was constructed on the present Lincoln school site in 1871, and used as a school until 1887. This first school was a wooden two-story building consisting of two rooms and a recitation room. Caroline Magee was the first teacher. The building was later moved to Main Street so a new school could be built. Later it was moved to South Main, next to Wright’s Broiler, where it was used as a furniture store but was torn down in 1990.


In 1876, Shawano was granted a city charter and the city fathers, led by Henry Nabor and L.D. Roberts, saw as one of their major responsibilities the development of a 1-12 grade school system. In 1879, they began formalizing Shawano’s educational system. In that year, on July 14th, the Shawano City School District was officially created by the State of Wisconsin. However, it was under the jurisdiction of the county superintendent until 1920, when its own superintendent of schools position was created.

The first high school classes were held in the second floor of the McCord Building (corner of Main and Green Bay Street) in 1878. The hall was rented for classrooms at five dollars per month. The balance of the upstairs was used as an opera house, a skating rink, and a general meeting place, while the downstairs was a general store. Thirty-one young people applied for admission as students; twenty-nine passed the admission examination, two failed.


L.D. Roberts was chosen as the first principal of the district which included grades 1 – 12. The first high school class graduated in 1881. There were four graduates that year: Edward Farnsworth, George Martin, Clarence Mann, and Marietta Munn.

Soon the number of students outgrew the building and the facilities proved inadequate. The high school was then moved to Lincoln School. The upper half of the building became the high school and the lower half the grade school.

In 1887, a new brick building was built to replace the old Lincoln School at a cost of $8,000. The high school remained here until 1902 when a separate high school was built.

Lincoln School was destroyed by fire in 1924. Fire was a common occurrence in schools at this time.

The following is a description of that fire taken from the Shawano County Advocate (March 4, 1924):

At about two o’clock Friday morning the fire alarm sounded and it was soon learned that it was the Lincoln school building. Some neighbors living near first saw a fire in the northeast corner of the building and gave the alarm . . . It was fifteen or twenty minutes before the fire fighters got to work as they could not get a team or truck to take the hose cart over to the school building.  The fire spread rapidly. It was thought that the new addition might be saved and the fire department had a number of streams on the building within a short time, but the fire had too good a start and not a thing was saved from the entire building. We have been informed that the insurance on the building is $36,400 as the loss was total.

In 1925, a new Lincoln School was built on the same site.  It cost approximately $130,000. It was considered, at that time, to be one of the “most up-to-date school buildings in any city in Wisconsin.” This building still serves the district as Lincoln Elementary School.

In 1902, because of increased enrollment in both elementary and high school, it was decided to build a separate high school. It was built on the corner of Franklin and Presbyterian Streets. (Currently the Franklin School playground). This remained as the high school until 1916. It was vacant after that and was finally torn down in 1932. In 1917, a new building was built next to the high school. (Currently Franklin Middle School). It stayed as Shawano’s high school until 1955 and when the present high school was built.

Below is part of an article from the Shawano County Advocate (March, 3, 1917) which describes this new $100,000 high school.

The new high school will be one of the most complete in northern Wisconsin new conveniences not found in other schools have been installed…The main part of the building is 154 by 160 but this is not solid as it is built in a T shape. . . The exterior is dark red with white mortar and looks attractive. The stone work gets the building off in nice shape. There are practically three stories to the building, the basement and two other floors, but the basement being all above ground makes it light as any of the other floors …On the south side of the basement the manual training department will be situated, and the rooms will consist of a drawing room, bench room, stock room and a small room for the instructor…On the other side of the basement is the domestic science department.

On the first floor will be the principal’s office …commercial and typewriting rooms and one or two recitation rooms …The second floor will be found the large auditorium …classrooms for science … darkroom and developing room …and the reference library.

Many at first glance do not like the looks of the small windows in the building, but it is said that all of the modern school buildings are built that way at the present time, claiming that the small glass is much better accustomed for school purposes.

In 1933, an addition was built to the high school. This was a PWA project when the gymnasium was extended to Washington Street. Two new classrooms on the second floor and new shower rooms were also installed. Two stories were also

built over the boiler room. In 1958, there were other improvements. The main study hall was shortened to provide for a library and two classrooms. Another addition was completed in 1963. This included a suite of offices for Joint District #8, the Board of Education room, office and supply room for the superintendent, kitchen and cafeteria, two guidance offices, three classrooms and a music room.


