Editor's note: With students, teachers and friends gathering on Wednesday, Sept. 16, for an all-school reunion of Eckert School, Norm Kehmeier wanted to share a history of the schools with our readers. The reunion is at the Eckert Presbyterian Church, 13025 Highway 65, Eckert, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Anyone who attended Eckert School at any time is invited.
The Surface Creek school district once covered an area from the Gunnison River on the south to the upper crossing of Kaiser Creek on the north, and from Rogers Mesa on the east to Doughspoon Creek on the west. A Captain William Spalding taught the first school in the Eckert area at his home in 1884. In 1885 he moved the school to a one-room building a half-mile south of Eckert. It was called the Central School. The original Central School still exists and has been remodeled into a private residence.
If as many as 17 pupils were in a school district, the school board could authorize a split and form a new district. A new school would be built and thus reduce the distance the students had to travel. By 1907 these splits had resulted in at least nine schools being established in the original Eckert school district. Still there was a need to expand Central, so another room was added to the original.
Eight grades were being taught at Central at this time. If a student wanted more education, it was necessary to travel outside the district, which in this case meant going to Delta.
In 1910 the citizens at Eckert started talking about building a local high school. A bond issue was passed, and the brick building was completed in 1912. The first senior class of eight students was graduated in 1913. The Rev. James Hunsicker was the first principal at the new high school. Gertrude (Miller) Kehmeier was hired in 1915 to teach German, speech and dramatics. James G. Patton, former president of the National Farmers Union and agricultural advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was "Athletic Director," coach, and classroom teacher at Eckert during the mid 1920s. Mr. Patton grew up in Paonia.
The story is told that at about this time an English teacher at Eckert had her class write a letter to Sun Yat Sen, the famous Chinese politician and philosopher, and that he wrote an answer to the class in return.
The Central School continued to house the first eight grades until 1937 when the middle-school grades were moved up the highway to the Eckert high school building. In the spring of 1942 Eckert High School graduated its last senior class and that fall some thirty high school students were sent to Cedaredge. In 1947 Central School was closed and grades one through eight were taught in the old Eckert high school building. In 1981 the building ceased being used as a school and all twelve grades were bused to Cedaredge.
(The above has been excerpted from the book Across the Wilderness by Norman Kehmeier, self- published in 2006.)