Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kemper Hall

I think the place I was most excited to see again was Kemper Hall.  I attended middle school, grades 7 -9 there.  Kemper Hall is where LuAnne and I met and became fast friends and pretty much inseparable.

At the time we didn't realize what a privilege it was to attend Kemper Hall.  It was an experience that is not found many places any more.

Kemper began in 1861 and was the private home of Wisconsin’s first United States Senator, Charles Durkee. In 1865, Senator Durkee’s home became a boarding school for young women. The Episcopal girl’s school became Kemper Hall in 1871  In 1878  the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary assumed the leadership of the school.
Kemper Hall consists of the Ambrose House which was the convent, St. Mary's Chapel, the Durke Mansion, Kemper Hal and the gymnasium.  It was a school for 105 years and closed down in 1975.  I was part of the last group of students to attend Kemper Hall.  At the time I attended they had boarding students as well as day students and boys had recently been admitted as day students.  I think there were about 20 students in my class.

I always compared the experience to the movie Dead Poets Society except with girls.  The school was steeped in tradition and history and ghost stories too!

My dad was actually on the committee that formed after the school closed down to help save the school.  It is  now an event center and my dad's name is still on the plaque out in front of the school.
We started our tour in the chapel.  It is the place we also started each school day.  We were required to attend chapel each morning with Father Whithey.  His photo stills hangs outside the chapel.  He was a sweet, little man.  An Episcopalian priest.  The worst part of going to chapel was the days of special holidays when they would use incense and I would sneeze the whole time!

 The chapel is now mainly used for weddings.  In fact, LuAnne was married in the St. Mary's Chapel.  It is a beautiful chapel.

 Outside the chapel was a hallway lined with old pictures of the school.  One of the rooms use to be a small chapel so they  had a picture hanging outside of the room to show how it use to look.
This is the picture.

I realized as we looked at it that I was in the photo.  The girl on the left is me!  I had totally forgotten about this.  It was a publicity shot for the school.  Yes the nice Mormon girl kneeling in front of the alter.  The girl on the right was Nancy Best (no relation) and Perry Jones ( I had a little crush on him) was on the left.  We got a good laugh out of this!

We also toured part of the Durke Mansion.  We didn't spend much time there when we were students and were really only allowed in the Mansion for special receptions or things.

 The cool thing about the mansion is, each year the graduating class would put together a time capsule and they were put into the exterior wall of the mansion.  The last graduating class was 1975, our last year there.

None of the time capsules have ever been opened.

Part of the Durke House was the senior stairs.  Only the senior girls were allowed to go up them so we never did.  But we got to this time!
The rest of the stairways looked like this...

 I had forgotten about the cool, striped wooden floors.  The striped wood designated the areas of the house that the servants were allowed to walk in.

We then went into the actual school.  It has undergone heavy remodeling and really doesn't look much like it did when I was there.  The dining room and the study hall looked very different and had been divided up into smaller rooms.
Here is the dining room.  Lunch was served family style at the tables although LuAnne and I brought our own lunch and we had to sit in a room off to the side of the dining hall.

The Study Hall as been divided up into several rooms since the facility is used for meetings and events but they did have a small display set up to show the old desk etc.  I remember sitting at a desk just like these with the study hall proctor at the front of the room making sure we did our homework!

Another display showed some of the old uniforms (I still have my old kilt) and memorabilia.  Kemper was divided into two teams - The Sisi's and the Kuku's.  I was a Kuku  and I still have my KuKu pennant!  Kind of alike the different houses in Harry Potter!

Our tour guide was a sweet older lady and when she found out we were alumni she took us to several places the general public doesn't see on their tours.  We went up into the part of the school that is in bad shape, real disrepair.  We went up to see where the old dorm rooms were.  While there we saw some of the old desk.  I wish I could have taken one home with me!

 Some of the old classrooms did look the same though - especially the science room.  I remember dissecting a frog in this room!

The Simmons Gymnasium was always so beautiful.  Played many a game of indoor field hockey here - hated it!!
They were setting up for a wedding reception.

We also went into the convent which was Ambrose Hall.  LuAnne and I both remember sneaking upstairs in the convent and finding a dark, attic room that had an enormous huge concrete cross in it - totally freaked us out!  That's what we get for going places we shouldn't be!

This is the pretty passage way that connected the chapel to the convent.

The old mosaic mural was still there.  They use to make the alter bread in this building and then it became the art classroom.

This was the door that we, as day students, would come in each day.

We headed down to our lockers. And then up these stairs to the study hall.
It was an amazing experience attending a school like this  I wish I had appreciated it more when I was there and hadn't worried so much about how long I had to wear my skirt and spent so much time in the bathroom rolling it up!!


sparkle said...

thanks for sharing this! not only do i love hearing stories of the past/childhood of someone, these posts also give a great insight into the architecture of wisconsins. it is very inspiring and made me really intersted!

p.s. i also love your other blog, homebased mom, which is a really beautiful and inspiring blog, all the decoration ideas and of course yummi receips! that must be said :)

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