School History

History of The Willow Lake School District 12-3

The first pioneers who settled in the Willow Lake area had left the establishment society of the eastern states for a new life on the Dakota prairie. That new life was based on old values and an education for all was of utmost important. When the town of Willow Lake was established on the east side of the lake in 1884, there was already a school. The Berry School, a small one room building, had been built in 1882.

When the town moved south to the railroad of 1887, a larger building was constructed on Lincoln Street south of the Congregational Church. This 30 foot by 60 foot frame building was the first school in the present town site. George Perkins was the first teacher. H.B. Matthews (later a professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings) taught in 1889-1890.

In June of 1891, the town held an election to organize an independent school district. The nearly unanimous vote allowed the construction of a larger building and the planning of a future high school curriculum. At that time District No. 29 was organized. In 1902-03 a two story wooden structure was erected on the present school site, and in August, 1904, the building was completely destroyed by a tornado. But education did not cease. A temporary two room school was constructed of salvaged material, and classes were held in other buildings in the town.

In 1908, Principal A.J. Fox had presented a course of study for a high school adapted by the school board. Bids for the sum of $10,958 were let on March 23, 1909, for a new school building of brick, trimmed with sandstone. The first floor had four classrooms for the first through eighth grades. The second floor included a large assembly room, classrooms, a library and superintendent’s office for the high school. School opened in the new building in November, 1909, and the first class graduated from Willow Lake in 1912. Professor Fox is also credited with writing the school song, “The Purple and Gold”, which is still used.

The building constructed in 1909 saw many changes over the years. In 1969, a fire escape was installed on the west side. The entire building was wired for electricity by 1922.

In the 1920’s increased high school enrollment made the addition of another building necessary. The two-story brick high school building was constructed in 1927 west of the old grade building. The two attractive entrances faced Garfield Street, and steps led from them down to the auditorium and up to the large assembly and four classrooms on the second floor. The Administration offices,library,and cloak rooms were also located there. The first floor held one of the finest auditorium-gymnasiums in the country with a seating capacity of 750. The balcony was to the west and the stage areas was on the east side. The auditorium floor measured 40 feet by 64 feet, making it an ideal gymnasium for athletic events.

After the high school was built in 1927, the second floor assembly of the old building was used for a music room, and the east classrooms held the Home Economics Department for many years. With school reorganization and increased enrollment, the second floor was redone to include four upper grade classrooms, the administration offices and a small library. The first floor was used for the lower grades. The basement rooms were utilized in many ways: the chemistry lab, a teacher’s lounge, extra classrooms, the special education department and the administration offices.

After over 70 years of constant use, the proud old building was torn down in the summer of 1981. The original bell that hung atop this building has been preserved in a memorial constructed by the Willow Lake High School Alumni.

The drought and depression of the 1930’s struck soon after the new high school building was dedicated. When the banks closed, the district lost all of its funds. Partial restitution was made when the owner of the bank deeded a house on Garfield Street to the district. That Teacherage was the home of the school superintendent for many years and the rent was included as part of his salary.

The high school building has been remodeled several times, but the original building still stands. In 1965, two rooms were added to the west side. This utilized the balcony areas of the “old gym” for a wide hallway with lockers. This made the large assembly hall with its desks obsolete, and it was divided into three classrooms. The four rooms to the east were made into three larger rooms. New windows have been installed in much of the building, and the old skylight had been removed.

After the new auditorium was erected in 1961 the old gym was used for extra classrooms, by the athletic department for wrestling and track practice, and a library. The gym was restored back to its original state (with original wooden floor and without the balcony) in 1999.

Re-organization was gradual process that began in the 1950’s. Changes in the education methods, teacher certification, better transportation are some of the reasons for the interest in consolidation. The closing of the rural schools and the influx of students into Willow LAke district caused the old facilities to bulge at the seams. The process of district reorganization was completed in 1963. The district was named Willow Lake School District No. 67 and includes the town of Willow Lake and 8 1/2 surrounding townships.

In 1966 a full year Kindergarten program was made possible with the sue of federal funds. Until 1981, the district rented the Willow Lake Clinic building for the kindergarten and special education classes.

Over the past 30 years, the existing buildings have been remodeled and the new ones constructed to accommodate the changes in education and enrollment.

A wooden structure to house the shop for Vocational Agriculture program was the first new building added. It was built in 1952, enlarged in 1957, vacated by the Vo-Ag program in 1969 (when a modern steel building was constructed south of the grade school playground) and used by the music department for several years.

Increased enrollment brought the Hot Lunch program into being in the early 1950’s. The Hot Lunch rooms have been located on the second floor and in the basement of the old grade building, in the auditorium, and in the multi-purpose room.

The new students not only had to be fed, but they needed a reliable mode of transportation to and from school. The district started its first system of busing in 1955 with two busses. In 1957, a modern bus garage and shop was built in the western part of the town.

In 1957, the Home Economics Department was transferred to a rural school house that had been purchased and moved to a location just south of the the high school. It was remodeled into cooking and sewing areas. When the auditorium was built, the building was moved 1/2 block north and set on a full basement. It was used until 1981.

In 1959, a bond issue was passed to build an auditorium. This was a joint project with the city of Willow Lake. The old Woodman Hall has been torn down, and the auditorium was built south of the high school. The steel structure has a brick entrance hall on the west side, bleachers on each side of the playing floor, a stage, locker rooms, restrooms,furnace room, and kitchen area. The building was first used for ball games in 1961. in 1991 the building was remodeled to remove the asbestos and install folding bleachers on both sides of the floor.

In 1971, bids were let for a Science Laboratory and Multi-purpose room. The structure was added to the south side of the existing building. The science room was furnished with the latest equipment and has a raised student seating area. The Multi-purpose room has an adjoining kitchen, restrooms and shower and is used as the lunchroom and for meetings.

The need for a new elementary building to replace the structure built in 1909 was long apparent. In August of 1979, there was a bond issue for $520,000 to construct an addition to house the  elementary program, the Home Economics and Music departments, administrative offices, and a teacher’s workroom. The building was dedicated on February 8,1981.

In 1999, the latest addition to the school was dedicated. The addition, which was built between the school and the auditorium, provides the modern technology needed to give our students the best possible education. At present, there are two rooms of computer labs besides two carts of laptop computers. Another room, the AV room, is a two-way interactive learning center which connects several schools including South Dakota State University.

A group of interested and willing persons decided in 2002, to remodel the old wooden Ag Shop, north of the school, into a wellness and fitness center. Thus was formed a Willow Lake Community Wellness Center with board members. All persons of the community may buy memberships to use the facility, when desired. It has become very beneficial for sports training, everyday good health and rehabilitation for people of all ages in which to exercise.

Due to the decrease in pupil enrollment, the Willow Lake Pirate athletic program opted to join the Clark Comets in a mutual school co-operative. This started taking place in August 2008. The Clark-Willow Lake teams are now known as the Cyclones with black, green and silver as chosen colors.

The school board voted unanimously in 2009 to start a four-day school week. Pupils may come in on Fridays for extra help, if needed.

In 2010, after many discussion and meetings, it was voted to put down a new wooden floor in the auditorium. Funds were raised by fund-raising projects, community donations and gifts from the alumni.

Our Willow Lake School system continues to provide very modern and up-to-date education and opportunities for all students attending school here.

Like the pioneers who founded the little town up by the lake, today’s residents of Willow Lake and surrounding communities know that a good school is a source of pride for the students, their parents, the teachers and the entire community.