A History of Kaleva Schools

- A speech by Cynthia Asiala to the Kaleva All School Reuion, on the 100th Anniversary of the school.

The information for this history was taken from a document written by Della Dickson, teacher and wife of Frank Dickson, KHS superintendent for several years. Della's grand-daughter Laura Rengo Dorn brought the history to the Bottle House Museum to put with the historical records. Herein are some recollections about the history of the Kaleva School as Mrs. Dickson tells it from her experience and historical facts she collected.

  • The first school in the village was built in 1904; it was a primary school with only two teachers, the cement block building burned in the fall of 1912.

  • The main part of the school was built in 1913; and in 1914 it became a K-12 graded school. However, there were only three teachers: primary, intermediate and high school.

  • The first graduating class in 1917 was comprised of four young women.

  • “As enrollment increased classes were added that students felt would help them get ahead and make the most of every opportunity.”

  • Electric lights were installed; the library was greatly increased and books were in great demand - “The books are soon worn and shabby from constant use.”

In 1933 the construction of the school gymnasium began. Mrs. Dickson tells an interesting story about that. Evidently other schools in the area were building gyms at the same time. The Kaleva folks had gone far and wide to find construction materials to use (recycle). For some reason they were told to stop construction (she says because they were ahead of other schools). Anyway the materials were hidden around town so no one would steal them.

They also needed a certain amount of money to get started on the construction. This money was raised by popular subscription since most did not want taxes increased. “A few very civic minded business men of the community gave large sums. The ladies of the community helped by putting on bake sales, dinners and shows.”

Here I want to bring up some similar instances from more recent history. In 1980 the John Makinen house made of 60,000 bottles from his pop bottling factory was for sale. Members of the Historical Society decided it would make a great home for their museum. So by subscription, enough money was raised from residents to purchase the home and move the musuem from its original home in the Dorn School. More recently in 2004, a group of citizens decided Kaleva needed a new library, fund raising started for the building and within a year the community had contributed almost $100,000 for the project. A very civic minded business family then donated $100,000 to complete the project.

Back to school history: The men of the community under Mr. Charles Dodt, secretary of the board of education gave their labor free. Mrs. Dickson comments that nothing seemed to daunt Mr. Dodt, he always figured a way out of every problem. Finding a way to get things done reminds me of Bob Rengo, a 1938 (?) Kaleva graduate, who served as mayor of Kaleva for 44 years. Bob is responsible for many of the improvements that made our town a little above others around. He was honored with the placement of a sculpture on the Centennial Walkway. Check it out here.

 

In 1934 the gym was completed. Mrs. Dickson's comments again: “It has served well its purpose, it has helped to build better bodies, better attitudes among the students and parents. It has taught some of the older Finnish people that besides hard work play is necessary in their lives.” She also describes some of the successes of the athletic programs, both girls and boys throughout the years.

In 1935 consolidation of country schools came up, but the people thought it was necessary to be free of debt. Money was again raised in many ways in lieu of raising taxes. The next part of Mrs. Dickson's history is notable because she relates the names and locations of the country schools around Kaleva:

  • The Tin Can School, 4 miles northeast of town was the first to join the consolidation.

  • The Jouppi Standard school, 4 miles northwest of town was next.

  • The Dorn School, two and a half miles southeast of town joined about the same time.

  • The Gilson school, five miles east of town then became part of the consolidation.

There was a little trouble getting the Tanner school, located about 3 miles west of town. However, the results of an election showed most people wanted to consolidate.


Of course some remember that in the 1950's the Big Four school also consolidated with Kaleva. That building was moved to the east side of school property and served as an elementary classroom and later the band room.

The enrollment so increased that it was decided to move the Dorn School building into town. Many people shook their heads and said it couldn't be done and there was no money. But again supporters felt otherwise. They bought a popcorn machine and sold popcorn at the Free Movies and at the Fair. This went on for many weeks and they made enough money to move the building.

 

That was only the first hurdle. The Dorn school was a large building covered with stucco. After much effort the movers managed to get the building out to the tarvia. The weight was so great that the rollers broke through the pavement and the men had to raise the building to get it on firm ground again. By the light of automobiles the men laid planks in front of the rollers, then when the building rolled over them the planks were picked up and laid down again. This was repeated over and over and by morning the men got the building to the athletic field, where a grass fire came up and nearly destroyed the building! It survived, was remodeled and housed the elementary grades. Finally, the board wanted a workshop and Home Ec. Classroom so they moved the Gilson School into town. Again the community raised the money and did the work. 

To read about the school from the 100th Anniversary article, click here.

The Kaleva School closed with the consolidation of Kaleva-Norman-Dickson Schools, as its still known today, in 1964. 

© 2019 by THE KALEVA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

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Kaleva, Michigan