Last updated: October 15, 2018
The Lusk Herald
July 14, 1999
By Dana Williams with contributions by Gerald Bardo
Western historians confirm, schools and churches were considered a must if raw, frontier towns were to survive and flourish. And so it was in Lusk.
The church came first when Congregational missionary Harmon Bross established a “tent tabernacle” at Silver Cliff, the moved it to Lusk when the railroads arrived in 1886. Bross’s tabernacle was located at the site of the present First Baptist Church.
It was in that tent the first school classes were held, until a more permanent structure could be built. Various frame buildings were used as schools, until a brick structure was erected on Sixth Street (Today that building is the home of the Elk’s Lodge.)
High school classes moved into a new building at Fifth and Maple early in 1930. This building was later used as a grade school and junior high until it was replaced by the newly constructed Lusk Elementary and Middle School in 1984.
The auditorium and a gym were completed in 1961.
Today the only Niobrara County school located outside Lusk is the Lance Creek School. But back in 1943, 13 separated school districts and dozens of country school s were carrying on the tremendous task of educating the county’s children. One of many problems faced by District 1 (Lusk) in those years was accommodating high school students who wanted to come here, creating overcrowding in the District which had only a small tax base to support its schools. The only other high school in the 13 county districts was located in Manville.
Districts 12 and 13, in the Lance Creek area, had much of the county’s oil wealth, as it was the largest oil-producing filed in the state at that time. Yet they had only small, inadequate school buildings and no high school.
In 1943, 25 Lance Creek students were attending the Lusk High School. By 1946, 26 percent of District No. 1 students were from outside the district. Although they paid tuition, the problem was where to put them. Lusk High School, with an enrollment of 190, had room for only 155 in the assembly room, and only 128 lockers.
The District No. 1 board began looking for solutions. A move to form a high school district was voted down 439-345. In September, the Lance Creek districts were consolidated.
By August 1947, a County Reorganization Committee was recommending a single, county-wide district. In September, Districts 2, 8, and 10 attempted to consolidate and form a separate district, but this effort failed.
On June 30, 1949, the citizens of Niobrara County voted to consolidate all of the county districts, by a vote of 414-356.
The first annual meeting of the unified school district meeting of the unified school district was held June 19, 1950, with 461 persons in attendance. Former school board member and newspaperman Gerald Bardo recalls the school unification was such a new and unique concept that a reporter from the Denver Post attended that first meeting.
I.J. Reiste, who had been superintendent of the former District No. 1 since 1942, was named superintendent of the new county school district in April 1950.
Lee Johnsonbaugh, who had been superintendent at Lingle for one year, was named principal at Lusk High School in May 1950. Johnsonbaugh was named Director of Education for the district in 1951, with Grace Kuns elected as county superintendent over the rural schools. When Kuns retired in 1966, Johnsonbaugh was named superintendent until his retirement in 1976.
“When Lee Johnsonbaugh came to Lusk to become principal of Lusk High School, we of the District No.1 school board had no idea he was to be the administrator who was to carefully lead the new county school district to maturity,” Gerald Bardo said. “Though many problems arose, Johnsonbaugh deserves much credit for bringing the county together.”
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