Who are George and Margaret Wilson?
That question has been a common one as news has spread about the Jasper School board’s decision to name the new elementary school after them. Wilson Elementary School will be located north of the Jasper Middle School. Designs are still underway but construction is expected to be completed in time for the 2020 semester.
The siblings’ activities in the county are well documented but hard to dive into in a short article designed to encapsulate the decision the board made Monday night. Here is what they did for the schools and education of the public in Jasper and Dubois County as well as some of their other accomplishments.
Both began teaching at Hopkins School, a one-room schoolhouse in Bainbridge Township. George began at the age of 17 after impressing locals with his knowledge despite never graduating from the local school system. He had instead worked in a Jasper coal mine for four years after he turned 11 and largely educated himself when he wasn’t working.
He taught for seven years before becoming principal of the Ireland High School. While there, he published the Ireland Schoolmate in 1888.
He completed a civil engineering course during this time and served in the county surveyor’s office before being elected county surveyor.
He was appointed to the county superintendent of schools in 1889 and his work as superintendent was noticed by many involved in education across the state. As superintendent, he reorganized the school system by introducing uniform courses of study and classifying the schools in the county. He established bi-monthly testing of students and made those tests uniform for all Dubois County schools. This was then adopted by the state school system.
In reading his accomplishments listed in a pamphlet at the Dubois County Museum in regards to education, George had a hand in modernizing the school system of the county as well in the state.
In 1903, he was unanimously elected to the superintendent’s position again but declined the appointment and went on to work for the State Life Insurance Company.
He is known for his extensive writings on Dubois County’s history including a book published in 1896, History and the Art of Souvenir of Dubois County which he prefaced with the inscription, “The writer has long noticed that the children of Dubois County lack a knowledge of its history. It is to supply this knowledge, in a measure at least, that this monograph has its origin.”
He finished, “If we succeed in getting a few children to know more of their country, to think more of her institutions, to better respect the old citizens, and to help advance Dubois county [sic] along the road to continued usefuleness and prosperity, we shall feel amply repaid for our labor.”
The book was taught to Dubois County students.
He also wrote an extensive history of Dubois County titled History of Dubois County from its Primitive Days to 1910. The book was a compilation of information George had collected over 25 years to cover a century of the county’s history.
The pamphlet at the museum includes a long list of George’s other accomplishments which include but are not limited to:
- He founded the Dubois County Insurance Agency in Jasper.
- He was a member of the volunteer fire department and worked on the pump of “Old Vigo No. 2”; a fire engine now on display at the Smithsonian.
- He established the group that later became the Huntingburg Fair and surveyed and established the race course where the city’s park is located and League Stadium sits.
- He suggested the creation of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument that sits at the east entrance of the county courthouse.
- He was one of the ten original founders of the Trinity Church in Jasper.
- He compiled and drew a map of Dubois County.
- In 1920, he was asked by the French government to deliver War Memorial Certificates to the parents of the Dubois County soldiers killed in World War I.
- He published extensive surveys of Dubois County and the state.
- He was one of the founders of the Jasper Herald as well as one of the original stockholders of the Jasper Chair Company and the Jasper Seating Company.
- He was known for being very charitable but would never ask for any recognition for his donations.
His sister Margaret also has a list of accomplishments. She attended college and earned teaching degrees from Indiana State Normal in Terre Haute and Indiana and Chicago Universities. The paper compiled by local historian Junie Himsel available at the Dubois County Museum also lists Margaret as the first common school graduate in Dubois County.
She taught at Hopkins School before moving on to Jasper High School. She transferred to teach at Anderson High School. She came back to Jasper and became its principal at the age of 41. The first Jasper High School periodical, The Ivy, was dedicated to Margaret in 1913.
Then Margaret was appointed as the superintendent of Jasper Schools where she served for 11 years. The leadership appointment in 1913 came seven years before women had the right to vote.
During her time in service to the school system and students, she redeveloped the curriculum to benefit the students’ educations. She was credited with influencing many young people’s lives and in her later years, those students spoke very highly of her.
After completing her terms as superintendent, she established the Jasper Public Library and was the first librarian. A position she held for 15 years.
She was known in the community as Aunty Maggie and contributed to many aspects of the continued success of the city and its civic organizations. She was a charter member of the 20th Century Literary Club, the Music & Art Corterie and Professional Women’s Club of Jasper.
