For years, the school bell in the old Mineral High School building, still set to a timer, rang through the empty building to signal the end of classes no students attended any more.
Dave Nanninga can still hear that bell ring today.
Nanninga, 45, developed a love for his hometown high school even though know he never attended it. The high school was deactivated in 1961, the year before he was born. The former high school building housed the grade school, which he attended, through 1974 and sat empty until it was demolished in 1998.
Nanninga poured his attention into lobbying for the Mineral Leopards basketball district championship teams to be inducted into the Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
He then turned his attention into establishing a Web site to honor his hometown school and others like it, called Illinois High School Glory Days, at www.illinoishsglorydays.com.
Nanninga, who was a two-time all-conference basketball player for Annawan High School, admits the name of the site might be a spin-off of his favorite Bruce Springsteen’s song.
All the history of these long-forgotten schools, including tunes to many of the schools’ loyalty songs, comes to life again with a click of the mouse.
Nanninga has found, in three years time, his passion is shared by thousands of small-town people across the state just like him.
The Web site, which is free of advertising, has had more than 87,000 visitors since its inception three years ago this week. There has been an average of 70 hits per day, with a high day of 205, and the average number of pages opened per visit is 25.
A web tracker indicates the site has been opened in every state in the USA, and taken hits in foreign lands such as Italy, Germany, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico, Norway, Finland, Scotland, England, Ireland, France and even India.
“I think the most gratifying thing about the IHSGD site is that it is truly a passion of mine, a sincere hobby that I get great personal satisfaction from. Knowing that others do too is wonderful,” Nanninga says. “It has really been a neat journey. Quite honestly, deep down, I felt the site would do well. Small town folks are very loyal to their school, and people in general are very attached to the last “care-free” days of their lives, that being high school. So, though it has surpassed my wildest expectations, I have enjoyed every second of working on it.”
The site now includes 870 deactivated schools, and he is still adding more as they come in. His favorites are Mineral and schools within a 30 miles radius, like Neponset, Buda, Sheffield, Malden, Bureau, Wyanet, Manlius and Walnut, etc.
“I can relate to the towns and the schools that once were there,” he says. “Finding out that Osceola (north of Neponset) and Elmira once had high schools was neat.”
I was interested in hearing Dave say that one of the most impassioned group of alumni he heard from was from my neck of the woods, Armington, where some people are still bitter about consolidating into the Stan-ford Olympia district in 1972.
“Like Mineral, the sting of losing your school stays with those who lived through it, a lifetime,” he says.
I took advantage of Dave’s site two years ago, putting my hometown school, Atlanta, Ill., on the map. Like Dave, it was deactivated before my time, but I was well versed on the history from my dad, class of 1950, and attended grade school there.
The Web site has been a treasure in more ways than one. A person in Wisconsin found a class ring from Illinois from the town of Chatsworth. Nanninga posted the information on the site, and someone from Chatsworth recognized it, as they had lost it more than20 years earlier.
Nanninga has saved more than 5,000 e-mails from viewers who have passed along information on their schools or just to say thanks for the site. He has personally answered each one.
One visitor to the site, Brenda Kopp, wrote about Neponset High School on June 8, 2007, saying “What an awesome Web site! My days as a Neponset High School Zephyr were some of the best of my life. I pretty much wore nothing but maroon, grey and white during the 1980s. All my life I wanted to be a Zephyr. Thanks for putting a smile on my face.”
One of the most recent posts came from Janet D in Dec. 19, 2007, who said, “I really enjoyed reading your information about the old Illinois High Schools. It sure brought back some memories. I love that someone is preserving past things that we treasured. This was as much fun as remembering old sites along Route 66.”
Another entry in 2006, from Barry S, reads, “There is nothing sadder than to drive through one of the many small communities in Illinois and see a decaying and abandoned school and know that at some point there were those that had real pride in their school and the community. When these schools close it is like the heart is gone from the community. Thank you for keeping that spirit alive.”
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