St. Paul’s Lutheran School, currently at 9035 Grant Ave., in Brookfield, is celebrating its 105th anniversary of having first begun classes in January 1903. At the time, its pupils were traveling to and from school on dirt and gravel roads, wooden sidewalks and across vacant lots.

This year, 2008, the school is actually celebrating 100 years of existence instead of 105, due to the fact that there were some years very early on when the school was closed due to dwindling student enrollment or for financial reasons.

Running a Christian day school was on the church agenda on Dec. 28, 1902, and in January 1903, the school began operation. First teacher for the school was Vicar W.L. Peterson, coming here from the Concordia Seminary in Springfield. Classes were held in the rear of the wood frame church, constructed in 1897.

Concordia Seminary student Neumann took over teaching when Peterson left, from 1903 to June 1904. George Seitz was the school’s first full-time teacher, from 1904-1908.

Miss Erna Hoffman was to be the next teacher from 1908-1910, when the Rev. Alex Ullrich of St. John’s Lutheran Church in LaGrange took over teaching duties, as well as becoming the church’s first resident pastor.

Tuition paid by the children’s parents depended on the number of children in the family. It was 50 cents per month for the first child and only half that amount for the second child enrolled. Large families got a break here; all the other children in the family attended classes for free.

In 1912, the opinion was that the sacristy of the church was not the best place to have a classroom, and that erecting a separate school building was the answer to this problem. It was decided on May 9, 1912, after a long discussion, to buy the two lots just east of the church for this purpose. The lots were bought for $615.

The next month saw excavation work begin, and the two-story frame building, complete with attic and basement, was ready for use as a school by that September, when it opened to 24 students. Dedicated on Oct. 6, 1912, the school building also housed the parsonage on its second floor.

Cost of the school/parsonage was $5,312.86, not an insignificant sum, but the Illinois District of the Missouri Synod assisted by issuing an interest-free note to the church in the amount of $1,500.

From the beginning, pupils at the school were being taught their lessons in the German language.

The school was faced with a severe drop in enrollment in September 1918, when only 10 children had signed up for classes. Part of the reason for this may have been that anything to do with the German language was forbidden by a resolution passed by the Brookfield village board. This action was not only taken by Brookfield, but in communities all over the United States after the country’s entry into World War I.

A Saturday School was then instituted, instead, with instruction given in English to 45 children. However, children still had to attend a weekday school, as well. They also went to Congress Park, Lincoln or S.E. Gross School.

Pastor Oscar Rockhoff, coming from Manitowoc, Wis., in 1919, attempted to reopen St. Paul’s School in 1921 with only 12 students.

In 1922, the Voter’s Assembly of St. Paul’s resolved that on the second Thursday of each month, there would be no school held. The day off was enacted so that the Frauenverein-the Ladies Aid-could meet and work in the school. But the students’ joy was short-lived. In September 1922, only four pupils enrolled, and the school closed again. So the children attended local public schools.

Mrs. Marie Verdon didn’t like this situation at all. In a letter addressed to the Voter’s Assembly of the church, dated March 9, 1923, she made several strong points about children being able to attend a school where they could receive a good Christian education.

“I believe the foundation of a progressive church is its school,” she wrote. “Gentlemen, it is within your power to vote for a continuation of our school next fall. Don’t delay voting for the school.”

Mrs. Verdon then demonstrated that her actions were louder than her words, and went around asking parents to send their children to St. Paul’s. The school reopened on Sept. 4, 1923, with Concordia College teacher William F. Witmer accepting the post of instructor. He remained as such for 13 years, also acting as principal. Twenty-eight students were in attendance.

Formerly, the problem had been too few students, and then, in 1925, the reverse was true. Fifty-five students were enrolled. More space for the school was needed, and also a new parsonage. Once the latter was built, the school’s old second-floor parsonage was converted into another classroom. St. Paul’s Lutheran School was now fully accredited, having students in all eight grades.

