THROW BACK THURSDAY Culver Comm High School - If these walls could talk

The very first graduating class of Culver Comm. High School at commencement, from the 1969 'Cavalcade' yearbook
Jeff Kenney
Staff Writer

It's somewhat ironic that our ongoing series of "virtual" journeys through the history of publicly-used structures in Culver would take us into the halls of the Culver Community High School at a time when concerns over its future have mounted even more than had been the case a few years ago.

It’s doubly ironic that the story we have to tell this week -- that of the origins of the present school building -- involves the closing and consolidation of several small high schools in the area and the State of Indiana in the 1960s. Add to that the fact that even those then-small schools were, really, the result of an earlier wave of consolidation which closed the doors of dozens of one-room (or in some cases, even two-story) schools throughout the townships involved, earlier in the 20th century.

Schools like Aubbeenaubee Township -- the elementary, middle, and high school in Leiters Ford -- or Monterey's all-levels school building, not to mention Culver's own elementary, junior high, and high school (all in one building in those days) came about between 1900 and the 1930s as the state pushed for an end to those one-room schools or yore. No doubt emotions ran high then as they would again in the 1960s. At least it can be said that a century ago the practical reality of it made practical sense: after all, having a one-room school every five or so miles meant that parents didn't have to drive the horse and buggy too many miles over muddy, rutted roads (or through snow) and children didn't have terribly far to walk.

The proliferation of automobiles made it easily possible to bus a child from, say, the Burr Oak area to what must then have seemed the massive Culver school that opened in 1912 on School Street and Lake Shore Drive.

The Indiana Reorganization Act of 1959, however, forced consolidation of school districts for reasons many Hoosiers clearly felt were less compelling, primarily focusing on cost savings.

Whenever one sees the word "Community" within the name of a given school corporation, it's a safe bet several schools were consolidated into it, and even if one doesn't, odds are decent they were anyway, historically speaking. One net result, from a historical perspective, is that few functioning public school buildings in Indiana are over 50 years old (one might respond that "new" buildings are a necessity to a proper education, to which I point to a campus like Culver Academies, many of whose buildings are considerably older, and obviously more aesthetically arresting than most modern school buildings, many of which could easily be confused, at first blush, for prisons or factories...but I digress).

Returning to our story: by 1960 a less-than-delighted constituency of the Aubbeenaubee Township area of Fulton County had resigned itself to the fact of consolidation itself. The question at that point was one of which direction that consolidation would take students, and Leiters Ford area residents clearly preferred (an 87 percent majority, by way of a petition circulated by the advisory committee of Aubbeenaubee Township) making the trek to Culver for school than all the way to Rochester, as they feared was the alternative.

Interesting comments in the statement released at the time by the committee include notation that "it takes at least one generation to unify a school where force was used," as well as detailed descriptions of the drawbacks to lengthy busing routes, especially during inclement weather.

In August of 1961, The Culver Citizen noted that some 120 students from Starke County's North Bend Township school -- as well as four teachers from the school -- were transferring to the Culver school district. The transfer was the result of a heated "school choice" debate (in those days before the state mandated all Hoosiers had their choice of schools, a much more recent development) which had been resolved when North Bend closed the previous fall by allowing families to choose whether to send their children to Knox, Monterey, or Culver. The closing of North Bend, it was noted, provided a significant tax savings for residents no longer required to fund the local school.

In spite of the North Bend situation, a former, full-fledged consolidation for Culver area schools was still undecided, with Starke and Fulton Counties (not surprisingly, given the redirected flow of tax dollars potentially involved) opposed such a merger.

