Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 8, 2002

Only the landscape stays the same

When I visited my hometown earlier this summer, I swung past the block where the old high school used to stand. It took my breath away to see the empty piece of ground. The school was razed over a period of several weeks in February and March, and the debris was taken away throughout the spring and early summer.

Although it made me feel empty to see the cleared land, at least it wasn't the shock the big front-page photo of the demolition in a March issue of my hometown paper had been. I was glad I wasn't there to witness the destruction.

The building had structural problems for quite some time and not much was done to fix them. At one point in the 1980s, classes were held in the basement of the Burns Methodist Church for several months while some problems were patched over. Last fall, the state fire marshal condemned the building, and the few remaining students were shipped by bus to the neighboring town for the rest of the school year.

I had a lot of memories tied up with that school, built in 1921.

My Dad, my Uncle Stan and my brother Dave graduated from high school in that building. My sister and I attended grade school classes there after the high school students started going to Peabody when the district was unified in the late 1960s. And my Mom taught in that building for more than a decade.

I attended the Burns Hornets high school basketball games when my big brother was a star player. At least, I thought he was a star. Of course, there were so few boys in the school that almost all of them had to play in order for us to even have a team. I attended the high school graduation for his class of 11. That class - the class of 1965 - was the last to graduate from Burns High School.

I remember singing Christmas songs on the old stage and learning "the new math" in Mrs. Vestring's math class. I sewed one of my first aprons in the home economics room, practiced the trumpet and then the clarinet for Mrs. Pankratz in the band room, and recited "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver" in Mr. Lunsford's English class.

In later years, I attended programs for Mom's grade school students and visited her bright, colorful classrooms to tell the students about my Peace Corps experiences. I also attended several class reunions in the old high school. Even though I didn't graduate in that building, I and the others who came after the class of 1965 were welcomed as alumni.

The old grade school building - the first consolidated grade and high school in Kansas - is still standing, serving as a museum for the town. A friend in Burns said when he looks at the museum - now the only symbol of the town's educational heritage - it is like going back in time. Without the high school in the foreground, the town must look like it did in the early part of the century when Burns had only one school building.

It's always sad to see the end of an era. A few years back, my Uncle Bob, Dad's oldest brother, was talking about the way things used to be and how they had changed.

He wistfully said, "Only the landscape stays the same."

Now even the landscape is different.

The old grade school - now the Burns Historical Museum - stands alone.
All that remains of the high school is the rubble in the foreground.

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