Annual Liberty School alumni lunch slated

A tradition started 89 years ago may come to an end Saturday.

Beginning in 1925, alums of Liberty Consolidated School, once located in Liberty township, have met annually to join in fellowship while enjoying a meal, according to Erma Haywood of rural Eldora who, at 84, may be the youngest surviving alum.

On Saturday other alums, their friends and spouses will meet Haywood at the Bangor Liberty Church in northwest Marshall County. They will total about 50 – and be served by women of the Liberty and Bangor Missionary Society, who have graciously taken care of the group in recent years.

The charge for the meal is $10 per person- an amount which has not changed for some time, said Haywood.

Haywood said Saturday’s noon meal may be the last because she, as secretary, would like to pass on the responsibility for organizing the event on to someone else. So far no one has volunteered.

Additionally, the Liberty and Bangor Missionary Society told Haywood this would be the last time they can serve the alums, due to a number of other commitments. Finding another group to serve at the church could be a challenge.

The church is an ideal location, Haywood said, because it is readily handicap accessible and there are no stairs to navigate. But Haywood candidly admitted the biggest obstacle facing the group’s annual outing has been that death, old age and infirmaries are taking a nasty toll.

“Five members have passed since Jan. 1,” Haywood said. “Several members are living in nursing homes, and others in our group are confined to wheelchairs.”

Regardless, Liberty alum pride runs deep.

A monument of red stone with a sign on top are all that remains structurally of “the first all rural twelve grade consolidated school in Iowa,” at 120th Street and Durham Avenue, several miles west of the Bangor Liberty Church.

The sign reads it was the site of the Liberty Consolidated School. It educated students from grades one through 12 from 1914 through 1947. The high school program ended in 1947, but elementary students were taught until 1953.

It witnessed two World Wars and a Great Depression. “The Golden Rule” was observed and practiced.

Teachers, in the words of the late Thelma Clemons of Marshalltown, “were very strict and the parents stood behind them(on discipline matters).”

Clemons, as did her siblings, attended all 12 years and graduated in 1941.

Liberty was born of consolidation, as many in the state of Iowa have been. However, the concept of consolidation can be a contentious one, regardless of decade or century.

Such was the case in 1910. They were called the “school wars” according to Clemons.

In that year she wrote, “there was a movement to consolidate schools in Iowa. Each area wanted the school near them.”

Haywood, along with other former Liberty students, have become de-facto school historians, either having written down or memorized key school facts. She easily recites facts and figures important to the school’s history.

The vote taken to create the Clemons Independent School District, where Liberty was to be built, was contested all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. However, that court upheld the initial election creating the district.

It combined one room school houses Hazel Green and Liberty numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6. There were more.

Students from the Illinois Grove transferred to Liberty after the eighth grade.

A prominent area family – the Dunns – would be instrumental in making the school a reality. Land was given for the Liberty school by Hughie Dunn in the Dunn settlement.

Dunn was part of a large family who had immigrated from Ireland in 1851. They created a settlement which included a Catholic Church, built in 1878, according to the Continuing History of Marshall County, 1997.

“A cemetery was established about one and one-half miles north and one-fourth mile west of the church. Initially it was called the Dunn Settlement Cemetery. Later, it became St. John’s Cemetery,” according to the county history text.

While Catholics comprised about half of the population, Quakers comprised the other half.

“We all got along in school and get along now,” Haywood said.

The school was constructed in 1914 at a cost of $1,200. It was a brick structure, 54′ by 56′. It contained two classrooms on the first floor for grades one through six. Second floor was junior high in one room and the high school study in the other.

An assembly hall, library and classrooms for agriculture and science also made up the building. While Saturday’s meal may be the alumni group’s last, former students like Haywood and others will keep the school’s memory alive in written and oral history.