Beginning in the 1940’s the State of Wisconsin began the movement to consolidate the rural and urban schools. In 1948, Shawano became a part of this process. Shawano and surrounding rural grade schools became Joint District No. 8. The new district included 22 branch schools and two central schools — Gresham and Shawano. District No. 8 became one of the largest integrated school districts in the State of Wisconsin. It had an enrollment of 2300 students and a teaching staff of over 100.

The first Board of Education elected for District No. 8 was composed of the following: Dr. W. H Cantwell, president, Fenton Muehl, clerk; A. W. Gast, treasurer, all of Shawano.  Directors-at-large were: Mrs. Harold (Ruth) Meyer, Shawano; John Libby, Shawano; A. H. Klebesadel, Town of Belle Plaine; Everett Gueths, Town of Richmond; Al Prey, Town of Waukechon; Victor Sousek, Gresham. Mrs. Robert Mayhew (Lucille) of Shawano was appointed to this board after the resignation of John Libby.

These board members, as well as others to follow, began an ambitious plan to eventually close all the rural schools and bus the children to Shawano where they would attend grade school and high school. This plan was completed by 1968.

The Board also realized with the increased enrollment; a new high school would have to be built. At various board meetings the following considerations seem to be of major concern:

1-The Shawano high school building, erected in 1918 for a “maximum” enrolment of 450, last year had an enrollment of 740.

2-More space was needed in the expanding subject areas of agriculture, home economics, business education, and industrial arts.

3-The trend in school buildings is to erect structures on sizable properties, free from heavy traffic and factories.

4-The proposed site for the new Shawano high school is the properties in the southeast section of the city, comprising 27 acres and one block from the Athletic Field.

5-If voters give approval to the pending plans, the present high school building would be used as a junior high school alleviating the crowded situation at Lincoln school, where 618 students are in quarters designed for 300.

After much discussion and investigation, they made this recommendation. On July 11, 1953, after the need for a new school had been stressed repeatedly in the newspapers, over the radio, and at public meetings, the citizens voted to bond the district $725,000.

On September 1st, the site was chosen by the electors. According to the sketches prepared by the architect, the new school would include a practice football field, a half-mile track, parking lot, three softball diamonds, one baseball diamond, five tennis courts, and sheltered bus loading facilities next to the building.

Construction was started in the spring of 1954 and in 1955, the high school was moved to its present site. It was made up of grades 10-12. In 1968, the ninth grade was moved to the high school and Franklin Junior High became Franklin Middle School, which now included grades six, seven and eight. New additions were added to the high school in 1962 and in 1968. These included the math/ science complex and the auxilary gym/ girls locker room/ band area.

Shawano High School, now the middle school – additions were completed in 1962 and 1968


By 1968 the one-room elementary schools in the district were closed and Union St. The name was given to honor one of Shawano’s dedicated educator.

Mrs. Brener had been associated with the Shawano school system for nearly 50 years including six years as a member of the Board of Education. For 43 years Mrs. Brener was principal of Lincoln School and in the later years, before her retirement, she also served as administrator of the public school in Neopit and Keshena.

It was while she was principal of Lincoln School, in the earlier years, that she organized the Lincoln School PTA and in, 1922, brought about the organization of Girl Scouting in Shawano.

Her life time of devotion to education was recognized when Shawano’s new elementary school was dedicated in her honor in August, 1968. She retired in 1964 and died in 1969.

In late 1991, a new addition was added to Olga Brener Elementary. The $1.7 million addition included 13 classrooms, a larger kitchen, all-purpose room which is used for physical education classes as well as physical and occupational therapy and additional storage space. The new addition was also made accessible for the disabled.


The Shawano school system throughout its history has experienced much turbulence but probably no more turbulent times than in the decade of the 1970’s when the district experienced problems with charges of racism by the Menominees.

The history of the Menominee Reservation/ county schools is certainly an interesting, if not confusing story. The Menominee state jurisdiction, developed differently from the Shawano district but later merged with this district when it became a county instead of a reservation.

