Excerpts taken from Pierpont Signals, Day County History Book, and Alumni Book.
The first school was held in the upstairs of the E. C. Marston’s granary located one-half mile south of the town of Pierpont and was taught by Miss Emma Sheen, sister of Mrs. John Haynes. For a good many years, the outside stairway could be seen on the east side of the granary as one drove along the highway.
In December of 1888 the patrons of three school districts raised a personal sum of $50 to be used for two months of school in a small school building one-half mile southeast of Pierpont, on the L.W. Sherwood farm (now owned by Joe Espeland) where Della I. Perry taught. She taught during the cold and snowy months of January and February of 1889 with the Sherwood, Cameron, Martyn, Baillie and Head children as her pupils.
The first schoolhouse was erected in Pierpont in 1893 on a lot donated by Wm. Lemmon. It was planned by Estelle Haskell who was the first teacher and her salary was $40.00 a month.
This building was a long structure, something like two store buildings joined end to end. It was about 125 feet long and 50 feet wide. The entrance was in the middle on the east side, this led to a corridor which separated the building into two parts, the northside had the first four grades and the southside, the upper four grades. In the corridor hung a rope, which was attached to a bell that was housed in the belfry and was perched upon the roof of the school house.
The school yard was surrounded by a combination of postrail and woven wire to keep out the livestock. In those days the stock was driven on foot, to the stockyards located south of the elevator row along Railroad Avenue. In 1900, 150 trees were planted around the lot (city block) to provide beauty and shade for the school grounds.
This building accommodated the pupils for a number of years until the increase in enrollment necessitated more room. In March of 1904, petitions were circulated for the purpose of building a new schoolhouse, asking the school board to vote on the question of issuing bonds as finance for the new school house, which passed. On July 24th advertisements for bids were made for a two story brick building, with separate bid for a steam heating plant. In August the building began hauling of rocks by the local people and some granite rock was shipped in from Ortonville, Minnesota. These materials were used for the lower level with Chasta Holoow bricks for the upper part of the two story building. Niles Bros. were hired as contractors.
The building was completed in January, in 1905. School was open in September in 1904 with Prof. W. R. Van Walker as the principal and Miss Beatrice Yost as primary teacher. The first day showed an enrollment of 81. It was estimated, that by the time the school would be completed and another teacher hired, that the enrollment would be considerably over 100 students. As the enrollment increased it was found that an addition needed to be added to the south side. At this time the gymnasium under the school building was added, with this addition the size of the schoolhouse was doubled. At the same time the front entrance on the north side of the building was extended a few feet north to accommodate a recitation room and superintendent’s office room, especially for the second floor. In 1906, the city water was plumbed into the schoolhouse by Herman Neuman with girl’s and boy’s wash rooms added. Teachers in 1906 were: W.R. Van Walker, high school; Nettie Lemmon, grammar grades; Lucille Udel, intermediate grades; and Mrs. Anna Rabel, primary room.
The first graduating class of Pierpont High School was in 1908, with Frank Johnson, Norma Parrott Huxley and Ruby Wilson Shannon graduating.
In 1924, the schoolhouse was completely destroyed by fire. All school records were lost. All that remained was the brick walls. School was resumed in about a week with various buildings throughout the city used as accommodations, the first and second grades were assigned to the Baptist church; the third and fourth grades in the Presbyterian church; and the fifth and sixth in the Lutheran church and the seventh and eighth grades and high school were housed in the Masonic Temple. The school rebuilding project was started soon after the fire. The walls were inspected and found to be OK to use. The rebuilding was completed in one year so school reconvened in the new school building.
In 1935, the Pierpont School officials were able to receive government assistance (WPA Project) in hiring deans, cooks, and other helpers for school dormitories. This was a program set up for any student, outside of the Pierpont School District, to come into Pierpont and attend high school. The cost per student was $1.50 a week for room and board, each to furnish their own bed, bedding, room furnishings, bring a chair for the dining room and furnish their own dishes and silverware. There were two dormitories; the one for the girls was set up at the Bertha Paulson home (Doris Peterson’s home) and the boys at the Mrs. A. O. Brekke home (Duane Cleveland home). Over thirty students took advantage of this opportunity to get their high school education. Local people hired as managers, the first year, at the boy’s dormitory: Jesse Parrott and Henry Myren Sr. were the deans for the boys and Ray Ketzeback, the janitor. At the girsl dormitory, Mrs. Sadie Folsom was the housemother with Mrs. Matilda Nygaard and Mrs. Rachale Grindheim, her assistants. They were in charge of the cooking and purchasing, others were employed full and part time as laundry workers and dishwashers. This helped supplement the low-income families (depression years). All meals were served at the girl’s dormitory; the girls were required to help with the dishes part time. During the eight years that the dormitories were in operation, they were moved once, the girl’s dormitory was moved to the Tom Shannon home in southeast section of town on Ketzeback home who had living quarters in back of the old post office building (east main) which later housed the East End Café. Others employed at the dormitory as cooks were Clara Gjerde, Laura Ask, and Mrs. Anna Jacobson.
The dormitories increased the enrollment at the high school level and the classes were much larger. With more students in school the achievements were greatly increased under the many dedicated teachers who provided the basic training. These are so essential in whatever field is chosen.
