Before Blair Hall
Former Academy Inspires Alumni Memories
Dedicated in November of 1927, Wittenberg’s Blair Hall Academy received acclaim as “The Model Educational Plant.” The academy included the first four elementary grades and served children living near campus upon the written petition of their parents. Its capacity of 150 students was quickly met, and a long wait list ensued.
In the 1930s, the city of Springfield needed another school on the north side, but it lacked the resources to build one. In response to the need, Wittenberg rented four classrooms in Blair to the city school board, followed later by seven rooms for a kindergarten and the first six grades – an arrangement beneficial to both the city and the college.
The elementary school students used the south entrance and had two classrooms on each floor at the south end of the building. One of those students, Barbara Botsford Barth ’78, fondly remembers her years at Blair. “I started first grade in 1936 and went all six years in Blair,” said Barth, recalling the names of all of her teachers, as well as the Wittenberg student teachers. “They came in pairs, always young women, and took over the class,” she said. “They only came during certain times of the year.” Barth also remembered going to observe classes in other academic buildings and to rehearsals in the auditorium.
“We had art and music instructors who traveled to the schools, and we gave presentations in the auditorium,” Barth said. “There was also a nurse who weighed and measured us regularly. We had our eyes and hearing tested, and our general health was documented.”
Fellow Blair alumnus Phillip Hanes ’52 lived on McCreight in a college-owned half double that backed up to the practice field.
“Our house sat on the east corner of today’s tennis courts,” Hanes said. “We walked down an alley and picked up our schoolmates along the way. I carried my lunch to school, and we had recess on a small playground behind the building. Blair was a typical elementary school.”
Most of the elementary years found Don Ryman ’57 at Bushnell Elementary, but he did attend Blair part of his fourth and sixth grades and all of his fifth.
“We moved to a house across from Ferncliff Cemetery and could have gone to Jefferson School, but my mother felt it would be safer to cross McCreight than Fountain,” he said. “We moved back out of the district when the house sold.” Although admittedly not the ideal student, Ryman loved Blair and Wittenberg. “Miss Keesacker made a lasting impression on me,” Ryman said. “She taught us the value of autonomy. You were free to make your own choice, but Miss Keesacker was the ruling factor.”
Ryman was so impressed that he later attended Wittenberg College for his bachelor’s degree and became an art teacher. He also took master’s courses in Blair, and he taught in Blair’s education department for 15 years. Blair Hall Academy closed when the college was assigned an Army Air Corps training unit as part of the war-effort in February 1943, but the memories remain in the minds of the academy’s students.