In 1912-13 the first public school was built on the reservation in Neopit. The site was below St. Anthony’s Church and just across the highway from the millpond. Children had been attending school before this either at the parochial schools in Neopit or Keshena or paying tuition at schools outside the reservation.

This school was built by the U.S. government. It was replaced in 1939 by the present Neopit School. It included grades 1 – 8. Any student who wished to go further went to Flandreau Pipestone or Haskell Institute (Indian Boarding schools).  Some went to Antigo or Shawano High Schools on tuition paid by parents or tribal funds.

On July 1, 1948, the Menominee Reservation school system was placed under the jurisdiction of the State of Wisconsin and became a part of the state school system. The operation of the school was run by the Menominee Reservation public school system at Neopit with Department of Public Instruction. guidance from the Wisconsin State. Arrangements were made with the Shawano school system to accept seventh and eighth graders into the junior high school in 1957. Grades 9 – 12 attended Antigo, Shawano or Suring High on a tuition basis under the Johnson-O’Malley Act from 1947 to 1961.

In 1960-61, another grade school was built in Keshena. This school began with an enrollment of 107 boys and girls in grade K-6. This school and the Neopit school came under the jurisdiction of the Shawano School Board and a part of District No. 8 in 1961, when the Menominee Indian Reservation ceased to exist.

For the next 15 years the Menominee students attended grade school (K-6) in Neopit or Keshena and then were transported by bus to Shawano or Gresham for grades 7 – 12. An uneasy peace seemed to prevail amongst the students when they came together in junior-senior high school, but the next few years were marred by much turmoil with charges of racial discrimination and segregation made by both sides. This came to a head in 1969 when the federal government and HEW began investigation of the charges. Also, in 1972 a lawsuit was filed against the district by residents of Menominee County alleging the students from Menominee County were being discriminated against in Shawano schools.

In 1975, the Menominee Reservation was once again restored and the Menominees began to take steps to create their own school system. As part of the settlement of the lawsuit, Shawano agreed to allow Menominee to break away from Shawano and form its own district.

On July l, 1976, the Menominee School District was created. Many Indian students continued to attend Shawano middle and senior high schools until a new high school was built in Keshena in the early 1980’s.


Besides schools in the City of Shawano and the surrounding rural schools, the district includes schools in the Village of Gresham.

The first public school in Gresham was a one room log building established in 1884. In 1892 a frame school house was built. A larger school was built in 1902. This building housed the grades and high school. This building was destroyed by fire in 1934 and replaced later that year with the current building.

The first class graduated from Gresham High School in 1938. The gymnasium was attached to the building in 1948-49 and another addition was added in 1962.

Thus completes the history of the City of Shawano schools – from its humble beginning on a tree stump in 1855 to a district that at one time was one of the largest in the state of Wisconsin.

Table II

Shawano County Superintendents

1863 – 1963

(Position was discontinued by the State in 1964)

Name Years of Service
Myron H. McCord 1863- 1865
A. P. Knapp 1865 - 1868
Z. C. Coleburn 1868 - 1872
C. R. Klebesadel 1872 - 1876
Miss C. A. Magee 1876 - 1878
W. M. Sommers 1878 - 1881
W. C. Whitford 1881 to 1882
E. E. Breed 1882 to 1884
W. A. Gralopp 1884 - 1887
L. D. Roberts 1888 - 1924
A. H. Pahr 1925 - 1949
Rex Krull 1950 - 1951
Theresa Van Horne 1952 - 1953
Rex Krull 1950 - 1951
Theresa Van Horne 1952 - 1953
Rex Krull 1954 - 1961
Ray Ropella 1961 - 1963

Table III

City of Shawano – Superindendents

1920 – 1993

Name Years of Service
R. J. McMahon 1920 to 1922
R. Davies 1923 to 1925
C. W. Tomlinson 1925 to 1930
Otto A. Reetz 1930 to 1948
Nicolas Cupery 1948 to 1955
Harold Stewart 1955 to 1961
Charles Hub 1961 to 1965
Arnie Gruber 1965 to 1979
Gerald Thielke 1979 to 1986
Fred Davel 1986 to 1994
Richard Hess 1994 to

