An old saying: "One picture is worth a thousand words." Sometimes, a thousand memories.
The large photo came in the mail in a plain, brown envelope. The subject was not people, animals or even scenery. Just a large, sturdy, aging brick building. It was the old school in Ronan. My high school "alma mater."
Warm and sometimes hurtful memories came flooding back as I looked at the picture. The many windows of home room and study hall whispered, "remember … remember."
Listening closely, in memory I could hear the thump of a basketball and rumble of running feet in the gymnasium addition at the east end. The shouts of laughter near the exit of the metal, circular fire escape on the west side, as the squealing girls flew out, skirts flying, while boys shouted and whistled. (This tube resembled the modern, round passageway between space vehicles.)
The landmark building gave 80 years of service housing schools before it was demolished in the spring of 2002. Through many decades, fierce winter storms and an earthquake the old structure had sheltered thousands of youngsters from shy first-graders to confident high school seniors and their dreams, heartbreaks and hopes.
To small town or country kids, transferring to the many-room institution was a huge jump. A comparison: My school in Pablo was housed in two buildings with two classrooms in each and two grades in each room.
Students did not move around and stayed in one familiar classroom for a couple of years. (Sometimes longer if it came to pass they didn't pass.)
My big brother, Wallace, was several years ahead of me and had graduated from high school before I started. While he was attending the "big school" in Ronan, I had been there a few times on special occasions such as basketball games or programs.
As my freshman year and the transfer to Ronan approached, I became nervous. How, I wondered, could a person find their way around in such a huge building? There were so many rooms! Subjects were taught in various areas from the basement to the third floor.
Finding the location of the correct room in Ronan initially seemed as difficult as finding my place in a sea of desks as a first-grader in Pablo.
Instead of one teacher, there were half a dozen, each one on double or triple duty, teaching a variety of subjects. This system could make life even more confusing to green freshmen. In my time, instructors ranged all the way from the easy-going, friendly athletic coach, "Cap," to the stern and firm boss of the school, "Prof. Polley."
My first attempts and dreams of a career as a writer and journalist began in that old school. I was a fledgling reporter, then later editor of the school paper, the "Pow Wow." (Is it still published?)
The addition of a gym at the east end was the scene of many victories, defeats and dreams that were shattered. I only had one year of playing on the "first string" of the basketball team, when girl's athletics, throughout the country, were canceled by male politicians. (A word to wise women. Watch it. Chauvinists are gradually making in-roads against female freedoms again.)
Only a thousand memories? The stories of those who passed through the school, if published, would fill a library.
The large photo of the old, beloved, brick building and landmark was sent by Angie Read, another loyal Ronan alumni. The 80-year history, researched and written by Gale Decker, a 1963 alumnus, was also included.
His article begins:
"Construction on the old, brick building began late in the spring of 1920. $40,000 in bonds were sold, allowing for the beginning of the basement. Total cost of the first project was $100,000."
For the rest of the story and your own photo, contact Angie Read at 604 Terrace Lake R.W., Ronan, MT 59864-2409 or by calling (406) 676-4255.
(It's worth a few bucks to revive priceless memories.)
Evelyn King is a retired Missoulian reporter. Her column appears every Sunday in the Territory section. Reach her by writing: Evelyn King, Missoulian, P.O. Box 8029, Missoula, MT 59807.