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story.lead_photo.caption Sally Carroll/McDonald County Press Volunteers of the New Bethel School Preservation Association recently painted the walls, bringing the old schoolhouse a new, fresh look. Renovation work continues on the project.

A seven-year commitment to restoring an old schoolhouse is coming closer to reality with each paint stroke. The labor of love has proven to be a large undertaking for volunteers who are restoring the New Bethel School, just three miles west of Anderson.

The building, which served as a school from 1915 to 1948, is an old treasure that volunteers are bringing to new life.

For information on joining the association, volunteering or making a donation, contact Karen Almeter at or 417-845-6855.

On a recent workday this fall, volunteers painted the walls and ceiling. The association also celebrated its first pumpkin painting event, with children enjoying the craft and playing games of long ago.

Gallons and gallons of paint have helped preserve the school, along with installing new doors and creating a new porch. Volunteers continue working on the project, in hopes of full restoration. A nonprofit group, New Bethel School Preservation Association, was established in 2011, in part, to see the renovation project through.

Organizers already utilize the early 20th century school for a spring, living history demonstration event, as well as educational classes such as soap making and sewing.

Association president Karen Almeter said the journey has been fulfilling, but long.

"Fourteen of the 28 windows were totally rebuilt," she said, citing just one example of renovating an older building properly.

Over time, and with wear and tear, buildings settle and change.

"With an old building, nothing is plumb, level or square."

Skilled Volunteers Needed

As volunteers find themselves knee-deep in work, they look to the community and those skilled in particular areas who are willing to give of their time to assist.

Putting up blackboards and replacing the partition between the two classrooms are tasks for which volunteers are needed, Almeter said.

Nineteen old desks, which will complete the school, are in desperate need of repair. The association seeks someone skilled who has the time to properly refinish the desks, she said.

The floor still needs to be sanded and stained. New window and door trim need to be installed.

Volunteers have removed damaged plaster, replaced damaged floor joists, put in new flooring, repaired the ceiling with dry-wall, replaced window sills and rebuilt or restored windows.

Those close to the cause have completed many tasks on the building that was originally constructed with fieldstone, which was gathered by local farmers.

Association members are motivated to recreate the school that housed two teachers in two classrooms for students in grades one through eight.

Almeter has been meticulous in gathering historical information about the school. She has documented stories from former students of the school, recording its interesting and rich history. Photos and stories, as well as a grade card from 1948, provide insight.

Some students were 16-, 17- or 18-years-old. Why did it take them so long to complete their education through eighth grade? Many were taken out of school for various lengths of time because their help was needed on the family farm, Almeter said.

Interesting stories peppered throughout the years offer one more piece of history to the landscape. Perhaps one of the most interesting stories is that of a fire that broke out. One former student remembered, as a child, being passed through the windows of the school during that fire.

The building was a sort of center for that area during its time. Others remember walking through the snow to attend a Christmas program.

The former building was closed after school district consolidation efforts moved the children to Anderson. Through the years, the old school remained closed.

When the organization purchased the building and the one acre that accompanied it, volunteers had quite a bit of work ahead of them.

Looking to the future

As volunteers look to 2019, they seek new members to the association, any donations, dues, and a volunteer association secretary.

Anyone is welcome to join the association and donate any amount of money or labor at any time, Almeter said.

Dues are $25 for a family and $15 for an individual.

Volunteers also are considering some other touches to the building which has never had any heat or electricity. Volunteers are considering placing a wood stove in the school for heat and for cooking. Though the school didn't have one, volunteers would like to add a historical one that will fit with the period of time.

To raise money, volunteers also are preparing for a benefit lasagna dinner in February. Volunteers make six lasagnas or more to feed approximately 60 people as a fundraiser.

Items also are under consideration for the Old Time Craft Festival on May 11. Volunteers like to make and display items that represent that time frame in history and that are popular with buyers. While others are demonstrating such tasks as blacksmithing, making lye soap, spinning and quilting, a general store features hand-crafted items of the early 20th century.

Association members are also hoping to expand publicity efforts about their renovation project. They want others to know they are working to save a piece of McDonald County history for others to appreciate and enjoy, while gaining an education about how folks lived then.

Though it's taken volunteers longer than they expected, Almeter says she can see the light at the end of the tunnel for completion.

What drives her forward?

"Sheer determination," she said. "We will finish it."

General News on 12/13/2018

Print Headline: Rustic Restoration: Old Schoolhouse Getting New Life

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