Table IV

Principals of Shawano High School

1878 – 1993

Name Years of Service
Lorenzo Roberts 1878 to 1882
J. J. Thompson 1882 to 1883
Lorenzo Roberts 1883 to 1888
W. H. Hickok 1888 to 1894
D. O. Williams 1894 to 1895
E. H. Reynolds 1895 to 1898
H. W. Rood 1898 to 1900
J. Leindenberg 1900 to 1907
David K. Allen 1907 to 1908
J. F. Powers 1909 to 1914
L. F. Smith 1914 to 1916
F. G. Bishop 1917 to 1919
R. J. McMahon 1920 to 1922
E. M. Brown 1922 to 1923
W. R. Davies 1923 to 1925
C. W. Tomlinson 1925 to 1929
O. A. Reetz 1929 to 1934
Everett Thomas 1934 to 1964
Gilbert Muellenbach 1964 to 1968
Carl Carmichael 1968 to 1981
Mike Spielvogel 1982 to 1984
James Hogan 1984 to 1986
James Lehto 1986 to

Table V

Principals of Franklin Junior High and Middle School

1955 – 1993

Name Years of Service
Arnold Gruber 1955 to 1965
Carl Carmichael 1965 to 1968
Harvey Steffen 1968 to 1985
James Lehto 1985 to 1986
John Esse 1986 to 1987
James Yeakey 1987 to

Table VI

Principals of Lincoln Elementary School

1921 – 1993

Name Years of Service
Olga Brener 1921 to 1964
Dorothy Nielsen 1964 to 1968
Everett Jensen 1968 to 1979
Melvin Zahn 1979 to 1981
James Lehto 1981 to 1985
WIIliam Prijic 1985 to

Table VII

Principals of Olga Brener School

1968 – 1993

Name Years of Service
Dorothy Nielsen 1968 to 1979
Everett Jensen 1979 to 1985
Harvey Steffen 1985 to 1993
Robert Kurkiewicz 1992 to

Table VIII

Shawano High School Graduates

1881 – 1993

Year Number Year Number Year Number
1881 4 1919 36 1957 167
1882 5 1920 39 1958 182
1883 7 1921 36 1959 199
1884 6 1922 54 1960 188
1885 3 1923 59 1961 191
1886 6 1924 77 1962 191
1887 4 1925 96 1963 201
1888 5 1926 74 1964 210
1889 3 1927 73 1965 222
1890 4 1928 78 1966 242
1891 7 1929 68 1967 253
1892 0 1930 96 1968 235
1893 4 1931 89 1969 225
1894 1 1932 113 1970 265
1895 9 1933 120 1971 223
1896 10 1934 122 1972 228
1897 5 1935 120 1973 230
1898 8 1936 115 1974 218
1899 16 1937 140 1975 227
1900 14 1938 144 1976 225
1901 10 1939 148 1977 237
1902 7 1940 155 1978 236
1903 12 1941 140 1979 200
1904 8 1942 115 1980 241
1905 11 1943 152 1981 224
1906 3 1944 103 1982 232
1907 15 1945 117 1983 214
1908 20 1946 132 1984 191
1909 15 1947 120 1985 187
1910 17 1948 147 1986 174
1911 15 1949 141 1987 207
1912 21 1950 156 1988 157
1913 34 1951 120 1989 183
1914 29 1952 155 1990 160
1915 20 1953 156 1991 153
1916 24 1954 136 1992 155
1917 23 1955 176 1993 169
1918 43 1956 173

Table IX

Principals of Gresham School

1902 – 1993

Name Years of Service
Carl Guggesburg unknown
Martin Morrisey unknown
Adolph Thiede unknown
Mr. W. Rand unknown
James Gronosky unknown
Martin Lukesh unknown
F.D. Cummings unknown
Mr. Hardgrove unknown
Mr. Hoeppner unknown
Mr. Niland unknown
Larry Willard unknown
Bob Fritz 1932 - 1937
Mr. Gabriel 1937 - 1938
Frank Snider 1938 - 1942
Sidney Jacobsen 1942 - 1943
Ervin Cudd 1943 - 1945
Edward Denk 1945 - 1949
Howard Gillespie 1949 - 1952
Edward Ludwig 1952 - 1962
Carl Carmichael 1962 - 1968
Melvin Zahn 1968 - 1979
Robert Kurkiewicz 1979 - 1992
Robert Klopke 1992 -