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Harrold School Memories - Dakota Retrospect

The Harrold school building, sitting on the east side of Harrold, will be 100 years old in 2021. It is still an imposing-looking building, visible from one end of town to the other. Of course that is only six blocks, but still… My first memory of the school was when I entered kindergarten. My mom led me by the hand up the long sidewalk, turning right and entering through the door that had ‘Girls’, carved into the granite above it. I remember the smell of fresh paint and varnish, every step fresh with battleship grey paint, every banister, wooden floor and desk shining with its annual coat of varnish. That was the door we went in for the first few years because that was the side our classroom was on. We boys thought we were really something when in the 3rd grade we could start going in the door on the left marked ‘Boys’.

The building is just over 2 ½ stories tall, with the lower floor being four foot submerged, so the windows were level with the ground. The most popular room in the whole school was the lunchroom on the bottom floor as you entered the ‘Girls’ door. Noon time started with the lower grades lining up in the hall, then marching down the stairs to stand in line at the lunchroom door. The upper grades followed suit, until all twelve grades had been fed. Memories of chili, cornbread, chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, all kinds of casseroles filling our plates, with many kids going back for seconds, sometimes thirds. Unlimited milk, butter, peanut butter and honey topped off the menu, with chocolate milk on Fridays.

Each side of the building had a dressing room on the lower level, and in the middle of the building the gym was dug deep into the ground. A stage occupied the west end of the gym, balconies lined both sides, with windows providing daylight from above the balconies. The basketball floor was beautiful with bright strips marking free-throw lanes and out-of-bounds, which was about two feet from the walls along the side. Out –of-bounds on the west end was the stage, and on the east end the wall. The balconies hung over the playing floor, and a jump shot from the side was usually blocked by our “extra” player, the balcony. Plays, graduation and concerts were all held in that little gym.

The school held a carnival each fall to raise money for extracurricular events, so the high school, located on the top floor, was converted into a collection of carny booths, including a large bingo table, fish ponds, ring tosses, and cake walks. Confetti and streamers littered the whole school before the night was over.

Moving upstairs for junior high and high school was a culture shock. The study hall ran from front to back, with windows on the west and north sides. The front half of the hall was filled with assigned desks, and the east side was used in part as an extra classroom. When the bell rang between classes students would file in and out of the study hall, going from one class to another.

The school was the center of activity for the little town, and even though the enrollment kept slipping, school spirit was always there. Basketball teams in 1952 and again in 1992 won State Championships. Students graduated, went to war and to work all over the world, many excelling in their field, always proud of their Harrold High School heritage.

Dennis Marso and I graduated from college and returned to Harrold to teach for many years. I think we both realized that we had received a valuable education and had great teachers in that tiny school, and wanted to help our students grow also.

The school has been closed for many years, the freshly painted steps and the shiny varnished floors are now dull with dust. The building is wasting away in its old age. It is hard to see that happen, there is so much history connected to its classrooms and hallways. There have been so many lives changes by entering the doors marked ‘Boys’ or ‘Girls’ of the Harrold School.

Gary Heintz owns an insurance agency in Pierre and writes a column for the Capital Journal. He is also co-producer of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival held every September in Ft. Pierre.