Carol Wagner, Leader Correspondent
St. Joseph Indian School in Keshena began in 1880 when the Franciscans invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis, Missouri, to teach there. The school continued to have a huge influence on the community for the next 100 years.
To recognize the school’s role, the parish council at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Keshena formed a committee to plan a reunion, which will be held April 30.
“People that I’ve run into said they are coming,” said Wiladean Peters, a committee member who is also on the parish council.
Peters didn’t attend the school, but members of her husband’s family did.
The school, which was located near the current church on state Highway 47-55, began with kindergarten through eighth grade. It later added ninth through 12th grades, but eventually returned to K-8 until it closed in 1980.
The school included classrooms, science room, music room, gymnasium, and an auditorium. There were also dormitories for students who lived too far away to commute each day.
“I was a boarder,” committee member Joyce Ninham said. “I got lonesome a lot.”
She recalled wearing dresses and having a special storage place that she had to stand on boxes to reach. Ninham said the older girls took care of the younger ones. Her grandmother lived in the area so sometimes Ninham would go visit and then go back to school.
Committee and parish council member Tony Waupochick Sr. went through all eight grades at St. Joseph’s. He lived across the road. He said he enjoyed it a lot and learned the Catholic faith. When he graduated he went to school in Shawano.
“It was hard to transition from there to Shawano,” he said. “The culture was different.”
Sylvia Wilber and her 19 siblings all attended St. Joseph Indian School. She stayed there during the week and on Friday went home to her parents, who brought her back Sunday night. In the sixth grade, she and most of the students rode the bus to school.
“I liked going to school,“ Wilber said. “I got to know more people and they became my family.”
She recalled having chores, such as doing laundry and taking care of the kitchen. Wilber said they had big classes and a big playground. The nuns had rules, but she said it helped her get better organized.
“It was a good learning experience,” Wilber said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I realize it now.”
She is looking forward to the reunion to see everyone and reminisce about those days.
“I have good memories,” she said. “Those kids are still like brothers and sisters to me. I’m anxious to see people.”
Other committee members are Elizabeth Fernandez Arnold and Wilmer Peters.
For information, call the parish office at 715-799-3811.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: St. Joseph Indian School Reunion
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 30
WHERE: Father David Barrett Hall, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, N816 State Highway 47-55, Keshena
FYI: Everyone is invited to reminisce about the school and share stories, and to enjoy a potluck meal.