Students leave the Chariton Middle School after classes had ended for the day on Thursday.
I had an opportunity to talk about Lucas County history with two classes of seventh-graders at the Middle School yesterday, thanks to their teacher, Laura Engelhardt, and as tends to happen, learned at least as much from the students as they may have from me.
The students were lively, engaged, polite and very bright --- so it was lots of fun, too. If you're ever invited to do something similar, for heaven's sake do it.
It was gratifying. too, to find out that more than half the students remembered their visits as fourth-graders to the historical society's museum campus. Those visits have been a rite of spring in Chariton for many years --- all fourth-graders in the district spend a May morning with us before enjoying a sack lunch on the grounds.
The challenge was to figure out a way to cover lots of ground in half an hour --- leaving 20 minutes or so for students to talk back and ask questions.
I ended up dividing our county's history into three broad economic and social eras, each symbolized by a familiar building --- the courthouse (and its predecessors) for the 60 years or so from from first settlement forward when agriculture was king; the Hotel Charitone, for the overlapping era, roughly 1880 into the 1930s, when the coal industry combined with farming to create an economic powerhouse; and the vast Hy-Vee Perishables Distribution Center for the post-World War II era when "city" jobs like those offered by Hy-Vee, Johnson Machine Works and others took up the employment slack as farms became larger and coal vanished.
The Charitone also was an obvious symbol for renewal as the county moves into its fourth 50 years, when these guys will have opportunities to become active stakeholders.
That format also gave me an opportunity to ask a couple of questions. I wondered how many of the students lived in the country or on farms --- roughly half in both sessions; how many had heard of a family member who worked as a coal miner --- only one in each session, not surprising for an industry that had vanished before they were born; and how many had family members who worked for Hy-Vee --- again, more than half in each session.
I forgot to ask the morning session about this, but more than half in the larger afternoon session raised hands when I asked if they hoped to live and work in Lucas County after completing their educations. Plans, obviously, will change between now and then, but that was encouraging.
I found, among the students, a few who actually know who John L. Lewis was and a couple of Hotel Charitone scholars, too. When I mentioned that after another year the students would be moving into a high school built in 1923, a student asked, "Wasn't the Charitone built in 1923, too?" Immediate gold star.
One student was especially interested in Piper's, others in Oakley and after I fumbled a question about the Cinder Path, a student came to my rescue.
Someone asked, when was the Cinder Path --- Iowa's first Rails to Trails project --- built? Oops. Then Dwaine Clanin's grandson, one of the seventh-graders, provided the correct answer. Dwaine, of Russell, was instrumental in developing the path and obviously his family has been doing a good job of passing on family history. But I had no way of knowing a grandson was in the room to help out.
All in all, it was a great way to spend a day. Now it's back to coping with adults.