‘It was a good school,’ says former student of Bruderthal School

The unique home of Mike and Coleen Ball of Hillsboro was once the Bruderthal School located in the present-day Marion Reservoir area.

It’s history can be traced back to the lives of those who established the Bruderthal community in Marion County.

In fall 1873, brothers Peter and Jacob Funk bought a portion of land along the North Cottonwood River. Immigrants from Prussia, South Russia and central Poland were among those establishing the Bruderthal community.

The name Bruderthal is translated as “brother’s valley.” The community continued to develop north of the Canada community.

Ray Funk of Hillsboro has memories of being a student in the schoolhouse that now belongs to the Balls.

“I attended fourth through seventh grade at the Bruderthal School,” Funk said. “After the seventh grade, we moved to town-to Hillsboro.”

Students in grades one through eight attended the two-classroom school after it was built in 1931.

Funk recalled the history of an earlier school for members of the Bruderthal community.

“The church used to meet in the old school,” Funk said. “Originally, they met in an all-stone building-that’s the original Funk home built back in 1873. Back in the 1880s, they held church in the first school building.”

Eventually, the community tore down the first school and erected a church on that spot.

“That school was torn down, and they disassembled it,” Funk said. “Then, the new school was built a mile north” and ready for students in 1931.

Funk, 80, was born in 1924 and lived on the family farm 21/2 miles southeast of the school.

“The school was new when we attended,” Funk said.

“I walked both ways. Then, I had a pony I rode to school some. My sister went to school there too, and we had a two-wheel cart we’d use at times. We packed a lunch, carried it with us and ate it at school.”

Funk remembers his teacher, Ted Peters, who taught all eight grades at one time.

The school had a full basement and was erected on a reinforced-cement foundation that extended 4 feet above ground level. Students climbed up the front stairs to the entry door.

“We had about eight or 10 steps to go up to the front door,” Funk said.

Students and teachers could also enter a door to the side of the front of the building-used to access the stairway to the basement and furnace room.

Today, because the tall foundation is gone, the door looks like something out of a fairy tale-it’s about half as tall as it was originally.

The boys’ cloak room was located to the right of the front entry room, opposite the girl’s cloak room. Also on the right of the entry, was a door with three steps leading down to the basement stairs.

“We played ball or whatever we could down there,” Funk said.

Outhouses served as restroom facilities, and a coal and wood-burning furnace provided warmth in the cold Kansas winters.

“There weren’t any windows on the west and east side, but the whole north side was windows,” Funk said about windows now emitting light from the east.

The reservoir eventually displaced the church and the school, a major issue for the Bruderthal community.

“Legal battles took place,” Funk said. “The church was vehemently opposed to it.”

Neither the church nor the school locations are underwater today. “The church site is right on the edge of the water,” Funk said. “The school foundation is still there. It’s just a quarter mile off the reservoir.”

Of the memories that come flooding back of his youth at the Bruderthal School, Funk said he vividly recalls the dust storms of the 1930s.

“It got so dark that we couldn’t see,” he said. “We tried to light kerosene lamps, but we finally had to close down the school and go home. We didn’t have school that day because it got so dark.”

His school-day memories attending Bruderthal are good, Funk said.

“It was a good school, and Ted Peters was a good teacher. I’m pleased to see it still serving a purpose.”

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