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Origin of the Holmen High School, 1912 / W.H. Stevenson, 1970

Special Collections F589.H6 S7 1970



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“The Professor”

(William H. Stevenson)

December 8, 1970

The Holmen High School came into being because of the high minded
and progressive spirit of three prominent business men and farmers of the
village of Ho]men and the Town of Holland in the fall of 1912. These men:
Alden Casberg, Con Hoffma and Emil Knudson were members of the first
High School Board of the Union Free High School of the Towns of Holland
and Onalaska. They were Elected at a special meeting of the electors
at the time the High School was originally voted upon and established in September,
1912; by a margin of one vote majority in favor of establishing the
Union Free High School of the Towns of Holland and Onalaska of La Crosse

The newly elected members of the first High School Board went to the
President of the old La Crosse Normal School, Mr. F. A. Cotton seeking
a principal and instructor for the school. A young man who had graduated
in June of 1912, and who was taking a post graduate course at the Normal
School, and had been given a position as assistant instructor in German and
Science by President Cotton, was introduced to the newly elected Holman
High School Board. This young man was William H9 Stevenson of La Crosse.
He was offered the position as Principal; which was accepted. And so the
Union Free High School at Holmen was born; with a Principal, who was the


only instructor the first year of the High School. The members of the
Board called Stevenson “The Professor.”

Stevenson as soon as his contract was signed, ordered and purchased
a supply of text books and supplies for 25 students, - the text books being
the same text books used in the La Crosse High School, during the four
years he was a student at La Crosse. There was only one High School in
La Crosse at that time.

No taxes had been assessed or collected to take care of the expenses of
the Principal’s salary or cost of equipment, books and school supplies.
For that reason the members of the first High School Board, Alden Casberg,
Con Hoffma and Emil Knudson, had to personally guarantee the payment of
these expenses. They borrowed the money at the Holmen Bank. The Bank
insisted that these men sign notes at the Bank, personally guaranteeing payment
of all amounts borrowed to run the High School. They signed promissory
notes, for the amounts borrowed, promising individually and collectively
to pay the Bank for any and all money needed.

The obligation to repay the Bank became quite serious for these men,
because within a few days after the Principal was employed and the equipment
and books and supplies contracted for, a lawsuit was instituted against
the members of the High School Board and the Principal, Mr. Stevenson;
and a legal Injunction was issued by the Circuit Court of La Crosse prohibiting
all contracts or agreements for hiring teachers and forbidding the purchase
of equipment and supplies. But the Principal’s contract had already
been executed, and the books, supplies and equipment had been contracted


for before the Injuction was issued and served. The Holmen High School
was thus ready to go despite an Injuction (sic Injunction). This lawsuit was instituted by
certain electors who were opposed to the High School. The School had been
voted in by a majority of only one vote. The objectors alleged that several
votes in favor of the High School were invalid because of various mistakes
by the voters when they put their marks on the ballots. The Injunction was
argued before Circuit Judge E. C. Higbee at La Crosse. Judge Higbee decided
against the Injunction. And so the Holmen High School was born, and
was given a lease on life for a year until the next school election.

There was no separate building in Holmen that could be used for conducting
classes for the High School. But the Graded School building had a vacant
unused room on the north side of the second floor, which the Graded School
Board offered to the High School Board to be used for conducting classes.
The members of the High School Board and the Principal, helped the carpenters
to fasten the seats and desks to the floor. The white plastered walls
were given a coat of slate black paint and so were equipped with seats, desks
and blackboards.

There were over thirty students enrolled in the classes of the Holmen
High School the first year. Their names were: Clifford Casberg, Earl Casberg,
Willard Costley, Gertrude De Groot, Bessie Erickson, Verl Erickson,
Julia Hanson, Iver Hanson, Harold Holtlien, Gilbert Hoffma, Jacob Hoffma,
Margaret Krueger, Anna Mc Cabe, Eleanor McHugh, Byron Mulder, Agnes
Olson, Helen Pflueger, A]meron Thomas, Peter Thomas, Hazel Travis,
Harry Van de Water, Henry Van de Water, Anna Van de Water, Mildred


Sacia, Charlotte Wallum, Dora Wallum, Winnie Wallum, Harry Will,
Arnold Casberg, Lulu Fonstad, Luella Johnson, Alfred Wall.

