Fogo, oldest living Esbon High grad A look back at Esbon High
Esbon High School
September 29, 2022
Before the town of Ezbon (later Esbon) even began, there was Ezbon School District No. 98. The district was organized on Sept. 4, 1873. Little is known about the early years of the school as only a few comments survive.
One, a comment in the Sept. 9, 1880 Jewell County Review, tells about a "special meeting" to repair the old school house. Then an Oct. 7, 1880 note in the Jewell County Review relates "a five month school begins in District No. 98...although a sod house, it is well fixed up."
The July 28, 1877 Jewell County Diamond, in reporting all funds remaining in school accounts, notes Ezbon had $8.97 in its account. A historical record dating from Jan. 30, 1882, documents when the district bought one acre of land. According to anecdotal records, that acre was "one-half mile south and one-half mile west of the present location."
The Jewell County Review of April 3, 1890, announced the Esbon School Festival "cleared more than enough money for a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary for the school."
Also in 1890, the Ezbon Town Company sold District No. 98 a lot south of the railroad tracks on the west side of the street. The lot cost $200. For $1,200.00, the district built a two-room school. That school was used in that location until 1899, when it was moved to the site now occupied by the old Esbon Elementary School.
A new school was built and occupied Jan. 25, 1904. Originally it housed 10 grades, but by the 1911-12 school year, the building held 12 grades of students.
In 1920, the community held a special election to determine if the district would build a new building. The bonds passed, 136 to 47. A brick and tile building was built and occupied on Feb. 1, 1921. These historical facts are from Esbon Alumni Association records.
In the late 1880's and 1890's newspaper items about the Esbon School are more common. School reports detail enrollment, perfect attendance and teachers. In the March 10, 1889, Esbon Times the school report noted the "Primary Room" had 33 enrolled under "Clara Jones, teacher."
The same report attests there was also the "High Room" with "W. A. Carr, principal." It had 25 enrolled and Forrest Hayes was recognized as being neither absent nor tardy. At that time Hayes was 16 years old, turning seventeen in July. A high school aged student.
A month earlier, Elmer Johnson had no absences. He was sixteen years old. A month later, it was noted Lucretia Thompson had perfect attendance. She was seventeen years old. Was this "High Room" an early attempt at a high school?
There were no more mentions of a "high" room, only primary and grammar rooms, until 1901. In the July 26, 1901 Esbon Times, the "High Room" was back in the news with C. E. Kersey hired to teach there in the 1901-02 school year.
For the 1904-05 school year, the April 13, 1905 Esbon Times, published a school report detailing three departments, "Grammar and High School," "Intermediate" and "Primary." From this time on, there were newspaper items, especially sports items, about "Esbon High School."
We learn more in the Dec. 14, 1905 Esbon Times. The "High School" report listed the top ranked student in every class. The 10th-grade student was Leona Lytle and the ninth-grade students were Leva Hills and Kittie Huntsinger.
In 1905-06, Esbon had a two-year high school. Like many of the area high schools, Esbon High School started with a one or two-year curriculum. School boards then added staff and curriculum as finances and circumstances allowed.
From what has been found, it would appear the Esbon community was considering a high school as early as 1899. By 1901-02 there were consistently newspaper indications of education beyond the primary and grammar level.
The Esbon Times of Aug. 9, 1906, carried comments announcing Esbon was "on equal standing with other towns in the way of school facilities, giving us four teachers in the faculty and carrying a three-year course of study."
In May of 1907, Nora Brody, Charlotte Cook and Leona Lytle were announced as the first graduates of Esbon High School. These three students graduated from the newly developed three-year curriculum. The April 25, 1907 Jewell County Monitor carried a story about the event.
There were notices of graduations during the next few years, with 15 students graduating from the three-year curriculum. Then, according to the April 13, 1911 Esbon Times there was to be no high school graduation.
No Class of 1911? This is explained by the May 2, 1912 Esbon News announcing "The class this year consists of four members – two boys and two girls, and it is the first class to finish the work since our school has put in the full 12 years course." Fred Campbell, Ruth Emerson, Frank Moravek and Lucile Vance were the first to graduate from Esbon High School's four-year high school curriculum.
From 1912 until 1983, there were to be some 934 more students who would follow those four and graduate from Esbon High School.
The first two classes, 1912 and 1913, with four members each, were the smallest to graduate from EHS. The next classes in those early years were also small with only five or six students.
In coming years, the classes were larger. In 1920, the community erected a brick and tile building to house all 12 grades of the growing school district. (That building still exists but stands unused.)
During the 1940s, when high schools such as Webber, Athens and Northbranch were closing because of low enrollment and the difficulty of finding teachers during WWII, Esbon High School had the highest number of graduates of any decade.
It was in 1956, the community built their final school building, Esbon High School. It was built north of the old brick school. The new building was used as a high school until it closed in 1983. Then, it was used as the White Rock Middle School. Currently the building is the residence of Kenneth Marihugh (Esbon Class of 1974).
The largest classes to graduate from Esbon High School? According to Karen Ross's Directory of Jewell County High School Alumni, there were 23 graduates in the Class of 1949, 24 in the Classes of 1926 and 1970 with the largest class the 25 students in the Class of 1925.
One of the graduates in the Class of 1949 was Edgar Marihugh. Marihugh is the oldest living male graduate of the school. He still lives in Esbon, not far from the now unused building where he attended classes.
The high school classes were conducted in the second story rooms while the building's first floor classrooms housed "the grades." His son, Kenneth (ESH Class of 1974), now owns and lives in the Esbon-White Rock school building on the north side of Esbon.
Marihugh left Esbon to attend Kansas University then to serve three years in the United States Air Force. He married the late Veronica Geisel in 1955. They made their home in California where he worked for Hughes Aircraft Company.
A fourth generation Jewell County farmer, Edgar and Veronica returned to Esbon and the family farm. Though his roots run deep in the Esbon Community, he also knows and can tell stories of area communities such as Odessa, Otego and West Branch.
Another person long associated with Esbon is the oldest graduate of Esbon High School, Glenna Topliff Fogo. The 99-year-old graduated with the Class of 1940.
Though qualified to graduate with the Class of 1939, the superintendent thought she was too young to graduate in 1939 and she had to spend another year at EHS. Her boyfriend and future husband, Chuck Fogo, was in that class. She was not happy then, and frankly is still annoyed. She liked school and feels she got a good education at Esbon High School, but she did not like her senior year.
Though born in Elk County in southeast Kansas and presently living in Manhattan near her son (Glenn Charles "Chug" EHS Class of 1962), Fogo says "Esbon, that's my town!" She is not the only one who feels that way.