By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN School days are over for the old grade school, but the memories will be shared for generations (click here for fond memories).
Holy Trinity Elementary School in Winsted was called a “grand school building, the pride of the town,” by the Lester Prairie News following its dedication in 1908.
For 100 years it served Holy Trinity Parish as its grade school, but for the last four years, the school has stood empty and unused, while the parish has waited for the funding needed to tear it down.
Just recently, through some very generous anonymous donations, enough money has been raised to move forward with the project, according to Holy Trinity Pastor, Father Tony Hesse.
Without any unforeseen complications, the building should be completely removed and the tunnel linked to the high school filled in by June, Hesse said.
The future of the old grade school became final March 2006, when the building process began on the new Holy Trinity Elementary School. It had been decided that upgrades to the older building, to keep it functional and to meet present codes, would be too costly.
Once the new school was completed November 2006, part of the original plan was to tear down the old school building, to allow for additional parking and an area to pick up and drop off students, but the funds have not been available until now.
A number of steps have already been taken to prepare the building for the wrecking crew, including the removal of asbestos. Last week, the school’s cornerstone was removed and will be placed by the entrance of the new elementary school.
Right now the only thing the parish needs to begin is permission from the bishop and the Diocese of New Ulm’s priest council to remove the building, according to Hesse.
The building, which originally cost $30,000 to build, will need more than twice that amount to be taken down, according to Hesse.
Grade school changed with the times
In order to keep up with the times, the old grade school building went through many changes over the years.
Originally, the brick, two-story building with a full basement was not only a school, but built large enough to provide a home for the Franciscan nuns who taught there one side of the building was a convent, the other side classrooms.
On the first floor, on the convent side of the grade school, there was a chapel, living room and entrance way with a small room to entertain guests. On the upper floor there were two bedrooms with bunkbeds, and a small room used as a study room to do school work.
On the lower level or basement, was a kitchen, dining room and bathroom with two tubs.
Until 1953, when the first lay teacher, Melinda Kappel, was hired, nuns and priests were the only teachers at the school.
By 1957 the conditions in both the grade school and the convent had become very crowded and plans were set in motion to build a new convent, separate from the grade school.
When the new convent was completed in the spring of 1958 and the nuns moved out of the grade school building, Jack Littfin of Winsted, a 1957 Holy Trinity graduate; and his father, John L. Littfin (Jack senior), were hired to convert the convent portion of the grade school into classrooms.
The new classrooms were ready when school opened in 1959.
It was about the same time that the school acquired a sprinkler system. For economic reasons, the attic and roof on the grade school were replaced with a flat roof.
“The attic was huge. There was a stage area up there with roll-up scenes that could be dropped down for performances,” Don Guggemos, former Winsted mayor and 1952 Holy Trinity graduate, said. “To add a sprinkler system in the attic and reshingle the roof, which was 35 to 40 feet high, would have been a big expense.”
The Fasching brothers were hired to remove the roof. To pay them for their labor, the Faschings received the lumber from the attic and roof which was enough to build a barn, according to Guggemos.
When the roof was taken off of the old grade school, its appearance changed significantly.
A tunnel connecting the grade school and the high school was built in 1965 and was ready for the fall of the 1966 school year.
One hundred years of sweet memories
There are so many memories people have shared about attending school in the old grade school building.
A number of Holy Trinity families like the Littfin’s have had four generations attend school there in preparation for high school.
The following are some memories of former students who attended Holy Trinity grade school in the old building:
Jack Littfin remembers as a sixth grader, climbing into the attic of the grade school.
“We weren’t supposed to go up there, but if you would go up through the attic, you could climb up a ladder to an observation platform, and look out of the cupola and see the whole town. You could see for miles,” he said.
Helen (Sterner) Guggemos of Winsted, class of 1952, recalls taking music lessons at the school.
“I remember taking piano lessons from Sr. Maureen, OSF, for many years. Up through the mid-1950s, the convent was the front half of the building. The piano lesson room was on the main level of the convent, towards the front of the building, just inside the front entrance door. Sr. Maureen was a kind, knowledgeable teacher,” Guggemos said.
Tom Wiemiller of Winsted, a 1961 graduate, attended school at Holy Trinity when most of the teachers were still nuns.
“I think you have one favorite teacher, and mine was my second grade teacher, Sr. Conrad. She was funny, and a good teacher,” Wiemiller said.
Rosie Hertel of Winsted is not only a 1970 Holy Trinity graduate, but has been teaching at Holy Trinity School for 36 years.
Her school memories go back to 1958 and her first year of school at Holy Trinity.
“I was in the first grade with 62 other students, all sitting in our wooden desks with wooden runners. We were pretty much wall-to-wall desks and students. Sister DeChantal (later known as Sister Catherine Mary) had all of those students in one class,” Hertel recalled.
Cathy Millerbernd of Winsted is a 1982 Holy Trinity graduate and she is the current Holy Trinity Elementary School principal.
Millerbernd recalls her years as a student attending the old grade school.
“I remember using the small storage spaces under the basement steps for study areas. The teachers would send small groups of students to these areas to wok outside of the classroom. I also remember the boiler room being the teachers’ lounge. We always wondered what happened behind that big heavy door in the basement,” Millerbernd said.
Joe Scherer of Howard Lake, a 1997 Holy Trinity graduate, remembers having Mass practice on the main level of the elementary school, with Lavon Kielkucki leading the group in song.
“We knew we had made it to the big time in fifth and sixth grade when we were able to sit on the steps going up to the third floor. The kindergarten through fourth grade had to sit on the floor,” he said.
Sarah (Bisping) Fasching of Winsted, class of 2000, remembers the original architecture the wooden null posts, cloak rooms with hooks for each student to hang their coats and gym bags, the chalk boards with the wooden ledge, and the woodwork, which was beautifully done.
“One of my favorite memories of elementary school was in kindergarten,” Fasching said. “Ms. Hertel was the best storyteller when she read books to us.”