In the 1920s, the students at St. Paul’s enjoyed an additional Christmas holiday not given to those children attending other schools. An entire day off was given to St. Paul’s students to go Christmas shopping. In 1928, this was cancelled by request of the school nurse, on the grounds that too many students were infected with chicken pox.

In 1931, a kindergarten was established, with a tuition of $1 per month that the teacher received as salary.

During the Depression, in 1937, thought was given to either building a new adjoining church and school, or just a new church. Taking things one step at a time, the new church was dedicated on Nov. 18, 1945. A year later, on Nov. 17, 1946, the last church service was held in the old church, once the site of St. Paul’s first school.

In 1948, the first contribution of $5 for the new school fund was given, possibly anonymously. The treasurer reported its existence many times before it was spent. Also this year, the school hired its first full-time janitor.

The school committee, in 1949, leapt into action and, before very long, lots on the north side of Grant Avenue just east of the new church and a private home were bought to serve as the site of the new school.

Funds for the school building accumulated slowly. The school committee did a lot of figuring, and bravely proposed, in October 1953, that the new school building be erected at a cost of $165,000, with $35,000 additionally earmarked for equipment.

Advance pledges and loans were sought. Four months later, in April, 1955, every member of the church was visited, and the result was that $99,363 in cash and pledges were acquired.

The old 1912 wood-frame school building at 9029 Grant Ave. was beginning to burst at the seams. In 1954, 95 students were attending.

The Nortier House, the home located between the new church and the old school, was bought with the land for $20,000 by St. Paul’s in July 1955. The house located where the current school entrance is was then resold for $3,000 on the condition that it be moved off the site.

Royal V. Flyte of Downers Grove was the new owner, who moved it to the 4500 block of Deyo Ave. But first he had to cut off the top story of the house, to get it under communications wires running along the railroad tracks.

Ground was broken on the snowy, cold Sunday afternoon of Nov. 27, 1955. Pastor George Mundinger turned over the first spadeful of earth (and snow). Construction began in April 1956, by A. Kopecky and Sons of Lyons. The new, modern school was dedicated in May 19, 1957.

On May 22, a Victory Banquet celebrating the completion of the new school was held, saying goodbye to the old school building with poetry:

“Little Gray Schoolhouse/ We pause to remember/ The happy days that began/ Each September. And now that time/ For farewell is here-/The memory of you/ Will remain forever dear.”

School bus service began in 1962, with the custodian, Paul Darby, as the driver. A second bus was added in 1974. In 1975, at a cost of $28,000, a modular, almost ranch-house-style classroom was built on the east playground lot. Here the seventh and eighth grades had their own “private” school room.

In 1976, the kindergarten class had their own separate little area, too, in the form of the Reading Loft, given by Mr. Paul A. Kuehn. The loft was five feet up, and kids could climb the ladder to the 5-foot-square deck, with railings on the sides. Truly it was a world within a world. Today it only exists as a memory.

In 1988, new windows were installed in the school and gym, replacing the old aluminum and glass block framing. From 1995-96, the gym stage was remodeled, and new windows, plumbing, flooring, and storage closets were put in. A soundproof door system allowed the gym to become a multipurpose room when needed.

Five years later, in the summer and fall of 2001, a new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system were installed in the school, making hot days of no cross ventilating air a thing of the past.

Some bits of the school’s past remain, however. The school still has its old phone number that dates from as far back as 1953: 485-0650.

Today, all is not class work and homework for the students of St. Paul’s. The class plays are eagerly looked forward to. According to Principal E. Theodore Lams, in years past, “the students have put on ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Then there are the Talent Shows, too.”

“And our school centennial celebration has only started,” added Lams. “We just had our school play, an Agatha Christie play named ‘A Murder Is Announced.’ Then on Thursday, May 22, we had our big picnic at Kiwanis Park.”

Pastor Joel Brondos revealed that “we have more planned, but nothing definite. Most of our celebration will be held during the next school year.”

“So there’s plenty to look forward to, yet,” said Lams.

Which is probably also what the early teachers of the school thought, around a hundred years ago.