Book highlights school days at VHS

Beth Rumsey, Staff Writer

From early beginnings as subscription schools, to the creation of Versailles High School and before the consolidation of the Holton and New Marion schools in 1966, “School Life”, a three year project, retraces the history of public education in Versailles and is full of anecdotal history, photos and remembrances.

According to author Dr. Alan Smith, “It was a fun project.” Dr. Smith is the son of the late Alan Smith, longtime pharmacist in Versailles and Katy Smith of Versailles. This book, “School Life: Remembrances of Versailles High School” is available for purchase at the Spencer Tyson Pharmacy and the Versailles and Friendship branches of the Friendship State Bank.

The Versailles school system began in 1850 as subscription schools. These were schools taught by a widow or an educated lady in her home for a fee. As stated in “School Life”, the education of pioneer children depended on the subscription schools. Early studies included the 3 R’s and spelling and lasted only 45-60 days. It wasn’t until 1887 that the Versailles School Board officially recognized high school.

As the attendance of Versailles High School increased, buildings grew to accommodate their needs.

Community involvement was vital to the success of a small town school. Examples of this can be seen in the construction of the first schools. Someone would donate the land; others would donate materials for construction and everyone would pitch in and build the school. Personal responsibility was assumed by the community, says Smith. Another example found in the book is of Dr. A.G. Williams offering free dental examinations for every child enrolled in the Versailles school. Chris Meyer, editor of “School Life” said, “If the community isn’t standing behind the school, it is sure to fail.” Meyer is the Marketing and Training Director for the Friendship State Bank. He is married to Cassandra, niece of Dr. Smith. Meyer also owns Four-Sep Publications in Friendship, which published “School Life.”

Athletics were a very important part of the Versailles School, as well as the community. Athletics tapped into a spirit of community and competition. It raised the level of entertainment. Even if you were a spectator, you could still be involved, says Smith. Early basketball games were played in a community building until the completion of the Tyson Auditorium in 1950. Tyson Auditorium allowed Versailles to host the Ripley County Tourney and sectional games. It also meant Versailles was able to play against larger schools in home and away games.

“School Life” is filled with photos from over the years. Included are drawings and photos of the early schools. One can mark the changes of appearance of the Versailles School from 1887 to 1938. Also of interest are the senior class photos from 1929 to 1966, along with candid photos of picnics, class trips, and class plays. One should not overlook the basketball photos, dating from 1911. Meyer stated that the amount of research that went into this book, especially the basketball pictures, was impressive.

Scattered throughout the photos are first hand accounts of school days. There are contributions from Ken Akers, Mary Margaret and William (Gus) Moorhead, and Marion Jackson. The first hand accounts make it [the book] more personal, says Smith. Read a sample from the Versailles Breezes, the school paper. Learn about school plays and senior trips from the student’s point of view. Discover how the basketball team became known as the Lions. One can read about the coach who, while attempting to teach a ball player how to slide into third base, accidentally catches his pants on fire due to matches in his pocket.

Special thanks were given to The Versailles Republican, the Ripley County Historical Society, and the Tyson Library for providing reference materials for the publication.

“School Life” is a fascinating history of school in Versailles. Follow the time line, gaze at the photos perhaps finding parents or grandparents and one will discover the traditions that are still followed by students today. As Marion Jackson, contributor to “School Life” stated, “We were among the luckiest high school students ever in Indiana history.”

School Life