Lackamas – Only thing missing from restored school is kids.

Only thing missing from restored school is kids.

The Olympian March 24, 2003

By Mildred Kavanaugh

Lackamas could again hold classrooms after tedious restoration led by former student.

Yelm – When 68-year-old Dillard Jensen drives by Lackamas School, located 10 miles east of Yelm, he’s flooded with fond memories of his school days.

Jensen, a lifelong resident of Yelm, was a student at Lackamas School from 1940 until 1946, when the school was closed.

“After sitting empty from 1946 to 1986, the school was tumbling down,” he said. “The foundation and building were still good, but there were no windows, doors, and what was left of the roof was on the basement floor. Deterioration had taken over. I always wanted to put the school back together.”

Now the school can be used for classes again. Yelm Community Schools voters passed a bond last month that could provide 2.3$ million for the restored school, which could almost immediately be used as a kindergarten through fourth-grade school.

But it’s been a long road.

In 1986, Jensen and his wife of 50 years, Nita, and their friends, Rick and Mary Johnson, went in together and purchased the property. Together, they started the lengthy process of restoring the school. Jensen’s son and grandson helped.

The Yelm School Board recently presented the Jensens and Johnsons with a certificate of appreciation for the restoration work they did.

Dr. Alan Burke, superintendent of Yelm schools, said: “When I saw the finished restoration project, I was impressed and amazed with the time, effort and financial resources they put in to restore the Lackamas School. It’s a snapshot back to the past and a great landmark for people who live nearby.”

Jensen says they restored the entire school, including the gym and the teacher’s house. The school is painted the same color it was when Jensen was there as a student. They even re-hung the blackboards. “The building takes me right back to my school days. It even smells like an old school,” Jensen said.

“We saved a little bit of history,” Jensen said. “It’s about time we start saving some of our past.”

Jensen was one of 16 students in grades one to six. One teacher taught all six grades. In those days, there was no such thing as a school janitor, Jensen said. It was the students’ job to clean the building and grounds.

Each Friday, the teacher put up a list of jobs to be done for the next week. Students were assigned on a rotating basis the tasks of preparing lunch, cleaning outdoor toilets, keeping the wood furnace going and putting up the flag.

Every day before school was let out, students cleaned the classroom and got it ready for the next school day, Jensen said.

The Lackamas School first opened its doors in the fall of 1914. The gym and teacher’s house were built later. The school is now on the County Historical Register, State Register and National Register of Historic Places.

Jensen says he hoped the Yelm school district will add on the building and use it once again for a school. “I would love to see kids there again,” Jensen said.

School Board President Denise Hendrickson said, “Dillard and Nita Jensen and Rick and Mary Johnson have made a positive difference in our commun9tyh that will have a permanent place in the pages of history.”

Nita Jensen said one of their partners in the project, Rick Johnson, was too young to attend the school, but his mom, dad and grandfather attended Lackamas School. Johnson’s granddad built the gym.

Now that the restoration is complete, Nita Jensen said, visiting the school is like going back to the past.

“There’s something nice about something old,” she said.

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