When the Hays Unified School District 489 school board meets Monday night, one of its action items will be to transfer the deed to the property in Munjor to the Catholic Diocese of Salina, ending more than a century of education in the tiny Ellis County town.
In the fall of 2006, the district was forced to close Munjor Elementary School when enrollment fell below 10 students, the minimum the state requires for a school to be accredited. In 2009, the school became the site of the Early Head Start program for infants and toddlers, but that program was moved to the new USD 489 Early Childhood Center opened this fall.
With the school building no longer in use by the district, it will file a quit-claim deed to the property, which it has co-owned with the diocese.
Statements from the diocese and St. Francis Catholic Church to The Hays Daily News said no decisions have been made as to the future of the property.
According to “At Home in Ellis County: 1867-1992,” a book published by the Ellis County Historical Society, the Sisters of St. Agnes were the first to offer education in Munjor in 1885, nine years after the community was formed as Obermonjour by Volga-German immigrants. The sisters’ religious instruction was offered on Sundays and holidays in a section of the original wood-frame Catholic church.
The first public school in Munjor, School District No. 8, was built just west of town. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1919.
When the native limestone St. Francis church was completed in 1890, the original church was used as a parish school.
In 1891, with enrollment growing, the St. Francis parish began construction of a new school building, designed by Justus Bissing and built with limestone quarried from a site near Munjor. It was completed in 1893.
By 1948, however, the parish began to feel a financial strain in operating the school, and it was combined with the public school district.
Twenty years later, the state consolidated schools, and the Munjor school fell under the operation of USD 489. In 1962, the district purchased property from the St. Francis parish and built a new gym and cafeteria. In 1972, the district purchased additional property to add the classroom section of Munjor Elementary, completing it in 1974.
According to the German Capital of Kansas website, the parish continues to use the building, and it is the site of an annual community meal in March.
With the upcoming transfer of the school to the diocese, The Hays Daily News appealed to former students through social media for their memories of attending grade school in Munjor, with several responses.
Most of the former Munjor students wrote that because of its small size — often around 30 students total — their classmates were like family, and those bonds have remained strong to this day.
“Growing up in a small town, with the same kids, going to the same school, roaming the same streets, attending the same religion classes, attending the same Catholic Church ... undoubtedly some of us have forged lifelong friendships, bonds and connections that I truly believe will never be severed by distance or time,” said Marcie Logsdon, who attended Munjor in the 1980s.
Melissa Pfeifer Hedges, who attended second through fifth grade in the mid-'80s, said the communal aspect of the classrooms helped with the connections among the students and teachers.
“There was one big room for all the grades, which were divided by simple room dividers for two grades per 'classroom.' Then a little library in the middle of all of it. You could always hear what was going on in the other classrooms, which was entertaining,” she said.
The playground was another fond memory for some.
“Recess was the best though, and we had some of the best and scariest playground equipment I've ever seen!” Hedges said.
“I lost more than one tooth on that witches hat!” Riki Kisner wrote about the merry-go-round.
Robert Philip recalled Joann Wasinger’s Garfield the Cat tent in her first- and second-grade classroom, where he and Donovan Richmeier would hang out and write and illustrate stories about race car drivers and fighter pilots.
Kisner said Wasinger was her favorite teacher and a big influence on her career path as a teacher.
“I wanted other kids to have that 'person' who would absolutely listen to every story, every idea, and meet them with smiles and unconditional love. I definitely felt that from her — and I’ve gone into every day of teaching trying to do that for my kids,” she said.
After Munjor, students moved on to middle school with a much larger enrollment. Marcie Logsdon was just one of those who went to Kennedy Middle School in Hays.
"As long as I live I will never forget what seemed like a sea of heads in the corridor after the bell rang to go to 1st hour. The school seemed so much bigger, and of course it was," she said.
Hedges said she has been nostalgic for the Munjor days, as she is in the process of choosing an elementary school for her daughter in Austin, where she’s lived for 20 years.
"Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to be part of something so special. As a kid, you simply take it for granted. It saddens me that my daughter will never have a grade school experience anywhere close to this. We were lucky!" she said.