August 22, 2022
KRANZBURG, S.D.–“Back to school” has meant something very different for sisters Mary Ann Stahlke, Eileen Lindner and Carol Rinehart in recent years.
While they haven’t gone to class for decades, they’ve returned to the District 5 Kranzburg Schoolhouse because they promised their dad they would take care of it. Their mother, the sisters and other siblings all attended school there before it closed in 1969. Although their dad didn’t attend school there, it was near and dear to his heart.
“He lived a half-block away and was on the Kranzburg Town Board for 40 years – pretty much that whole time he took care of it,” Carol said. The board used to meet there. “For some reason it was important to him.”
Before Charles Strang passed away in 2015 at age 94, Mary Ann promised dad that they (she and her siblings) would continue his legacy.
“We took father’s memorial money and hired a carpenter to replace the floor in the entry,” Mary Ann said.
Early on the sisters knew they needed some ground rules for the task – which seemed monumental in the beginning. “When we started that summer, we thought we were crazy!” said Carol. “It was packed with stuff.”
We limited ourselves to work there one day a week. “I don’t know how we did it,” said Mary Ann.
Mary Ann, Carol and Eileen got to work getting rid of the new and keeping the old.
That was the beginning of the labor of love that has had the sisters painting inside and out, scrubbing, retiling, cleaning and more.
“The metal ceiling was rusty, so we scraped it, primed and painted it,” explained Mary Ann. “We wanted to preserve it because to buy a tin ceiling nowadays would be too expensive.”
“After three coats of wax on the old school floor, it kind of came alive,” added Carol.
The sisters baked more than 300 rolls for a bake sale fundraiser last summer which the community supported whole-heartedly to assist with more extensive remodeling. This year, a grant from the Watertown Area Community Foundation enabled the roof to be reshingled. And the roofers, Mark and Doug Kranz went above and beyond to repair the bell tower as well.
The District 5 Schoolhouse, built in 1878, opened its doors for the Fourth of July annual celebration in Kranzburg. Sleigh desks, older books and other materials including the large, old maps that roll down from the wall, the framed portraits of Presidents Washington and Lincoln… welcomed visitors and old classmates.
“Everyone who came really appreciated it,” said Carol. “Like us… many got a little nostalgic.”
Gone are the days of sharing a dipper from the big bucket for drinking water, writing with chalk on your personal slate, and the older boys feeding coal to the fire to keep it going throughout the day. However, the memories are still there amidst the school’s four walls.
“I thought it was a lot bigger when I was a student,” said Mary Ann. “Sometimes there were 50 of us in that one room with one teacher. Most of us came from a house with just a couple rooms – maybe we just didn’t notice,” she reminisced.
It feels good to have kept our promise to our dad, the sisters said. “A labor of love, I guess is what you would call it,” Carol said. But as time goes on, the siblings know it wasn’t just for him.
“The friendships we made there, are still today and will last a lifetime,” said Mary Ann. “Our classmates were more like a larger family – we were all so close. It started out for dad, but really, I guess we did it for the whole family.”
Teachers and others interested in viewing the schoolhouse are encouraged to call Carol at 605-886-9740 to make an appointment.
***Story courtesy Watertown Area Community Foundation***