PTA History

Franklin class of 1936 with 1908 marker at 2000 reunion. (Top row from left) Bob Simmons; Howard Dawson; Doris Nissen Brinkman; (middle row from left) Arlene Renkes Boerema (deceased); Frances Clarke Jaeger; Ruth Seymour Feddersen; Loretta Yourd Ring; Betty Eberhardt Ballinger; Charles Deubner; and (bottom row from left) Ruth Volckmann Stanberry (deceased); Elaine Sites Lass; Mary Van Epps Ludwig (deceased); June Thomas Priestaf (deceased); Helen Halverson Ventres.

The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

The Parent Teacher Association was founded in Marietta, Ga., by Alice McClellen Birney in 1897.

Phoebe Hearst and Selena Butler were also founding women. There was a unit in Clinton, Iowa, soon after that. In the 1960s, the PTA had a membership of 12 million.

Each year in February, on Founders’ Day, past presidents and members get together and reminisce. These meetings are small but mighty, in that the strength gathered at them carries young unit parents onward to provide support for children in member schools. This year’s meeting was held at Christ Episcopal Church.

Horace Mann Elementary School Principal Stanley Reeves was a strong proponent of the movement, and he led many people into becoming active members.

In 1967-1968, during the heyday of PTA, Elaine Lass was the City PTA President, responsible for units at 13 schools throughout Clinton — Elijah Buell, Hawthorne, Baldwin, Franklin, Henry Sabin, Irving, Jefferson, Kirkwood, Longfellow, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Horace Mann and Whittier). Few women worked outside the home, so they supported the PTA on almost a daily basis.

Mothers entering schools as volunteer workers were welcomed, producing excellent morale amongst groups within a building. They were also early and strong supporters of immunization and mental health. In 1967, enrollment in the schools was 7,100 students; it is now below 5,000. There are six units in today’s larger schools, yet PTA still carries on with goals that help students.

Franklin Elementary School, on Seventh Avenue South, was one of the neighborhood schools. It was built in 1908 and was the type of school everyone just loved, and still does. Its graduates meet regularly, as does the Longfellow alumni group. Some recall the days when they went home to lunch for an hour, but one group (from way out on 19th Street) brought their sack lunches and ate in the basement. From students like those came the stalwarts of our City PTA, which has flourished for almost 90 years in Clinton, providing leadership and energy for each unit.

At CHS Class of 1943 reunions, beloved Franklin teachers can still be recited by alumni: Bertha Bingham (K), Miss Beil (1st Grade), Annie Skinner (2nd), Miss Watson-Wagner (3rd), Miss Dierksen (4th), Bessie McClure (5th), Jean Sutherland (6th), and Miss Beck (7th). Ethel Holmes was principal.

Other teachers later took their places, like Bob Bully, Harold Roggendorf, Jean Westbo, Agnes Peters; later still: Wally Mayhugh, Nancy Moore and Claire Obermiller came, as well as Mary Jo Dykstra… the last secretary.

Parent leaders in Clinton were Mrs. Milton Barrent, Mrs. David Peters (later a teacher), and Dorothy Eastland Messinger. Recent City Presidents have been Linda Ullrich, Karen Powers, Sue Tugana and Bonnie Wheeler. Many of them rose to high places in the state organization and some unit presidents, like Louise Florence at Jefferson, served for over a decade.

Back in the 1960s, the City PTA had annual education goals on “Smoking and Sex Education,” which really excited the national media and brought coverage from more than a half-dozen states. Some of the local media even showed up at the next meeting.

News releases always had been provided by City President Lass, but media seldom ever attended. Coverage for such topics was big news in that day and age. The Clinton Herald editor called her and said, “What did we miss at the PTA meeting today?” Conversely, these subjects are today standard considerations, often required by law.

Another subject of great concern for the PTA was the effort to replace Clinton High School when it was burned down in 1968 by an arsonist. The PTA was an active supporter of that successful referendum. The year it opened, STAP (Students, teachers and parents) was organized and was also supported by Clinton High’s assistant principal, Don Kolsrud.

In the decades since the 1960s, many hundreds of P.T.A. members, including men, have stepped forward to support children. Elaine Lass recalls that many schools of those days had been named after famous historical figures — Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Miss Kauphusman was the well-known principal at Jefferson, and J.R. Ingraham (who recently passed away at 95) was at Washington. One school, Harding, is often thought to be named after a president, but that isn’t true. The local Harding family’s farm provided land for it; likewise for the Sarah Harding Home… which was named after their mother.

It was due to fine neighborhood school units like Franklin’s that P.T.A. was able to grow and flourish. Nationally, P.T.A. was probably the largest volunteer child-advocacy organization to focus on the welfare of youths, with emphasis on instilling integrity and advancing educational priorities in schools throughout America.

n Source: Elaine Lass, former City PTA President.

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A on Fridays.

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