After the first few weeks the students asked “The Professor” if they
could have a literary and debating society to meet on Friday evenings.
The professor took it up with the Board, who were enthusiastic to assist
in the forming of the society. There were no electric lights in Holmen
at that time, so it was necessary to provide lighting in the High School
room with kerosene lamps. The professor secured 12 kerosene lamps
with reflectors from the Homan general store. He and the janitor installed
the lamps, three on each wall above the black board spaces. The Board
members asked to join the Literary Society, and invited the parents of the
students and any other adults in the community to join the society with the
Board. That is the only High School society known to the professor where
students and their parents joined in debates and discussions of current
events of that time. The interest in the Literary Society developed into
the first High School and Grade School chorus. This kindred interest resulted
in the first Class Play of Holmen High: “The Deacon’s Second Wife”
staged to an overflow standing-room only crowd in the Holmen Progressive

In the Spring election of 1913, the question of whether the High School
should be continued was placed on the ballot for the decision of the electorate.
The day of the election saw great excitement in the village of
Holmen. Voters for and against the High School came to town in wagons
with boards laid crosswise of the wagon boxes to seat as many as possible


in each wagon. Others came by horseback. (There were no automobiles
in those days; and the roads were only fit for the horse and buggy.) The
afternoon of that day, as the Professor was entering the post office, he
heard someone say in Norwegian, “There goes the Professor. But he won’t
be professor after the votes are counted.”

And, as predicted, when the ballots were all counted that evening at
the meeting in the Town Hall, the High School was voted down by some
twenty-six votes majority; the announcement of victory by the opponents of
the High School was met with shouts of satisfaction. But their victory was
shattered by an announcement of the Chairman of the meeting. It so happened
that the High School Board, anticipating that the School might be voted
out, had requested State Senator Otto Bosshard to secure passage of legislation
at Madison to insure further life for the High School. It so happened
that the day of the school meeting, Senator Bosshard was successful in securing
passage of a resolution, in both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly,
providing that no Union Free High School after once being established could
be voted out until it had four years trial. Imagine the chagrin and animosities
created when it was announced at the School Meeting that despite the
vote of the electors the Union Free High School of the Town of Holland and
Onalaska would have three more years of life. As good fortune for the
youth and educational minded citizens of the community, the High School
was voted “in”, at the School Meeting and election in 1916. As a result of
the labors and sweat and foresight of the first School Board of the Holmen
High School, the Holmen High School has now become one of the biggest


and best High Schools in western Wisconsin. The grandchildren and great
grandchildren of those who originally opposed the establishment of the High
School, have graduated from Holmen High and from universities to become
leaders in their communities near and far in the State, in the Nation and in
foreign lands.

To give some idea of how things were accomplished the first year of the
High School, with only one teacher, “The Professor” proposed that something
be done to provide Manual Training for the boys. The Janitor, Hans
Dahley, was a carpenter. As Mr. Dahley was not too busy with carpentry
work the first Winter the School was in session, ‘The Professor” asked
Mr. Dahley if he would teach the boys the first rudiments of carpentry. He
Agreed, and so did the Board. He accepted an increase of five dollars a
month in his janitor wages; and this was the start of Manual Training in the
Holmen High School. The boys met daily with Mr. Dahley in the basement
around the furnace where they learned how to erect and construct a barn, a
house, and some cabinet work. They also learned how to repair any part
of a farm wagon or buggy or sled, and how to put the steel tires and runners
on farm vehicles and sleds. Some of the boys, now grown men and grandfathers,
proudly show the cabinet work they did under Mr. Dahley’s

When it became necessary to teach Penmanship and Bookkeeping to the
students, “The Professor” feeling unprepared in those subjects, asked one
of the High School students, Clifford Casberg, who had just graduated from
the Wisconsin Business University at La Crosse, - the Business College


known as the W B U - , if he would take those classes in Penmanship and
Bookkeeping. Clifford was glad to do the job. And he did such a good
job, that the students who were in his classes were known for their fine
penmanship and got jobs with business firms after graduating from High
School. Clifford Casberg, his brother Earl Casberg and his brother
Arnold Casberg, all made a success as business men in their communities.

Other graduates of the Holmen High School have become successful
as doctors, lawyers, school teachers, high school and college instructors.
All Hail to the first graduating Class of the Holmen High School:
Seven young ladies, and one young man. They were: Julia Hanson, Margaret
Krueger, Anna Mc Cabe, Eleanor Mc Hugh, Agnes Olson, Mildred
Sacia and Charlotte Wallum, and Jacob Hoffma. The old “Professor” extends
to them his sincere congratulations, with love and affection.

And now “The Professor” wants to express what has been on his heart
for more than a few years. The Holmen High School owes its existence to
the far sighted and progressive spirit of those three men who pledged their
own resources and bank accounts to insure a high school education for their
children and all the children in their community: ALDEN CASBERG, CON
HOFFMA and EMIL KNUDSON. Recognition of their spirit, their work,
their sacrifices should receive public acclaim. “The Professor” suggests
that a suitable plaque be placed in a prominent place in the main corridor
of the present main High School building to show the appreciation of the
community for what these men have done.

1.	Add – Ray LaFleur, Helen Grannum



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