School: Owen (Old School 2002)

Contact: Kathleen E. Englebretson


Surnames: Funk, Medzwiecki, Roohr, Maine

---Source: Marshfield News-Herald (23 August 2002)

Friends Breathe New Life into Old School

Friends of the Old School Inc. has brought the old Owen High School and gymnasium back to life.

Penny Funk said one of the projects is the newly organized "House of Friends," a safehouse for latch-key kids to go to after school to participate in adult supervised activities.

We are using the old school gym for this purpose" she said. "We think this is a great location, also we would like to utilize the work of Friends of the Old School, by opening up the school again for the children.

House of Friends is scheduled to open when the school year begins in September, each weekday from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The old elementary school was built in 1907, a high school was added in 1921, and the gymnasium built in 1953. After consolidation of the school in Owen-Withee in 1964 the old school buildings were retired and eventually sold to a private individual.

For years the buildings stood empty, and time and disuse took its toll. In 1989 the elementary school was demolished by the city. The high school and adjoining gym were taken over by Clark County and offered for sale. Friends of the Old School bought the high school, gymnasium and school property.

Esther Medzwiecki, a charter member of friends of the Old School and an alumnus of the Old Owen High School, said, "Inch by Inch we're getting there, realizing our dream, seeing the beloved old building restored.

"The old school now provides a social center for out town," she said. "It is almost directly across from the Mill Pond Park on Highway X, which compliments the activities of the old school."

"The two become a community center for the city," said Owen resident Eldon Maine.

June Roohr, president of Friends of the Old School, said the school alumni hated to see the old school disappear, and other community members saw a need for a complex for community events to be held.

Since the purchase of the property, a rather small group got busy with the physical work of the restoration process moving tons of debris, cleaning, scrubbing, painting and general repair. "The work is ongoing, especially the fund raising," Roohr said. "Now it is more mental work, I took a course in grant-writing and we received a couple of grants, but for "brick and mortar" grants, it's pretty slow going."

The Friends of the Old School raised money to replace the high school roof and repair windows in both buildings. The gym now has a new heating system and air conditioning. Sport court flooring was recently purchased and will soon be installed, and so will new protective baskets on ceiling lights and new nets on the basketball hoops to ready the gym for sports activities.

Also on the to-do list are purchasing new stage curtains for the gym and some work on the high school building. The group hopes to install a fitness room in the basement of the high school. The high school itself is architecturally sound.

Although there are ongoing improvements, many community events have been held at the Old School and many are planned for the future.

Events include a couple of weddings, the Annual Fireman's Ball, the city Diamond Jubilee Ball, craft sales, garage sales, and the popular Open Mike Concert.

Ambitious plans for Friends of the Old School include a permanent museum in the high school and intergenerational community uses for the gym.

Friends of the Old School is a nonprofit organization of 200 school alumni and others governed by a nine-member board of directors.



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