Everywhere in the Fort Osage School District, the same stories can be heard – adults who grew up in the area and attended Fort Osage schools, returning to the area to raise their own families.

Everywhere in the Fort Osage School District, the same stories can be heard – adults who grew up in the area and attended Fort Osage schools, returning to the area to raise their own families.

“I went to Elm Grove, and now I am a teacher here. It is weird working alongside the same teachers who gave you your start and calling them by their first names instead of their last,” said Natalie Lyons. “My mother also went to Elm Grove, so that is kind of neat.”

And just days before the celebration of Elm Grove’s 50th anniversary, the number of stories similar to Lyons is increasing.

“I think the most surprising thing we have found out during this process is finding out how interconnected we all are here,” Principal Pam Fore said. “I think what makes the Fort Osage School District unique is it really is a small town community. That is what it feels like.”

Elm Grove’s history
Elm Grove Elementary started as two, one-room school houses on the eastern edge of Jackson County. While not much is known about Elm Grove East and Elm Grove West, one was located just down the street from the current site and was a converted chicken coop.

In an August 27, 1977, article from the Kansas City Times, Frances Willard Kerr wrote about the experiences of her mother, Lucy Whitney, when she attended Elm Grove.

“Our farm was one and a half miles from ‘Ellum’ Grove (as most people called it), and we had to cross the ‘rock road’ – the old Lexington Road, now called Highway 24, to get there. That year the county was repairing the road, using the chain gang (county prisoners) for the work,” Whitney said in the newspaper article.

Whitney described the building as “a plain little building with four windows on each side.” She said after she left Elm Grove, parents in the community had a disagreement about whether or not to leave the school where it was, or move it to a more “desirable location.” The disagreement became so bad that neighbors stopped speaking to each other. The school was eventually moved in 1903 to a “higher site on Lexington Road, west of Salem Church.” The two Elm Grove schools were among the 46 one-room school houses in Jackson County in 1942.

By 1949, a plan was put into place by the Missouri Legislature to consolidate the 83 school districts in Jackson County into 15 large districts. Suggested school districts were current ones such as Independence, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit, but there were also others like the Sugar Creek and Buckner school districts.

Voters later that year approved the reorganization, and the Fort Osage School District was born. It was created from 16 rural districts as well as the Buckner High School district and the Levasy High School district. One of the rural school district facilities is still used today – the Gragg Administration Building was once the Woodland School building. The Elm Grove School District was not annexed into the district until 1951.

Elm Grove Elementary as it stands today was built in 1962 for 200 students. It was the third school constructed by the new Fort Osage School District. The first two were Blue Hills Elementary and Fort Osage High School in the early 1950s. Shortly after Elm Grove’s opening, two additions were added in 1963 and 1964. According to the 1977 Kansas City Times, more than 700 students attended the school.

Although Fore is not a lifelong resident of the area, she has been teaching at Elm Grove since the mid-1980s. After completing her student teaching at the school, she became a teacher. Although she left for several years to serve as principal of the Early Childhood Center, she returned as principal, describing the school as a “family.”

“I have never met any other adults who cared more for kids than here at Elm Grove,” she said. “We have been searching for former teachers and administrators who have been at the school. I have even spoken with Elm Grove’s very first principal, who will be at the celebration.”

Let the celebration begin
To celebrate 50 years, Elm Grove is planning two anniversary celebrations. One will be for students during normal school hours on Thursday. In addition to filling a time capsule, there will be a teacher dance and a special meal during lunch. The food service department is trying to re-create a typical lunch students might have had 50 years ago.

In the evening, a community event is at 6 p.m. Community members, alumni and friends are invited to attend. The culinary arts program at the Fort Osage CTC is preparing food, and memorabilia will be displayed throughout the building. In addition, teachers have created special displays of hair, clothing, culture and items that have evolved during the last half century. The drafting program at the CTC is also making plans of Elm Grove, including the additions that have been made over the years.

“We may be part of Independence, but this is our little community. Everything we have is right here, which makes everyone so close,” said Kandi Hickey, a teacher at Elm Grove. “The students are getting really excited about the anniversary, and we have received so much community support. This has really blossomed into something very big.”

As word of the anniversary celebration spreads, numerous items have been brought to the school to display during the event, including an old wooden sign that was once in front of the building in the 1970s and 1980s.

“So many have come forth with items and ideas. That has been a surprise,” Hickey said. “The staff has really come together and everyone is excited. It has been awesome.”

For more information on Elm Grove’s anniversary celebration, contact the Central Office at 816-650-7000.