In the era of 1936 and 1937, Harriet Seim and Edna Wagner working under the government program (NYA) prepared a hot dish each day at the school to supplement the diet of the students who brought lunches from home (the rural students within the district). They prepared dishes like soups, Spanish rice, chili, hot chocolate, etc. Each child was charged one penny for each day that he partook of the program. After the NYA program was discontinued at the school, in 1940, arrangements were made for the cooks of the dormitory project to serve the hot supplement to the noon meal at the school. Mathilda Nygaard, Clara Gjerde and Laura Ask were the first who worked on this project. The program increased as the dormitories were discontinued.
After the new gym was completed, the old gym was converted into a multi purpose room, the west end was converted into a lunchroom for the school A fully equipped kitchen (not stainless steel) was added with built in storage space, built into the small bleacher session, serving tables and benches were also added. Two full time cooks were hired with students who wished to help with the serving, signing up for the job and were compensated with a free lunch ticket.
In the years to follow till the closing of the school, a full meal was served to all the students and teachers and to other school personal who wished to buy a meal ticket. Some commodities were received to help finance the program. Some of the ladies who worked as school cooks were Henrietta Nygaard, Laura Ask, Olga Fossum, Margaret Tucker (17 years), Henrietta Flagtvedt (13 years) and Elma Ronshaugen.
The first kindergarten students were enrolled in the spring of 1958, those who would be first graders in 1959. They attended a short session in the mornings under the supervision of Mrs. Miller, then the first and second grade teacher, as a preliminary preparation for their first full year of school. In about 1962, the kindergarten department was set up in the east end of the multi purpose room (old gym) a division was put in to make a separate area for these students. Mrs. Art (Verna) Birkeland was hired as part time (1/2 days) as the first kindergarten teacher, which she taught till 1968. Velva Hayenga served as the teacher for the years ’68 and ’69 and also served as a substitute teacher.
Other purposes for this room, in the afternoon it served as a music room for the B band students who had private lessons, vocal music for the elementary students, a small meeting room and much more.
Pierpont High School had many fine athletic programs in the sixty-five years that the school was in operation. In the early years of the high school there were both girls and boys basketball teams that took part in this competitive sport. The girls at that time played against girl teams from other schools and had excellent teams. In about 1929 era when it was changed to just intramural teams in the school and there was an era where girl’s athletic program was not offered. In the later years the school, a physical fitness program become popular and they again had basketball games.
Boy’s basketball was always the “highlight” program in the school. In 1929-1932, Pierpont won four consecutive district tournaments under the same coach, Clarence Shaffer and also received plaques in 1930 and 1931 for sportsmanship. In those days there were no A or B divisions. In 1931 and ’32 the team had the distinction of having the three Cameron brothers; Rodney, Kenneth and Wm., all on the same varsity team.
In 1951, another outstanding era in basketball, when that team had a great year under Coach Francis Richter. The team went through the year undefeated in the regular schedule, ending the year by sweeping through the district tournament, regional, and into the state. They were only team PHS to achieve this recognition.
There were other fine teams and good coaches during the years and some outstanding athletes who wen on to college and were recognized for their athletic ability.
Through the years Pierpont accumulated over 75 trophies won both in the grades and high school, they were earned in tennis, basketball, baseball, track and volleyball.
In high school, other extra curriculum that was offered was debate, declam and music. Music was one of the major ones through the 65 years with many fine musical groups competing in the regional and state contests in both vocal and instrumental music. In the early era there was vocal, piano, orchestra and violin offered while in the later years it was vocal and piano and band. Declam was offered for many years and debate was very strong in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s era with outstanding debate teams and individuals who excelled as declamatory winners. Isabelle (Jean) Shannon a member on a PHS debate team attended Northern Normal at Aberdeen following graduation from Pierpont High School. She entered intercollegiate debate, winning in the state over George McGovern (senator) and took second place in the National Oratorical Competition.
Many fine operettas and plays were presented in the high school auditorium. “Prof” Opliger, an artist along with his other talents, hand painted the stage curtain which high in the assembly for a good many years.
As the years passed, it became apparent that a gym was needed. The old gym was considered inadequate because of the seating capacity, floor size and the height of the ceiling. The area schools refused to come to play basketball. The Pierpont students had to use the facilities at Bristol, for practice as well as for all home games. Realizing that funds would not be available by government aide, the community grouped together with individual contributions, organizations and community fund drives and also by 220 men who donated 4677 hours of labor at $1.00 per hour for a total of $4,677.00. This was all added to the amount levied by the school (special election). Total cost of the gym was $44,278.43. Work began on the gym in May of 1955 and was completed by January 1956, soon enough to have the Lake Region Basketball Tournament in the new gym, which resulted in an overflow crowd.
As the population decreased, the rural schools were urged to send their students to the town school. By 1962, Pierpont School District was reorganized with 18 rural school districts becoming a part of School District #170. In 1959, two school buses were purchased to transport the children into town school. The first school bus drivers were Leo Smeins on the west side and Bud Aadland picked up the children on the east side. In time the district used the custodians and some teachers as bus drivers. Custodians were Tony Jordanger, Jim Tompkins, Ted Swanson. Others who served as custodians at the school during the 65 years were E. X. Knight, Ted Ronshaugen, Hayden Dwight, Ray Ketzeback, B.O. Monson, Andrew (Jolly) Anderson, Ed Fuhrman, Tony Mork, and Norman Pfeffle.
“Pierpont Centennial 1887-1987”, The Langford Bugle, Langford, South Dakota, 1987, Library of Congress Catalog No. 87-60818, p. 77-81.