Gary Leese remembers it as the little yellow schoolhouse.
“It was just this little one-roomed building that was down there by the where the Hunting Shack is now,” Leese said. “I’m sure that not too many people remember it anymore, but there was some history made there and some culture.”
A Stevensville High School senior and Lone Rock Elementary alumni is hoping to preserve some of that history for those who follow.
Catrina Herberle has joined forces with Leese and Lone Rock School Trustee Penny Bertram to save the little yellow schoolhouse’s bell and create new memories for students at her former elementary school.
But first there’s a little bit of history that needs to be told.
Leese believes the one-room schoolhouse was built sometime in the 1940s or maybe earlier to serve schoolchildren in what was then district 17.
He’s not quite just how long it lasted as a school building.
By the time Leese came to know it well, it had gone through quite a transformation and not for the better.
Ray and Doris Bell owned the property in the 1960s when Leese came with the idea that it would make an ideal place for his 4-H group to meet.
Doris wasn’t so sure.
She told him they had been using to store grain and there hadn’t been any maintenance done on it for decades.
“She said, ‘You don’t want to use that. It’s a mess,’” Leese said.
But Leese wasn’t afraid of a little bit of hard work. He thought his 4-H group would benefit from it too. So they convinced Doris that it was a good idea and then rolled up their sleeves to make it presentable.
He remembers that Thanksgiving in 1966 or maybe ’67 when they had their first meeting there, and Doris showed up with the curtains she had made for the windows.
For a time, things went well and it became a meeting place for all sorts of wholesome events.
But then the trouble began.
Some people came by and took down the bell without asking. When they stopped by to ask Doris if they could buy it, she told them in no uncertain terms that no, it wasn’t for sale and they needed to get it out the back of their pickup right that minute.
And then someone broke in and stole the woodstove.
That was the breaking point for Doris. She called Leese at the Three Mile Store and told him that she had ordered the building burned at 2 p.m.
“I ran down there as fast as I could,” Leese said. “We got everything out that we could. I still have two doors – one from the coat room and the other from the back porch. By 2:30, it was in flames. I was devastated.”
The school’s bell disappeared shortly after that.
“I think she may have had it put in her potato cellar out behind her house,” Leese said. “It probably sat there until she died and then it was sold.”
He never gave that bell another thought until a few months ago when someone called to say they believed that they had found the Lone Rock school bell at C&C Salvage and Re-purpose at Woodside.
“Well, I knew that couldn’t be,” Leese said. “To the best of my knowledge, Lone rock never had a bell. I figured it must have been the Lower Three Mile School’s bell.”
About that time, he also learned that Heberle was looking for a worthwhile senior project.
And so he suggested that creating a new home for this historic bell at Lone Rock School might be worthwhile endeavor.
She thought that giving the century-old, 24-inch bell a new life would be the perfect project for her.
“The bell will proudly serve as a symbol of the commitment and dedication to excellence in education for our children,” Heberle wrote. “It is hoped that a new tradition of ringing the bell to celebrate kids’ accomplishments and special events in the community will become established.”
Bertram offered to serve as Herberle’s mentor for the project to raise the estimated $5,000 to buy the bell, build a structure and create an interpretive center on the Lone Rock school grounds.
“This century-old, 200-pound bell tone is beautiful, strong and will carry for quite a distance,” Bertram said. “The sound of the bell will bring back memories of all that came to school at the sound of a school bell ringing and will become a wonderful memory for future students.”
“It is just wonderful a past student of Lone Rock wants to put her energy and time into ensuring this bell gets a home at Lone Rock School,” Bertram said.
Donations are being accepted at Rocky Mountain Bank in Stevensville and at the Lone Rock School. Heberle has also set up a GoFundMe.com page named Historic School Bell Project.
Right now the bell is being stored in a storage unit rented by Leese.
“It’s going to take some work to get it all cleaned and ready to be hung,” Leese said. “Sounds like a pretty good winter project to me.”