Every school has a culture and a way of life that is unique to them and the community in which they reside. Many times in small towns, the town and high school's identity become one in the same. It is hard to imagine Wilber-Clatonia being the blue and gold blue jays, Osmond being the red and white broncos, or Wood River being the orange and black tigers. School mascots and colors are an integral part of the fabric of a community. Driving into any of these small towns it it evident the school holds a special place in the hearts of its citizens.
A school's culture isn't something that is developed overnight. It evolves over many years through the experiences and happenings within the school and community. As an administrator, learning and understanding this culture is vital to your interactions with students, parents, and patrons. Knowing a school and community's "story" is an invaluable aspect of an administrators job.
Last fall, I began the search for the origins of when Milford became the purple and white "Eagles". I wrote about my quest at that time in another blog post found HERE. What I didn't realize at that time was that my initial inquiry would lead our local paper asking me to write an article on the history of Milford Public Schools for the 150th Anniversary Celebration this past summer. Eight months later and too many trips to the Nebraska Archives to count, culminated in the article below. Not only was it an honor to get to write the piece, but it taught me so much about what it truly means to be a Milford Eagle.
As I was reading the final product in "The Milford Times" I began to wonder if someday in the distant future somebody will be doing a similar project and come across the article I wrote and find it informative and useful in their quest to better understand who we are as Milford Eagles. Enjoy #milfordsoar
A History of Milford Public Schools
Since before trains passed through Milford on a daily basis, a public school has been educating the youth of the community. An early history of the Milford Public School system was published in the March 7, 1884 edition of the “The Milford Ozone.” The article states that the first schoolhouse was erected in 1867 from slabs cut at the saw mill on what was known as Park Avenue. The second local schoolhouse was completed the following year when the citizens of Milford helped erect the Congregational Church building, which was also used during the week as the school. The district purchased the Baptist Church in 1874 and converted it into a school, which was used until a “modern” two-story brick structure was opened in 1882 at a cost of about $6,000. The brick structure was upgraded with modern steam heating the following year.
The school was officially classified in 1884 with students being divided into four departments (grades) based upon age. In the fall of the same year, 92 students were split among the four newly formed classifications; Primary, Intermediate, Grammar, and High School. As the community continued to grow so did its public school system.
In the Spring of 1888, the patrons of MPS successfully passed a bond (80-12) of $600, after two votes, for the building of a schoolhouse in Grover to better meet the educational needs of the children in both communities. Miss Pauline Bellersheim was the first teacher assigned to the new school in Grover, which eventually closed in 1919.
The original brick structure built in 1882 went through a number of changes throughout its history. The first addition was added to the school in 1908 at a cost of $12,000. However, catastrophe struck at 12:45 p.m. on November 14, 1916. From the Milford Review (November 16, 1916), “Upon returning from his house at lunch, Peter Howder noticed dense smoke curling from the roof of the main building.” With the help of 80 tons of coal stored in the basement, fire destroyed much of the original structure, while the walls and lower two floors of the new addition were able to be saved. For the remainder of the 1916-17 school year classes were held at the local churches, Masonic Building, I.O.O.F Hall, Mrs. J.E. France’s Building, and the residence of Elisha Courtright.
The rebuilt school was opened to students on September 24, 1917. The Milford Review reported, “The students will have a school to attend that will make it a pleasure to go. One thing particularly noticeable is the sanitary drinking fountains in each lobby or landing.”
The final addition to the original school was completed in 1936. Through a 45% matching grant from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, the district was able to add a gym/auditorium as well as five classrooms and a set of bathrooms on the third floor. This building served as a K-12 building until the current 7-12 building was opened in the fall of 1962. The structure continued to serve as a K-6 building until the current elementary was completed in 1975.
In June of 1960 the patrons of the newly reorganized District #5 passed a $635,000 bond issue by a vote of 399-222 for the building of a new 7-12 grade building. Twenty acres of land was purchased on the west side of town and the current building was opened in the fall of 1962. Since 1962, four major additions have been built to better meet the needs of the Milford Junior/Senior High School students.
A junior high wing was added to the north end of the structure in 1988. In 2002, the north gym, auditorium, and music room were completed. The courtyard was replaced with a new Science Lab, Family and Consumer Science room, Geography classroom, and computer lab in 2008. In the fall of 2014, a new secure entrance will be in use located where the former offices were. Included in the project is a newly configured office space, along with new lighting, ceilings, carpet, exterior doors, and technology infrastructure.
In the early 1970’s it was decided that the old school structures in both Milford and Pleasant Dale had served their purpose and new elementary schools would need to be built in both communities. After much input and discussion from both communities, an open concept school would be built at both sites. In late 1974 and early 1975, the school board considered the following alternative names for the elementary schools provided through community input; Pilot Knoll, Pestalozzi, Mary Smiley, Council Oak and Camden. Eventually, Milford Elementary and Pleasant Dale Elementary were chosen as the official names.
Starting in the late 1950’s and continuing into the early part of the 1960’s the geographical makeup of the district changed rapidly. As many as thirty rural elementary and K-8 districts in southeastern Seward, Lancaster, and Saline Counties were reorganized to form what now makes up the majority of the Milford Public Schools District #5 land area. Pleasant Dale (District 21) was the largest of the rural districts to reorganize with District #5 with 50 K-8 students according to board documents from 1958. Rural schools by the names of Glendale, Atwater, Sunshine, Camden, and Stauffer School were all eventually closed and sold with District #38 in Lancaster County being the last of the country schools to close in July of 2006. The Pleasant Dale school continued to operate as an elementary school until was closed in 2011.
