Any local history buff and anyone who attended school in Rock Rapids in the 1960s has almost certainly heard the term “lollipop schools.” The lollipop schoolhouses, also referred to as Disneyland or Easter Egg Village, were a collection of seven country school buildings relocated to the east side of Rock Rapids in the early 1960s, and earned their nicknames due to the different colors of each building.
In recent years, only one of the old country schoolhouses remained east of the river, situated between the Central Lyon bus garage and the new Kids Club building. But after many years of being used primarily for storage, the last of the lollipop schoolhouses was torn down Thursday, March 30.
The lollipop schools had their heyday in the 1960s, until the Central Lyon elementary and middle school classes were moved into the current elementary school building.
The rural school buildingswere the first organized elementary school within the Central Lyon Community School District, which was formed in 1959 when the Rock Rapids Independent School District merged with Doon Public School. The complex of seven buildings was officially referred to as the East Elementary Center, but the buildings were better known by their nicknames.
The remaining building had fallen into disrepair, and a decision was made last year to have it taken down. “The buildings and grounds committee of the Central Lyon school board looked at the one-room schoolhouse last spring and determined it was too far gone to save,” explained Central Lyon superintendent and high school principal Dave Ackerman. “The roof was in poor repair and leaking, and the storage space was very wet and musty.”
Ackerman said that both Central Lyon and the River Valley Players theater group had a few flats and some old furniture stored in the structure, but most of it couldn’t be salvaged. The schoolboard placed an ad in the paper last summer to see if anyone was interested in purchasing the old building and moving it off the property. “We had a few lookers but no bids were taken on it,” said Ackerman, who added that he’s as adamant as anyone about saving historical buildings or salvaging old wood or floorboards or trim. “But there was literally nothing of that type of value in the building, and the board members recognized that too.”
Harlan Clasen, who attended fourth and fifth grade at the multi-colored school building complex, was contracted to demolish the remaining structure. Clasen went to a country school for kindergarten and first grade, then attended second and third grade in a building that used to be where Old School Park presently is. “And then I went to what they called Disneyland or the lollipop schools for fourth and fifth grade, probably in 1963 and 1964.”
The buildings were painted different colors — blue, green, orange, yellow, pink, and tan — so children could identify them. Clasen remembers being “blue up” and “pink up.” “There was a basement and an upstairs in each building. In my case, you were blue up or blue down. If you were blue down you were in the basement part of the building, and if you were blue up you were in the upstairs part. They had two classes in each of the schoolhouses.”
The lollipop schools were positioned in an L-shape with a playground behind them. The building on the corner of the L-shape was white. “It was our lunchroom and our music room,” said Clasen.
One specific memory Clasen has of attending the lollipop schools dates back to November 1963. “We were in music at the time and the phone rang and that’s how we found out that President Kennedy had been shot. The music teacher, she just kind of broke down. That really kind of sticks in my mind.”
According to a special October 28, 1962 Pictures magazine issue of the Des Moines Sunday Register, a total 271 students were attending classes at the lollipop schools at that time.
While the final building is no more, more than one of the buildings still exists. “The building I went to fifth grade in was actually converted into a house,” explained Clasen.
The lollipop schools were always meant to be a short-term fix until a new elementary school building could be built. And while the multi-colored school buildings were only used for school purposes for less than a decade, they certainly made their mark on both the history of Central Lyon and Rock Rapids.