A 35-year-anniversary and a 100-year-anniversary all rolled into one? That’s what’s happening on Oct. 11 this year at the former McCoy Elementary School where Music/Arts Institute will be celebrating its history … and that of the much older, historic building where it resides at 1010 S. Pearl.
In September 1914, the Southeast Ward School opened with 106 pupils and three faculty members. According to a 1964 booklet in the Jackson County Historical Society’s Archives commemorating the school’s 50th anniversary, there were 2,233 pupils districtwide in 1914. At the School Board’s Jan. 19, 1915, meeting, the school was renamed after William McCoy, the first mayor of Independence in 1849, and member of the first Independence School Board in 1866 (and again between 1881 and 1884). McCoy, whose son, Allen, also served on the board from 1891 to 1903, had provided annual gold medal awards to the best readers and spellers in the elementary schools. William and Eleanor McCoy’s home also survives today as a private residence on West Farmer northwest of the Independence Square.
McCoy School served through two world wars, swelled from the Baby Boom, and taught youths through the Korea-Vietnam era. By 1964, there were more than 13,000 pupils in Independence. McCoy School kids were soon directed to newer schools serving suburban housing divisions, and McCoy School closed in 1977. It became the home for a “Head Start School” until the early 1980s, when the building was vacated.
Meanwhile, in 1979, four local musicians (Millicent Daughterty; Wayne Smith; Evelyn Allen and William Ted Stewart) visioned an institution that would teach youths and elders to embrace beauty and professionalism in the arts. Jean Dexter, Phil Clark and Deborah Wells joined the early efforts that became the MAI, a nonprofit organization offering a wide curriculum in fine arts including instrumental and vocal music, ballet and visual arts.
MAI reopened the McCoy School building as its home in 1985. A 75-year school reunion was held in October 1987 to help unite the past with the present. At that time more than 400 students were enrolled in the MAI. Former McCoy teachers – Louise McClure Smith, who taught sixth graders there for 22 years; Ruth Tuley, a McCoy teacher with a 26-year-tenure; and Bertha Valbracht, dean of teachers for 33 years (who sadly died just prior to the reunion) – gathered donations for the event, which were given to MAI to procure much needed equipment and supplies. PTA parents and current and former McCoy and MAI pupils participated in organizing the event.
Then, on the day of the Oct. 4, 1987, reunion, the following former teachers (and Ms. Smith and Ms. Tuley) were assigned rooms to welcome guests: Mary Helen Gallaher Young; Mary Gunlock Clark; Paulette Baker; Cheryl Brown Meagher; Judith Hough; Trudy Vince; Phyllis Egbert Hughes; Helen Hostetter; Sue Barton; Alda Hamilton; Brenda Hedges Meier; Joan Keck; Murl Silvers; Nancy Willis; Dorothy Strohwig Evans; Reba Sisk; Gail Nelson; Nina Maloney; Mary L. Kilpatrick; and Russell Broyles (a former principal). Former teachers Pauline Jones Everitt, Maurine Schwald Green and Lorine Clements also attended. All teachers and principals from 1914 through 1964 were listed in the commemorative booklet mentioned above.
If you were once a student, teacher, administrator, or are descendant of anyone associated with McCoy School, or if you have any connection with Music/Arts Institute, mark your calendars now, and plan to participate this Oct. 11. Perhaps you or someone you know might “remember the squeekie wooden floors?”
Organizers seek to contact groups who would like to have a display, exhibit or presentation at the event. Contact: McCoy Centennial Celebration, Music/Arts Institute, 1010 South Pearl, Independence, MO 64050; 816-836-1998; firstname.lastname@example.org; or musicartsinstitute.org.
David W. Jackson is archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society.