Many Culver area residents, reported the Citizen, sought to employ the earlier Financial Reorganization Act of 1947 in order to further the proposed merger, though the state committee in charge of reorganization opposed it. Interestingly, one proposal called for the consolidation of Culver with Aubbeenaubee Twp. and Argos, something which the paper reported was voted down by an 85 percent majority.
Eventually the state's committee gave notice that consolidating Aubbeenaubee, North Bend and Culver was legal and would be effective as of December 27, 1962. "his gave Culver quite a variety of administrative heads during one school year,": which was reflected in Culver High School's 1963 "Tomahawk" (for the then-mascot of the Culver Indians) yearbook.
Although preceding the actual building reflecting the change by five years, 1963 saw the birth of Culver Community Schools, a reorganized district comprised of Aubbeenaubee, North Bend, and Union Townships (and at that point, no less than three counties, an unusual situation statewide).

By 1965, the school board was already discussing details of the pending new building, which the Citizen covered throughout the year.

One debated facet of the plans was its inclusion of a swimming pool at the new high school building, something for which students and some community organizations (such as the Culver Jaycees) expressed enthusiastic support. In fact, the school board approved inclusion of it in plans for the new building in May, 1965. A vocal contingency, however, opposed it. Specifically, a group from Aubbeenaubee Township requested the school board nix the idea due not only to the initial financial outlay to install the pool, but the ongoing cost of it maintenance, including staffing towards that end.

Eventually financial concerns won out, and the 'Swimming Cavaliers' became the stuff only of imagination.

During the summer of 1966, the school board reviewed final plans for the new high school building, with Ralph Osborn appointed the head of a school building corporation which also included Eldon Davis, Wayne Roe, Donald Taylor, W. Wayne Kline, Cecil Lucas, and Glenn Overmyer. That same summer, superintendent Frank McClane stepped down and was replaced by Robert Rust.

By December, the board had received bids for the building, and in April of 1967, the Culver Citizen ran an artist's conception of the new campus on page 1, along with a description of the building including 23 classrooms (with 10 laboratories for science, language, home economics, and business), an 800-seat auditorium, gymnasium, facilities for agriculture, industrial arts, drafting, music, art and ceramics, and of course a cafeteria. A library providing for 7,000 volumes in perimeter shelving was discussed, as well as administrative, guidance, and health areas.

The architectural and engineering firm of M-W Inc., of Indianapolis, handled planning and design, with general construction to be undertaken by VanKempe Construction of Demotte, Indiana.

Ground was broken for the new building, at the corner of State Road 10 and School Street, in June of 1967.

That same month, Culver Community Schools became unique within the entire state when it was announced that Tippecanoe Township, in Pulaski County, would also be annexed into the school corporation.

It's interesting to note that Cary Cummins had been designated head building supervisor for the building but never lived to see it completed, dying of cancer in October of 1968. Cummins' daughter, Bobetta Washburn Ruhnow, died recently after a lifetime of service to Culver comparable to that of her father, whose tombstone was made of the bricks of the new school building as a final tribute to him.

The 1967-68 school year was the end of an era in Culver, being the very last for Culver High School proper, and the last year 9th through 12th grade students would attend classes in the building first constructed in 1912, a few blocks south of today's high school (the site, of course, continued on as Culver Elementary, and briefly as the junior high school until the early 1980s).

That year, John R. Hayes served as CHS' principal, with J. Arthur Howard heading under the Aubbee banner and James Truelove for Monterey. School board members included Ray Winters, representing Monterey; Everett Dowd, North Bend; Woodie McGlothin, Aubbee, Walter Johnson, Culver; and Oscar Wesson, Union Twp.

In March of 1968, “Culver Community High School” was adopted as the official name of the new high school, and the aforementioned administrative list was considerably reduced by the autumn of that year, when the new building was first occupied, with Charles Bernhardt alone serving as principal (Rust continued to serve as superintendent).

That fall also saw the announcement that the new athletic moniker for the school would be the Cavaliers, eliminating the old team names of each individual school consolidated, including Culver itself. New school colors of black, white, and burnt orange were also adopted as was a new school song and school seal.

The seal is a bit of an education in itself, with its meaning doubtless lost to many of us today. The cavalier shield included five interlocked circles, denoting that the school opened during an Olympic year and emphasizing "that excellent physical fitness for all students and an opportunity to compete in sports are valid objectives in a complete high school curriculum."

