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November 9, 1995

Rose Hill School, the little one-room schoolhouse on the grounds of our wonderful Cherokee Strip Museum, is 100 years old this fall and plans are being made to celebrate that anniversary. It is a birthday worth noting.

Records that remain from all of Noble county's dependent school districts are now in the care of the county clerk's office, and thanks to some diligent research by Roni Coldiron and her staff at the courthouse, I have a few facts to share with you about Rose Hill's beginning.

The school was established May 22, 1894, but the first term was not held until the 1895-96 school year, when this area was still part of Oklahoma Territory. Statehood was not conferred until 1907. Officially, Rose Hill was known as District 32. The legal description of the district, meaning the area it embraced, was from the center of Sec. 15-Twp. 22N-R1W 3 miles south, east 2 1/2 miles, north 3 miles, and west 2 1/2 miles. The first teacher hired for the school was Tina Fairbanks, and she received the magnificent sum of $25 per month. It was comparable to the amount most rural teachers were paid at that time.

The old school was closed after the 1943-44 school year. The teacher at that time was Mrs. Creta Mitchell, and her salary was $125 per month -- also pretty typical for that era, but still not really a handsome recompense. Mrs. Mitchell taught grades one through eight, as her predecessors had done.

Consolidation of districts and improved transportation systems spelled the end of Rose Hill and its counterparts throughout Oklahoma. Rose Hill was consolidated with the Perry school district and the building became the property of that district. Many surplus building like Rose Hill were retained and used for community meetings. That's what was done at Rose Hill. Among several groups that met there was the Rose Hill 4-H Club which became a prize-winning, blue ribbon organization. Like the school itself, however, Rose Hill 4-H Club has now passed out of existence.

Thanks to the care provided for the old building by residents of the Rose Hill community and the Perry district, the white frame structure survived in good shape. It was acquired by the Noble County Historical Society even before the Cherokee Strip Museum was built in 1967. The building was stored temporarily on grounds of the Perry Airport, north of the city, until July 27, 1970, when it was moved to the museum site.

The school then was thoroughly renovated from its steeplelike bell tower to its foundation, and it was completely furnished just as it had been when the last classes were held there, 26 years before the building arrived at the museum to become an integral part of the artifacts on permanent display. Student desks and the teacher's desk were in place. A roll-down canvas curtain hung over a platform at the front of the classroom and advertisements for several pioneer businesses were painted on it. A stove that burned wood or coal was still in working order, as was the upright piano.

Today, Rose Hill is a major attraction at the museum.. Schools from throughout Oklahoma send busloads of young students here each weekday to show them how children of Cherokee Strip pioneers learned the three R's, plus many laudable virtues -- things like patriotism, discipline, responsibility, self-reliance, morality and consideration of others. Perhaps in the old days a few of the friskier boys would dunk the hair braids of some unsuspecting girls in their inkwells, but I'm not sure if that activity is covered in today's recreation of pioneer times.

Rose Hill is totally booked for the use of students from around the state every day throughout the school year and the youngsters have found it to be an exciting adventure. They are encouraged to wear clothing like that of pioneer children and their classes are structured much like those of 100 years ago. During recess, they use some of the restored antique playground equipment on the grounds there.

The full-time teacher for Rose Hill is Mrs. Linda Stevens. Peggy Haxton, president of the Noble County Historical Society, is the substitute teacher and generally serves one day each week. "A day at Rose Hill School" is eagerly anticipated by those lucky enough to experience it.

Sometime next March the local historical society will stage some kind of event to call attention to Rose Hill's 100th anniversary. Watch for news of that celebration and plan to take part in it. Maybe they'll let you ride on some of the playground equipment, or bring an apple for the teacher.

This is an addendum to Tuesday's column about Operation Blessing and its mission in our community. In addition to the workers named in that piece, we should have included Mrs. Earl Nicewander and Mrs. Merle Hasenfratz, two tireless staff members. Dixie Nicewander has been part of the project since its beginning some 20 years ago. Also, the name of the manager of the women's department is Evelyn Brown, wife of Dr. Art Brown, who manages the men's department.