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By Micah Drew

Sunset School Holds Centennial Celebration


Micah Drew, Pathfinder

Mary Sheron takes a picture of her class photo from 1954. Sheron and her sister Eloise each attended Sunset School for eight years.

GREENOUGH- A blown up black and white photograph depicting the Sunset School class in 1956 hung from the railing outside the schoolhouse.

An elderly couple approached the picture, the man pushed his wife Mary in a wheelchair.

"Mary, that's you," said her husband Dennis Sheron, pointing to the upper right corner.

Her younger vision stood in the back row of the photograph, next to the teacher, Mrs. Mary Ann Beard Derrickson. Fifteen students made up the school in 1954. Her younger sister, Eloise Morris (now McNally) sat in the front row, one person to the left.

"That's me." She said, leaning forward in her wheelchair. "This was the year we had the most kids we ever had here."

The school was so big that year because a barite mine opened up nearby and miners and their families moved to the area from Butte.

"Let me tell you something, some of those boys were real tough," said Sheron with a wink.

Sheron and her sister attended Sunset Elementary for eight years each. After graduating from the Greenough school, they were bused 80 miles each day to attend high school in Missoula.

Sheron remembers not being very prepared for high school-Sunset School had different teachers about every year so there were periodic gaps in curriculum.

Much more clearly, Sheron remembers her teachers at Sunset. There was the good, like Mrs. Derrickson from Ovando who was "one of the most inspirational teachers."

"She was musical," recalled Sheron. "She was young and energetic and she really had us movin' and groovin' ya know?"

There were also less fond memories of teachers, like Mrs. Jocclyn, who had long nails and would scrape them on the chalkboard to get the class' attention.

"She taught wrong too," said Sheron. "We got to verbs and adverbs and she got them mixed up! I never did figure that out."

Sheron was one of more than a hundred former students and teachers who attended Sunset School's 100 year celebration July 1 and shared their memories.

* * *

"I can't imagine any other place I'd rather teach," said Toni Hatten, the current supervising teacher at Sunset. "Some folks still wonder: Why are we still open? Why do we exist? I believe that this school, Sunset School, is as relevant in the 21st century as it was over a hundred years ago"

When Hatten first started teaching at Sunset six years ago, she was the teacher of a single student, Amber Leetch. Since then, enrollment has climbed enough to warrant hiring a second full time teacher for the first time in "half a generation or so," according to Missoula County Superintendent of Schools Erin Lipkind.

While the number of students has fluctuated over the years Hatten has taught-from one to three to nine to three to eleven-one has always stayed with the school: Lucas Nygard.

During the celebration, Nygard, who just finished fourth grade, took some time to interview the oldest alumni in attendance.

Marvin Troutwine, 90, rolled up to the reunion in the 1921 Studebaker that his family drove when he attended Clearwater School in the 1930s. The Clearwater School was a one-room schoolhouse located near the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers.

Currently the Clearwater Schoolhouse makes up half of the existing Sunset School-it was moved around 1955 and has served as a teacherage and additional classroom over the years.

Nygard asked what it was like when Troutwine went to school.

"I walked three miles to school," Troutwine said.

Troutwine told Nygard about bringing deer steaks fried in tallow for lunch most days.

And, "always had milk, everyone had a cow," said Troutwine.

From the driver's seat of his car he explained the perils of putting milk in a jar, screwing on the lid and then putting it in his pocket upside down-after a three-mile walk to school, there wasn't much milk left to drink.

* * *

"It's just so fun seeing everyone," said Eloise McNally, one of the driving forces behind the reunion.

Two of the three graduates of Mcnally's 1958 class were in attendance-John Kreis was the other.

"It's really good," said Kreis, looking around at the crowd gathered at the school grounds. "It's so important to maintain these connections."

But, "I thought the school room would be bigger," he said laughing. "I don't see how we got 12 kids in that room."

This was an oft repeated sentiment throughout the afternoon---"It seems so much smaller now!"

On and off, between trips to the potluck buffet line and hugs with old classmates, attendees would go to the microphone to share memories from Sunset.

Pete Lindbergh shared a story from his time in the '70s when the Sunset bathroom was accidentally set on fire by a student.

Gail Vannoy, a third generation Sunset student who graduated in 1974, shared a brief history of the school, written down in letters given to her mother. The letters gave some insight as to when the school was opened, when various buildings were moved and how many students attended in the early years.

Hatten laughed and cried as she listened to former students and faulty share their memories of Sunset.

"Your attendance gives us testament that this school, Sunset School, is as relevant and loved today as it was so many years ago.

Micah Drew, Pathfinder

Marvin Troutwine, 90, shares stories of his time at Clearwater School with current Sunset teacher Toni Hatten. Troutwine attended Clearwater School in the 1930s.

“Sunset will shine tonight,

Sunset will shine

Won’t she look real nice

Dressed up so fine.

Sunset will shine tonight

Sunset will shine

When the sun goes down and the moon comes up

Sunset will shine”

~An old school song from the 1930s


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