Take a step back in time next week as Heritage Hall in Slater reveals its latest exhibit featuring the old Slater schools.
Complete with old photographs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, the exhibit has been named “Good Old Slater School Days.” All the material for the exhibit was collected and organized by Slater Area Historical Association (SAHA) members.
The exhibit opens July 4, just in time for the Slater Fourth of July celebration. Visitors can stop by the museum, 318 First Ave., any time from 1-4 p.m. A reception will be held the following evening, July 5, from 4:30-6 p.m., with a free ice cream social. Louise O’Donnell, SAHA member, said they wanted to open the exhibit in time for the visiting Slater High School alumni to enjoy while they are in the area for their reunion, which will be held July 6.
“We’re pretty excited to have them come,” O’Donnell said. “We’re here to listen to their story.”
The exhibit is separated into decades, beginning in the early 1900s, up until the school joined the Ballard School District in 1958. An emphasis will be on the 1950s, since many former students from that era are still around and are likely to view the display. O’Donnell said rather than having only historical information about the school, most of the exhibit consists of memories and stories told by former Slater students. SAHA members hope this will make the exhibit more interesting for those viewing it, particularly alumni, who can relate to the memories shared.
One of those stories comes from a 1934 graduate who went to school during the Great Depression. O’Donnell said the former student talked about how her mother told her she would not be able to go to school one year because the family could not afford to buy her a school uniform. Instead, the woman’s mother made a suit out of a coat and the student wore it every day to school, washing it once every weekend. It was not until later in the school year that the student learned the coat had been her mother’s, who no longer had a coat to wear.
Slater School buildings a memory
Two school buildings made up the Slater school system, in addition to the many country schools scattered across the countryside. The first building was constructed in the 1890s near the Sixth Avenue and North Linn Street intersection. It was a yellow, framed wooden building that was three stories high. Approximately two decades later, in 1917, a three-story brick school building was constructed just to the north. This would become the Slater High School, with the younger elementary students attending class in the wooden building, O’Donnell said.
Elaine Weeks, Class of 1953, received a majority of her education at the Slater school. She remembers there was a small gymnasium on the bottom floor of the brick building, with a balcony for seating. An auditorium was located above the gym and the library was at the south end of the building. Various classrooms were scattered throughout the upper floors.
Each year, the junior and senior classes performed a play. Weeks said the entire class was cast in the play, and it was sometimes hard to find a play that would suit classes that only had a few students. Barb Mallon, SAHA member, said one year there were only two girls in a class, and during times of war, there were not many boys because they had been drafted before graduating.
What made the Slater schools unique, Weeks said, was the school spirit and the support from the community.
“We just had a lot of school spirit over the years,” Weeks said. “The town supported anything we did.”
This was especially evident in 1950, when the girls’ basketball team won the school’s first state tournament title.
Held at the Drake Field House, the Slater High School Hawkettes were pitted against the girls’ team from Kamrar. Weeks said community members “had a terrible time” getting tickets for the game, but many showed up to support the hometown team.
The girls played 6-on-6 basketball with a one dribble rule. Weeks said there were not many high schools at the time that played 6-0n-6 basketball.
“It was a slow, deliberate game - nothing like today,” Weeks said, who was a freshman on the team.
On the way back home after the game, Weeks said a long line of cars followed them all the way from Ankeny to Slater. A celebration was held on Main Street, complete with a band.
In 1954, the wooden building was demolished and extensions were built on either side of the high school for classrooms. Four years later, the high school was closed after it was decided to consolidate the Cambridge, Huxley, Kelley and Slater schools into what is now the Ballard School District. The high school building was used for Ballard elementary classes for a period of time, and was torn down in 2007, O’Donnell said.
“It was like a time shell when it stopped,” O’Donnell said.
The “Good Old Slater School Days” exhibit will be on display at Heritage Hall through September.
“Good Old Slater School Days” visiting hours
July 4 - 1-4 p.m.
July 5 - 4:30-6 p.m. (opening reception)
July 6, 7 - 1-4 p.m.
Thursdays - 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
or by appointment
To schedule an appointment,
call 515-480-9789 or 515-228-3293