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A lesson in history

Vacant 57 years, country school still inspires

Staff writer

Sitting all alone in the northeastern corner of the county is a country school building that has stood the test of time. Built of limestone, it still stands straight and tall, although some of the stones are beginning to separate.

Located east of Lincolnville at 290th and Bluestem Rds., Bethel country school was the eighth school district in the county.

The school took its name from a small commercial center named Bethel that was located one mile north. The original wood-frame schoolhouse was built there in 1875. The site was on the historic Kaw Trail used by Native Americans who traveled from Council Grove to western Kansas hunting grounds.

The school was closed in 1960. It is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places and is one of the few that remain standing in Marion County.

The Emil Krause family visited the old school Sunday during a reunion in Lincolnville. The Krauses lived just down the road from the school on a farmstead now owned by Dennis and Anna Krause.

The Krauses have family connections to the Gronemans, the Ottes, the Shieldses, and the Albrechts, some of whom attended or had children who attended the same school. Added to that group Sunday were a few unrelated neighbors who came, and the visit became a community affair.

Dan Peterson had just completed seventh grade when the school closed.

“I was a little apprehensive,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could go to the big town of Burdick to go to school.”

The first basketball game he ever saw was one he played in.

Glenn Shields and Nancy Groneman went to Lincolnville for eighth grade. Shields said it was somewhat scary to go to a big school.

“We three were in the top tier of our high school graduating class at Centre, so we did pretty well,” Shields said.

Kathryn Otte, 88, one of two Bethel teachers who survive, attended the reunion. The other is Betty Brunner Dyck.

Alvina Hoffman of Marion was one of the last teachers.

“She was an excellent teacher,” Dan Peterson said. “She took us on field trips.”

Esther Krause Groneman, 103, is the only surviving child of Emil Krause. She married neighbor boy Arthur Groneman. All four of their children attended Bethel.

Her brother, the late Paul Krause, inherited the quarter of land the school sits on. When the school closed, the property reverted to him. His son, Gary, now owns the property. While the school was still operating, a new hardwood floor was put in and is in surprisingly good shape.

A coal shed recently was returned to the school grounds after being sold and moved off in 1962. One of the original outhouses is still standing.

Some of the desks that were sold at auction have been returned, their tops bearing the marks made by many students.

Vida Groneman Gianakon and Art Groneman pointed out where some students had carved initials into the exterior stone. Art said students often went to nearby Clear Creek to play in the water and along the bank after eating lunch.

Directly inside the front door, a small entryway spans the width of the building. Coat hooks are still there. Vida Groneman pointed out where a sink was used for washing hands before lunch, a screened shelf held lunch buckets to keep flies away, and another shelf held a drinking water bucket.

Ken Shields said that sometimes the teacher sent the older students to the foyer to study.

Gary Krause would like to see the building preserved. He has made a few improvements on his own, but replacing plaster and repairing breaks in the walls and foundation would take a lot of money.

Being on the national register is supposed to make it easier to preserve historic properties, but Krause said he tried twice to get money from the state historical society to repair and restore the schoolhouse, but the applications were denied.

“I guess if it were located on the Main Street in Marion, it would be different,” he said.

Last modified June 1, 2017

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