Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our Public Schools, Our Pride: A Bit of Manchester Schools History

A meeting at a Manchester school building took me past Alumni Memorial Field. I liked the sign, and when I saw the plaque, I knew there must be a bit of history there.

Alumni Memorial Field in Manchester, Michigan. The stone pillars
are from the 1939 dedication and the sign is from the 1991 dedication.
Photo by Ruth Kraut.
The plaque reads: "Alumni Memorial Athletic Field. Dedicated September 13, 1939 As a Memorial to Teachers Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford. Rededicated July 18, 1991 in Remembrance of All Manchester Alumni and Faculty." Photo by Ruth Kraut
I figured that when the field was rededicated, the memories of Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford had faded for many people. I started looking to see what I could find.

According to the Manchester Historical Society records, Evan Essery was a school teacher and then served as the Manchester Schools Superintendent for fifteen years. In 1908 he was replaced by Frank E. Howard.

[Side note: if you haven't already done so, you should take some time and check out some of the archives of our local historical societies--they are awesome.]

About Minnie C. Sullivan Spaford, at first all I could find was that she was a graduate of the class of 1881, which had ten graduates.

But then--doing searches in a variety of ways--I found some dates and names that matched, only the name was Minnie C. Sullivan Spafard. And that Minnie lived from 1861-1927 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, just off W. Austin Road.

Then I found, online, a .pdf of an article from the Manchester Enterprise on the 1991 field rededication, which explained some of the history, including that the 1939 dedication was a two-day festival!

On September 13 and 14, 1939, as a part of Gala Days and Homecoming celebration, the field was dedicated as Alumni Memorial Field because it had been purchased by the Alumni Association and donated to the school district. Acquisition of this field took our athletes out of Albert Kiebler's cow pasture, off Grossman Road, just south of West Austin Road. It also broadened the possibilities for community events such as Gala Days, track meets for rural schools, the Fair, and finally, the Chicken Broil.  
The stone pillars you walked between to enter the field for your chicken dinners were constructed in memory of two well-loved teachers. Minnie Sullivan Spafard taught in the high school until she married Fred Spafard. . .  Evan Essary was superintendent of schools but in those days, the superintendent also taught full time.

Screen shot from the Annual Circular
of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900, 
found online here. (Take a look at it, there is
some interesting information about how the
schools ran then!
I think the back page of the Annual Circular of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900 really sums things up. Alumni Memorial Athletic Field, and the Manchester schools in general, have been a source of pride for the local community. As public schools should be, for all of us.

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