The map of Indiana points to the state function of the school, with the canoe reminding the viewer of the American Indian heritage of the area, both on Lake Maxinkuckee and the Tippecanoe River. The thespian mark and lamp in one corner symbolize enlightenment and education, and the sword and fluer de lis hearken to the determination of cavaliers to persevere in pursuit of worthy goals and appreciate the beauty of nature. An Indian mask reminds all of the regional Trail of Death, which removed the Potawatomi Indians.

Culver Community High School was officially dedicated on April 27, 1969, with ISHA commissioner Phil Eskew speaking, alongside Linda Sherill, president of the Student Council. Honorable guests included Dr. Otis Bowen, State Legislature and Speaker of State Senate; Kenneth Cole, former principal; and John Bradamas, Senator from Indiana (who was unable to attend). The day was dedicated to Cary Cummins.

Few major changes followed for the school building over subsequent decades, though a major shift occurred in 1984 when the original, 1912 Culver High School building was demolished to make way for a new cafeteria for the Culver Elementary School. The old building had been serving as the home to Culver's "junior high" (that is, 7th and 8th grade students), and those students affected were moved into the Culver Community High School building, which would officially become the Culver Community Junior-Senior High School for several years.

It's interesting to note, given drops in student numbers in more recent years, that while numbers fluctuated over the course of the ensuing years, they peaked during the 1997-98 school year, when the official number was 1,254. Many Culverites may remember this period as marked by portable classroom buildings and a motivation to expand school building sizes, projects which in fact followed over the next several years.

By the mid-2000s, not only had Culver Elementary significantly expanded (to the north, to its present configuration) in response to those numbers, but the high school building saw a significant shift. This included a change perhaps overdue from the mid-1980s, which was greater physical separation of the middle and high school spaces, shifting middle school classrooms, lockers, and administrative offices to the south end of the building (middle schoolers continued to share the cafeteria with high school students, though for different lunch periods, as well as the "arts" spaces including music and band room and industrial and fine arts).
MPA Architects of South Bend designed the new middle school gymnasium as well.

This period also saw the demise of the school corporation's administrative offices on Ohio Street and the new construction of the present building at the corner of School Street and Academy Road, a project not without some controversy from some residents due to cost expenditures (Monterey Elementary, which occupied the town's former high school building, was also renovated during this general period; it closed permanently -- and controversially -- in 2011).

One repeatedly sticky wicket in the area of some of these building projects related to state-mandated fiscal policies which in a few cases led to situations where teachers were being cut from the staff simultaneous to new building projects commencing, something taxpayers understandably had some trouble accepting (but which grew from policies at the state level not available to change from local officials).

At the time the building expansions of just over a decade ago were taking place, of course, school officials had no premonition of the demographic shifts to come, with Culver specifically seeing decreasing numbers of young families as housing costs rose and job bases shifted. This was exacerbated by state policies of recent years which not only allowed taxpayers to choose any school district they wished their child to attend (as opposed to being required to attend the district in which they lived, as in the past, or else being forced to pay a tuition fee), and voucher programs which "followed" each student towards private as well as public schools, according to each family's choice.

More broadly speaking, national trends in residence and commerce have diluted rural populations even more, leaving smaller, rural school districts with fewer students farther flung and considering options for the future (the case of the North Judson-San Pierre corporation comes to mind, where a referendum to raise property taxes to cover budget shortfalls failed earlier this month, leaving a district covering many miles of Starke County unsure of its future next year).

Culver Community High School, then, remains an updated and quite serviceable building just a few years shy of its 50th birthday, with school officials and community volunteers hard at work to consider new paths towards its future (note the article in this week's Culver Citizen on the corporation's strategic planning efforts, with more to come).

-- “Culver History Corner” is a semi-reg­ular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver (, whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.--