OTTUMWA — James Kenyon had a glint in his eye when he discussed the numerous visits he had with people from around the state.
"The pride was there and still is," said Kenyon, himself a product of a tiny high school. "Everyone had a role in a school."
Kenyon discussed his book "Echoes In the Hallways: History and Recollections of 102 Closed Iowa High Schools" during a virtual meeting with the Ottumwa Public Library's Reminisce Society Thursday.
The book, which was published in January and was the culmination of a two-year project, covers at least one closed school in each of the state's 99 counties.
"The way I chose them was if somebody answered the phone and showed some interest," he chuckled. "It took someone in those towns to organize and bring some people together so that I could visit with them. I went into these interview sessions, and I think some of them thought I was a Pulitzer writer. I was just a country kid writing about their story."
Kenyon consulted with almost 1,000 individuals for his book, which checks in at 576 pages and 1.3 inches thick. And there were some interesting nuggets among the anecdotes, notable graduates, pranks, traditions, etc., associated with each school.
For instance, Hedrick in Keokuk County had what was called a "Normal School," and the first year featured 50 students from five different states enrolled.
According to the book, Eldon High School, the Wapello County entry, closed in 1958 and helped form the current Cardinal Community School District, a merger of 19 school districts covering four counties.
The entry Troy High School, in Davis County, lists 21 service members killed in wars.
The school in the town of Lucas essentially took a senior trip the Iowa Department of Corrections would be proud of. In one day, the seniors went to Eldora to the State Training School, then drove to Fort Madison to the Iowa State Penitentiary.
The high schools featured in the Courier's coverage area are:
• Bonaparte High School (Van Buren)
• Eldon High School (Wapello)
• Fremont High School (Mahaska)
• Udell High School (Appanoose)
• Lovilia High School (Monroe)
• Bussey High School (Marion)
• Batavia High School (Jefferson)
• Troy High School (Davis)
"Some of them have had their last all-school reunions. That's what a lot of them came back for," Kenyon said. "Udell has met every year as a whole-school reunion and they meet in Centerville, even though Udell closed in the early 1960s (actually 1959). They're still coming."
Kenyon believed the novelty of the closed school is fading, and that it was important to document its history. With school consolidations common in today's era, a flashback to yesteryear was needed.
"That's the intent I had when I wrote it," he said. "Some of the schools were from the 1920s, and those communities raised a bond issue to build a new school. Sac City doesn't have a high school anymore and it's a county seat of 3,500 people. We've consolidated schools, and most had to with their rival."
The cover art for the book is of the old Quasqueton school in Buchanan County, now part of East Buchanan, which was formed in 1959. The reviews on the back of the book are from some of the state's most well-known names, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, and author Chuck Offenburger.
Kenyon, who was originally from Kansas, had five students in his graduating class, but has "adopted" Iowa as his home state. He spent 40 years as a large- and small-animal veterinarian.
"Different opportunities came along for these communities," he said. "Some burned the schools or tore them down. Some tried to convert them into businesses or apartments. Some are just beautiful buildings still standing there. Some are the biggest buildings in town, but are dated.
"It's quite a variance with what happened to these schools."
The book is available on Amazon and through other booksellers, and from Kenyon's website at www.jamesrkenyon.com. The book is also available to check out at the Ottumwa Public Library.