TOWN OF CENTER - A one-room schoolhouse -- built 125 years ago in Outagamie County -- is still making a big difference to the small community it's located in.
Center Valley Grade School in the Town of Center served the children of local farming families for 82 years.
Eventually, it was sold and used as a storage shed. Over the years, its deteriorating conditions created an eyesore.
Dennis Volz used to own a supper club about a mile away from the school. He and his wife took notice of the school while driving through the countryside. They especially took notice to the boards over the windows, the failing foundation and the deteriorating front steps.
"We thought, 'Why do we have this old building? God, it would be really neat to put this back together and have a one-room school house,'" said Volz.
Volz followed through on that thought and enlisted some friends to purchase the building. They began to reconstruct it in 1999. The group now calls itself, Friends of the Center Valley Grade School.
Community fundraising helped the group raise more than $80,000 for the construction costs. As word spread, other donations began to pour in. People donated desks, books and other classroom materials dating back as far as 1897.
"The main purpose of renovating this building was to put it back the way it stood in the mid-1940s and use it for class trips," said Volz. "They (schools) usually bring out the 4th graders in history class to come out here for a field trip and spend a day at the old school house."
Center Valley Grade School serves as an educational tool today, just as it did for some Town of Center residents more than six decades ago.
Jean Hinkfuss, Clark Schabo and Ralph Volkman attended the school in the 1950s.
"People said you had to walk a mile to school, which you actually did," said Schabo. "It didn't make any difference if it was raining or snowing -- you just did it."
"I especially remember our Christmas programs," said Hinkfuss. "We put on our little skits and sat and sang a lot of Christmas songs."
Volkman remembers how the hot stove inside of the school cooked the students' lunches.
"We used to bring potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil and also cans of soup and stuff," said Volkman. "We'd set 'em up there before noon and by lunchtime, it would be cooked or the soup would be hot."
The former students are happy to be a part of what Center Valley Grade School represents today. It was listed on the State and National Register of Historical Places in 2010, and recently unveiled a brand new sign to prove that.
The Friends of the Center Valley Grade School group is hoping to restore the school's steel roof, next. They expect it to cost around $14,000.
If you would like to donate to the cause -- and help make a difference -- there is a fund set up at Fox Communities Credit Union.
You can also call Dennis Volz at (920) 739-3638 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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