At the age of 93, she served as an honorary chairperson of the Jasper Centennial celebration.
She assisted George in researching his historical works and finished his compilation of Historical Notes of Dubois County. She wrote extensively on her own and published historical pamphlets and articles. The most well known is “The History of Shiloh” published in 1929.
For these reasons and more, Himsel and Joe Rohleder, both local historians, presented the idea to name the school after the Wilsons during last night’s meeting. The two had approached the school corporation about two years ago with the idea of commemorating the siblings by naming a potential new school after them. At the time, the school had been exploring the options for dealing with the aging 5th and 10th Street facilities since 2012.
Board President Bernie Vogler, in his 19th year on the board, noted that both individuals had done a considerable amount for the city, county and state education systems.”Here is an opportunity to put a name on a school building where education is taking place and two people who set the finest example in education and the importance of it…of anyone I have ever discovered,” Vogler said. “They were Jasper residents and the people asked us to name the school and I thought it would be okay. There is plenty of precedence for it.”
The board voted unanimously to name the school after the pair but the reaction from the public on social media has ranged from anger at the loss of the clarity of the Jasper monicker to confusion over the Wilson siblings’ impact on the county.
“No one knows about them because we don’t teach Dubois County history,” Vogler said. “And yet here are two people that have made more impact on education in Jasper, Dubois County and in some cases, even the state than anyone I know of.”
Vogler added that he served at the will of the people and he had always attempted to represent them well on the school board. He added the other members also served with similar sentiments.
Tuesday morning, Fifth Street Parent-Teacher Organization President Brehan Leinenbach sent a letter to the superintendent’s office and the school board asking them to reconsider their decision. She advocated they name the school Jasper Elementary rather than singling out these two individuals’ accomplishments.
“As a public-school teacher since 2005, I am reminded daily about the diversity and culture each child brings into the classroom,” she said in her letter.
In naming the school after the Wilsons, Leinenbach stated the school is limiting the accomplishments of many students to those individuals rather than the entire community, teachers, coaches and volunteers who are dedicated to those students’ success now.
Here is her letter in its entirety
In the fall of 1998, Mrs. Clara Fromme taught me the importance of a name. While naming my writings for her class, she challenged me to dig deep before labeling each piece. That same year, Mrs. Sandy Wehr taught me the proper steps in solving life issues which arise daily. I am using the knowledge gained from my Jasper High School education to express the following:
With all due respect to the Wilson family, I find naming the new public elementary school after these two individuals to conflict with the current lessons being taught in our public education classrooms. As a public-school teacher since 2005, I am reminded daily about the diversity and culture each child brings into the classroom. These two concepts fuel each lesson teachers present to the youth. A person’s culture consists of various factors. Many of these factors deal with individuals who are encountered by this person throughout his or her life. A classroom contains a variety of cultures in which should be respected. Each student holds a different influential, educational leader close to his or her heart. We continue to teach children success happens when individuals come together to work as a group and not a solo act.
In classrooms around our world, teachers preach to youth about the importance of a great support system. We teach students to support and respect everyone around them no matter their personal opinion. We also instill in our pupils to not try and take on the journey of life alone. At both 5th Street Elementary and 10th Street Elementary Schools, teachers go above and beyond to help children with academic and social skills. I have children at both schools and have felt nothing but love from teachers, administrators, staff and all school personnel. I have no doubt the excellent guidance and teaching will continue to happen under the roof of the new school no matter what name it is given. However, we should not label the school with only one community last name as it disrespects the other past, present and future educators and students who have impacted GJCS and our community.
Calling Jasper home for the past 37 years is an honor. I am proud of the community in which I live. I am fortunate to have many influential people in my personal life along with my entire Dubois County Community. I am asking all of you to please reconsider the name of the new elementary school. Children should be reminded the importance of a name each day they walk in the school doors. They should also be reminded of each school staff member who has ever helped them succeed. The list of positive/influential educators in the history of Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools is endless. Paying tribute to just two of these individuals would be unfortunate.
The success of a school and the students within it, is not the result of one or two people. It is a learning community and its name should reflect this concept. I feel Jasper Elementary is the perfect title for the new elementary school!
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.
Thank you for your time,