by Cori Hilsgen – [email protected]
As new construction connecting the All Saints Academy school building (formerly the St. Joseph Laboratory School) to the St. Joseph Catholic Church is taking place, St. Joseph residents are taking time to reflect on the many purposes the school building has served throughout the years.
St. Joseph Area Historical Society members Ellie Studer and Andy Loso recalled several shared memories.
Studer has lived in St. Joseph all of her life and graduated with the eighth-grade class in 1947.
“The building served so many purposes,” Studer said. “The basement was a plus.”
Studer recalled the school served as a gathering space for many reasons. Some of them included Saturday pingpong games in the basement and basketball games upstairs. She said many Halloween parties and wedding and funeral dinners were served there. The Christian Mothers and Young Ladies Civility group, which Studer said was like youth group, also met there.
“There was a skating rink between the church and the school,” Studer said.
When Studer was in high school, she was a pin setter for the four-lane bowling alley that was located where the current school library/computer lab is. Studer said she thought she was paid 10 cents per game to set up pins.
Loso, the current parish custodian and the new vice president of the St. Joseph Area Historical Society, said the building has hosted many events.
“From the beginning until at least the 70s or 80s – some would argue longer or shorter – the building has been a community center,” Loso said. “It has hosted hundreds, if not thousands, of funeral dinners, Fourth-of-July chicken dinners, Knights of Columbus breakfasts, wedding and anniversary dinners, craft fairs, Halloween parties, visits from Santa and the Easter bunny. Bingo nights were also held for many years in the school dining room.”
Loso recalled how St. Joseph resident Herb Galama had told him a story about the new school. Galama had shared a story of one of the nuns needing to rescue a student who had gotten her tongue stuck on the water-pump handle when she had licked the ice. Galama was in fifth grade when the school opened and said the new school had running water, and students no longer were getting their tongues stuck on the pump handle.
Loso said the building was designated as a fallout shelter after World War II. He said rations were stored in the building, and fallout-shelter placards were hung up around the building, showing the capacity of people it could hold.
He said at one time a marquee was added over the northeast door of the school, announcing the plays and movies that were to be shown. Ticket windows were also installed in each of the north stair wells.
“Upstairs, above the curtain, is a large screen which the movies were shown on,” Loso said. “Up in the ‘crow’s nest’ the steel film vault is still in the wall, along with the steel fire door which was to protect the reels in case of fire. The red lights that once lit the area so you could see the film and yet see your way to the bathroom were there until recently when the ceiling was upgraded.”
Loso said many people came to watch a play or see a movie. He was told by local resident Bill Wasner that boys who were bored with the movie or play might have sneaked out on the roof to throw snowballs down at passing trucks.
“This building served as the community center of this town, long before community center was a common phrase,” Loso said.
The parish purchased the public School District 9 building and began a parochial school called St. Joseph’s Parochial School, after a ruling by the Minnesota attorney general in 1914 that the wearing of religious garb by teachers while teaching in the public schools was unlawful.
The All Saints Academy school building was constructed in 1927. According to Idelia Loso’s book, “St. Joseph: Preserving a Heritage,” the cost of the 104-x-102-foot, two-story, brown brick, colonial-style building was almost $95,000.
The school building included a large dining hall, kitchen, meeting rooms and classrooms on the first floor. The second floor included more classrooms and a central area with an auditorium, with seating capacity for 600.
After much discussion, a full basement was put in at the time of construction. The basement was built for recreational activities and future classrooms. In 1935, bowling alleys were installed in the basement. Local residents such as Studer were paid to set the bowling pins up.
In 1950, the bowling alleys were removed and converted into five classrooms. A new roof was put on and the schoolyard was fenced in during the 1952-53 school year.
Beginning in 1952, the school served as a laboratory school for students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. Elementary education majors from the colleges obtained their practical teacher-training experience in the school.
During 1961–66, the stage was rebuilt and a complete lighting system was installed. After that, many plays were produced and movies were shown on the stage. The two north stairwells currently have wall indentations that originally served as ticket booths.
Grades seven and eight were discontinued in 1968, and a Parish School Board was started in 1969. Kindergarten began at the school in 1973.
The name of the school was changed to the St. Joseph Laboratory School in 1970, and just recently the name of the school was changed to All Saints Academy, reflecting the merging of area Catholic schools. The preschool program was added in 1998.
The highest enrollment at the school was 438 students in 1964-65. Current enrollment is 157 students and includes preschool through sixth grade.