In May of 2014, Milford High School celebrated its 125th graduating class. Since the first graduate, Miss Cora Alley in the late 1880’s, nearly 3800 students have become alumni from MHS. In 1956, the last senior class of five students graduated from Pleasant Dale High School and after reorganization in 1959, high school students were assigned to attend Milford.
Students and graduates of Milford High School have had many academic accomplishments throughout its storied history. Most recently students have performed exceptionally well on many of the statewide NeSA tests as well as the ACT college entrance exam. Since 2001, thirty-eight students have scored a 30 or better on the ACT with many receiving academic honors on a local and statewide level.
Academic extracurricular clubs and activities have been a staple of student life at Milford dating back to the successful debate team in the spring of 1917. With the passage of the federally funded Smith-Hughes Act, Milford began its Agriculture and Home Economics departments in 1920. In 1924, two Milford Students, Stanley Danekas and Clinton Stahly, were members of the Junior Livestock Judging Team that placed 2nd at the World Stock Show in Chicago with Danekas tying for 1st place in individual honors. Since that time, many other individuals and groups from FBLA, FCCLA (FHA HERO), ProStart, and FFA have represented Milford High School at the National Level including the most recent national championship team of Aaron Steckly and Meghan Schildt at the 2013 FBLA competition in California. The ProStart Culinary Arts Program started in the fall of 2005, won consecutive state titles in 2013 (Mitchell Roth, Sharon Skutchan, Makayla Roth, and Ashley Navratil) and 2014 (Mitchell Roth and Ashley Navratil) and represented Milford and the state of Nebraska at the National competition.
The fine arts have been an area of strength throughout the years with strong Vocal Music, Speech, Drama, Art, and Band programs. In 2012, the One Act team was runner-up at the state competition with Kaylee Mensik receiving best actress honors. The speech team has finished no lower than 7th for the past five years at the state competition with Cori Curtis in 2007 and Amy Jeppesen in 2010 winning individual state championships. Vocal music has had numerous students participate in the All-State Choir, while the band program has been a popular course selection for students with nearly 140 members during the 2013-14 school year.
Athletics have been a part of the extra curricular offerings at MHS dating back to a track competition with Seward at the fairgrounds in 1899. Organized sports wouldn’t become a permanent fixture until the late 1910’s with the addition of both girls and boys basketball teams.
According to the 1933 MHS informational booklet, “It is up to us [Milford Public Schools] to provide wholesome means of keeping hands from becoming idle. A program of approved activities is therefore being sponsored by the school to provide entertainment which will, at the same time, encourage development of one or more of the following character traits; Desire and ability to cooperate with others, willingness to act under direction, loyalty, honesty, decency, clean mindedness, harmonious development…”
The 1920 boys basketball team won the state championship with a 45-12 victory over Stockham in the finals of the state tournament. They have also finished runner-up twice in 1926 and 1998 and have qualified 16 times with their most recent appearance in 2012.
The girl’s basketball team had a great amount of success during the 1920’s with the 1925-26 team going undefeated. Unfortunately, the Nebraska State High School Athletics Association voted to do away with the girls state basketball tournament in 1924. In December of 1926, the Milford School Board decided to no longer sponsor girls basketball because it was not sanctioned by the state. Girls basketball was once again sponsored by the school in 1974 and has qualified for the state tournament twice, in 2006 and 2008.
Football was added to the sports offerings in 1937 with seventeen players on the roster, which included twelve seniors. In 1969 the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star would crown Milford the Class “C” State Championship, which was prior to a state playoff system. The Eagles would go on to win two more state titles in 1995 and 1996 and still holds the Class C-1 record for consecutive wins at thirty seven (1995-97).
The Cross Country team has had a great amount of success recently finishing runner-up in 2010 and 2011 and winning the state title in both 2012 and 2013. However, these are not the first state championships for the Eagle runners. On Thanksgiving Day 1922, three runners from MHS participated in the first state cross country meet held in Lincoln. Clayton Eicher, Clarence Martin, and Bradford Trimble placed 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively and won the team competition. This event was publicized as, “The first of its kind that has been put on in Nebraska, or in the world” by Coach Schultze, head track coach at the University of Nebraska--Lincoln.
Other school sponsored athletic teams are as follows with the year they were added to the athletic program; Baseball (1909 & 1928, discontinued), Volleyball (1967), Wrestling (1928, 1967, & 1998), Golf (1974), Cross Country (1922 & 1987), and Softball (2001).
State Championship Teams:
Boys Basketball, 1920
Football, 1969--Sunday Journal and Star Selection
Football, 1995 & 1996
Cross Country 1922, 2012 & 2013
State Runner-Up Teams:
Boys Basketball 1926 & 1998
Cross Country, 2010 & 2011
In recent years, the staff at Milford Public Schools have been leaders in the use of technology in the classroom. Numerous teachers have presented on using technology for increased student engagement and learning at the local, state, and national level.
Milford was also one of the first districts in the state to implement the use of Twitter in 2009 (@MilfordEagles) and Facebook on October 19, 2010 (MilfordEagles) to communicate with its patrons around the world. Currently, Milford Eagles has 416 followers on Twitter and 989 “likes” on its Facebook page. Patrons can also use the hashtag #milfordsoar to specifically tweet about happening at the schools in Milford, Nebraska.
For nearly 150 years students at MPS have been prepared to be productive citizens of the communities in which they now reside. Whether graduates moved across the world or stayed close to home, the patrons of Milford Public Schools District #5 can be proud of its graduates and school system. As the community continues to grow, prosper and change, its school system will continue to evolve to ensure students are being provided a quality education.
Milford Jr/Sr High Principal