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A lesson in history


Sunny Side School has rich history H By Gail Banzet-Ellis


undreds of one-room schoolhouses once dotted the Oklahoma prairie, but many have faded away into history, living on only in the memories of elders. For the handful preserved today, these timeless jewels provide a glimpse into the past and remind visitors of how they once were the


The Ethridge family, including son Cameron (pictured), has repaired Sunny Side School while preserving its original features. Courtesy photo


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heart of rural communities. Sunny Side School near Stroud, Okla., is one of those charming buildings lucky enough to fall into the hands of locals who care about its preservation. The structure is owned by People’s Electric Cooperative General Manager Randy Ethridge whose family ties to the school date back to its glory days at the turn of the century. “This is where my grandmother and grandfather attended school after my great-granddad brought his family to the Stroud area in a covered wagon pulled by two red mules,” Ethridge says with a smile, wood planks installed in 1892 under his feet. The school’s original working bell perches above the porch. Sunny Side School sits on 1.75 acres of land originally donated by a 9-year-old girl of the Sac and Fox Nation; Ke-wah-ko-me lived in Sac and Fox territory and disliked the tribe’s boarding school she was forced to attend. According to Ethridge, Ke-wah-ko-me donated to white settlers part of the 80-acre Indian allotment she received from the U.S. government for construction of the school. Ke-wah-ko-me, who was given the patriot name of Ruth Miller, provided a way for students of many backgrounds to obtain an education. “She was the 389th enrollee of the Sac and Fox Nation,” Ethridge says. “She attended school here with her fellow tribe members as well as both white and black students before segregation.” The legend of Ke-wah-ko-me is passed on in the stories Ethridge tells his family and the historic black-and-white school photos hanging on the walls. Visitors step back in time when they enter the one-room building, a classic schoolhouse scene one might imagine from books such as “Little House on the Prairie.” An old wood stove sits at the back of the room where children would place their shoes to dry during wet, cold winters. Slant-top wooden desks are lined up in neat rows in front of the teacher’s desk, and a towering grand piano stands in the corner. The vintage light fixture with a milk glass globe hangs from the tall ceiling. When Ethridge purchased the building in 2000, he says the original bulb flickered on with the first try, still lighting the room after all those years. Other treasures he and his family discovered included an American flag with only 48 stars and the school’s original chalkboard with faded names and birth dates from the 1930s. Ethridge points out original wooden benches along the walls—seats once used for church services and other community events. “These are items that if someone didn’t remember and restore would be lost,”


he says. “We love it because the school helps tell our kids and grandkids about where we came from and how difficult it was back in those days.”


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