Bixby School students reunite, reminisce about the day the school burned down

Bixby School students and teacher, 1949-1950. Courtesy photo.

By Ardis Ann Diehl

Twelve students comprised the student body of the one-room Bixby School during the term of 1949-1950, along with their teacher, Clara E. Christesen. After 70 years, six of those students met Nov. 6, 2019, at Lamont Hill Restaurant for dinner and an enjoyable evening of talking about times at Bixby – mostly everyone’s memories of the day of the fire.

‘Twas an eventful day in March 1950 – Bixby schoolhouse burned to the ground. Embers from the burning trash in the furnace had floated up the chimney and out onto the wood roof. Of course, it was a typical day of Kansas wind which contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze.

I remember sitting at my small desk, looking up between the spaces in the ceiling boards and seeing flames in the attic and hearing the crackling sound. At the same time, the teacher was cranking the “four longs” general ring on the party line telephone and shouting, “Bixby schoolhouse is on fire!”

None of the patrons who picked up the call acknowledged they had heard it – they all headed to the school in a rush. So the teacher kept calling the alarm, thinking no one had heard, all the while we 12 students were still sitting in our seats.

We all got out and were safe. Older students went back into the burning building and rescued some of the rows of runners of desks, coats from the cloak room, and yes, the lunch pails with our not-yet-eaten lunches. The neighborhood men arrived and the upright walnut piano (weighing enough to take four men and a horse to move) was saved, along with the heavy teacher’s desk.

One of the horses in the horse barn spooked and ran two and a half miles home at full gallop. Students, teacher, parents, and community folks stood at the far edge of the school grounds and watched the fire entirely consume the District No. 53 education building.

One month of the eight-month term of school was left that spring. We finished the year at Lone Elm School on Highway 68 and had the typical last day of school picnic. The teacher and all of the students of the last school year of Bixby School are shown in a photo taken that day, April 22, 1950.

Those attending the reunion dinner, along with their spouses, were Donna Miller Young and Marvin, of Quenemo; Leo Williams and Gloria, Osage City; Garry Niehoff and Lila, Topeka; Jim Niehoff and Diane, Baldwin City; Carolyn Burkdoll McMillin and Gerald, Lyndon; and Ardis Ann Diehl and Clyde, Lyndon.

Above photo: Bixby School last day of school picnic held at Lone Elm School, April 22, 1950. Bixby students of the 1949-1950 school year, front, Jim Athon, grade 1; second row, Rosalie Kay Whitaker, grade 3, Ardis Ann McCreight, grade 2, Ronald Miller, grade 1, Jim Niehoff, grade 3; middle, Leo Oliver Williams, grade 6, Carolyn Burkdoll, grade 4, Clara E. Christesen, teacher, Garry Niehoff, grade 4, John Carlton Whitaker, grade 5; back row, Mary Jo Whitaker, grade 6, Donna Louise Miller, grade 7, and Dean Lee Burkdoll, grade 7.

Ed. note: Bixby School was located about three and a half miles southeast of Lyndon, Kan.

Bixby School students at Lamont Hill in 2019, from left, Carolyn Burkdoll McMillin, Garry Niehoff, Donna Miller Young, Leo Williams, Ardis Ann McCreight Diehl, and Jim Niehoff.

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