RISING CITY — Kristen Wilton sat at her desk as students counted down the minutes.
A group of seventh-graders was sitting on the floor engaged in a game of charades and a few others were at a table playing chess while waiting for the school day to end.
A short time later, the students were exiting the building, rushing to buses to start their summer vacation.
Wilton called the moment bittersweet because it not only marked the last day of the school year, but also the last day of school in Rising City.
“It’s going to be sad to see this building empty,” Wilton said.
For her, the moment was emotional. Wilton has been a teacher there for 11 years and is a 1988 graduate of the school.
She knew the day was coming.
“That doesn’t make it any easier,” said Wilton, who teaches language arts.
For some, the writing was on the wall and they expected the school to eventually close after merging with Shelby in 2011, forming Shelby-Rising City Public Schools. Since then, Shelby served as the learning site for elementary and high school students while Rising City housed the middle school.
The plan was for the middle school to stay in the community for five years, as long as enrollment remained steady. It lasted six.
Now the doors are officially closing.
Students Kira Pavlik and Alexa Carter, both descendants of the original school board members, attended class in the building dedicated in 1926. They had mixed feelings on Wednesday, May 24.
“I’m pretty sad. I really like it here,” said Carter, a sixth-grader.
Pavlik, an eighth-grader, would have been going to Shelby next year for high school either way. She said she is happy to have gotten to spend her middle school years in Rising City and also understands that a piece of the community is gone.
“I think we are all sad to see it go. There were a lot of memories and things that happened here,” she said.
Some community members and alumni were waiting until the day the school closed.
“When you have a two-story old building and you can’t provide an elevator and things for the handicapped, it’s so expensive to keep going. There comes a time when you have to change and you have to accept it,” said LuAnn Kilgore.
Kilgore is a 1963 graduate of the school and was a paraprofessional there for 26 years. The 71-year-old also served as treasurer of the Rising City Alumni Association for a number of years.
She said it is difficult for a town the size of Rising City to continue to support a school.
“When you are in between two larger schools you won’t have enrollment to keep going,” she said, speaking of Shelby and David City, communities located fewer than 15 miles from Rising City.
Enrollment has been an issue. This year the number of students attending school there was in the 80s, down from 100 four years ago.
“The enrollment numbers are dropping. You can’t manage to keep a school open with only six, seven, eight kids in a class. You have to pay the teachers, too,” said Walter Crook, a 1957 graduate of Rising City.
Crook has a long family connection to the school. His grandfather was a member of the school board when the building opened. His wife, Mary Ann, and their four children also graduated from the school.
The 77-year-old has spent most of his life in Rising City. He is concerned about the future of the community without a school.
“Look at all the other little schools that closed. Those towns start to die,” he said.
Crook is a loyal attendee of the annual Rising City alumni banquet and this is his 60th anniversary of graduating high school. Another alumni banquet, which are held at the school, will take place this weekend. He and other attendees are wondering if those banquets can continue with the future of the building unknown.
“It is going to be a sad day. We are going to have our alumni banquet Saturday night. I don’t know what we’ll do after that because we won’t have a place to go to anymore,” he said.
It has yet to be determined what will happen to the building.
“Our goal is to work with the village to come up with a viable option that works for the community for that site. How that will look will be based on cost and feasibility,” said Chip Kay, superintendent of Shelby-Rising City Public Schools.
The building has structural issues and updates are needed throughout, but Kay said there are options on the table to avoid the possibility of it remaining empty. He said it will take a substantial investment to use the building long-term.
Dick Raitt, 93, is one of the oldest living alumni of Rising City.
He graduated in 1942 and wasn’t the only member of his family to attend that site. He also had a brother, siblings and son who went to school there.
Raitt said he hopes something can still be done with the building.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to it. Naturally, I’m sad to see anything close. I’m wishing they would still have something there,” he said.
A school has been located in Rising City since the late 1800s. The current brick building is 91 years old. It initially housed grades one through 12.
In 2015, voters passed a $14.9 million bond issue that added to the Shelby site, including a new elementary building. Elementary rooms are being remodeled to accommodate middle school students.
The staff at Rising City will be transitioning to Shelby, too, including teacher John Schoenrock.
The social studies instructor has spent 10 years in Rising City.
“My kids have gone through this building, from elementary through middle school into high school. I’ve taught a number of kids here. I hate leaving but understand the reasoning,” Schoenrock said.
He would like to see the building become a community center.
“The north part of the building is newer and has several different rooms. It has a kitchen. It would be perfect for weddings, reunions, funerals, get-togethers. Unfortunately, the older part of the building has some issues and a lot of costs,” he said.
As a resident of Rising City, Schoenrock would be willing to pay a little bit more in taxes to keep the building instead of tearing it down.
Though closing the school has produced melancholy feelings in the community, the transition to Shelby is for the best, he said.
“I hate removing schools from small towns. It’s almost like the death knell of the town. You hate to see it, but you have to look at the best interest of the students and that’s what we are doing. We are going to be sustainable for the foreseeable future," he said.
"This building, unfortunately, just isn’t part of that picture."
Another Memorial Day has come and gone. For most of four days, travelers saw 300 U.S. Flags waving on the Butler County Courthouse lawn.
Before that scene occurs, however, volunteers gather to do some work.
For more than a decade, Dale Cooper has been working with a handful of fellow veterans each time the Avenue of Flags display is set up at the courthouse.
In advance of each Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the flag pole holders, concealed in the well manicured lawn must be located. The flags bear the names of Butler County service men and women who are deceased.
To do that chore, Cooper has spent his share of time with a metal detector to find the pins, and then down on his knees with a screwdriver to pry up the pins that plug the pole holders.
Cooper said he’s grateful for the help that he’s received over the years, but at the age of 81, the retired teacher said it’s time for more people to step up for the process of setting up and taking down flags. He gets some assistance from trustee inmates at the Butler County Detention Center. There have been some setups and take-downs that have lacked volunteers.
Cooper wouldn't say he's ready to hang up the job completely, but he said: “There’s going to be some change coming." He said that the reconstruction of the courthouse parking lots and sidewalks may affect the flag display space.
The David City American Legion baseball team, which receives support from the American Legion Post 125, came out in full force on Monday to help count the flags and store them in the post’s trailer. A stiff northwest breeze complicated the process.