Dean Schoolhouse gets renovation facelift

Thursday, June 6, 2019
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SCN Photo by Mikaela Koski
            The renovated schoolhouse.

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Photos by Rita Westrum
           Before and after pictures of the Dean Schoolhouse

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Photo by Rita Westrum
            The interior of the Dean Schoolhouse following the recent renovations.


The Dean Schoolhouse is more than a small building that contains a large room with some blackboards at one end.

More than 100 years old, the building has served as an educational center and has housed countless events, from anniversary celebrations to pinochle potlucks. Thanks to a recent renovation undertaken by the Dean Community Club, the schoolhouse will continue to serve as a gathering place for community members long into the future.


The first Dean Schoolhouse, a log cabin, was built in 1902 – only 10 years after the area was open to settlement – slightly to the east of the school’s current location. A fire in 1914 destroyed the building, and community members quickly built a new school on donated land.

This 1914 school is still standing and is the building today known as the Dean Schoolhouse. Its first year the school housed 12 students, and that population varied throughout the years, according to research done by the Dean Community Club (DCC). In 1919 there were only three students due to an influenza outbreak; 1942 saw 32 Dean students.

Bob Kirch, a former student, remembers how the building was split into the classroom and the teacher’s living quarters (in what is today the kitchen), and the location of the stove in the middle of the classroom. He recalled to the News how students had to use outhouses and hand-pump water from a well.

For recess, the kids had a pair of swings and teeter-totters, as well as monkey bars, but Kirch distinctly remembers not having any slides. He said the children used to play yard games, such as pom-pom pull away, on the east side of the building in front of the windows so the teacher could keep an eye on them.

Susan Russell, another former student, described how older students were expected to help younger students with their schoolwork in an interview given to DCC members Peggy Joki and Rita Westrum.

Kirch attended grades 1-8 in Dean before heading to Absarokee for high school, a transition all of the Dean students had to undertake as they advanced through their education. He remembers how difficult it was to go from having one teacher to having many and to be around such a large number of students.

In 1967, the Dean School District closed and consolidated with the Fishtail School District. Shortly after, in the fall of 1969, the DCC was formed by 20 local families and took ownership of the school building. Since that time, the Dean Schoolhouse has been used to house various events, particularly monthly pinochle potlucks for members.

The Dean Schoolhouse is a snapshot of Stillwater County history. Throughout its 106-year history, the county has been home to 80 school districts with more than 100 schools, according to the Museum of the Beartooths (MOB). Small, one-room schoolhouses such as Dean were commonplace across Stillwater County.

Recently, DCC members noticed the more than 100-year-old building was falling into disrepair – the outside paint was chipping, shingles were coming off, the stairs were crumbling, and the plaster inside was cracking. In 2018, the DCC decided to take action to save the schoolhouse, and the results surpassed organizers’ expectations.


Sisters Joki and Westrum spearheaded the project, with the initial goal of renovating the outside of the building; inside renovations would wait until the funds became available.

The help of the community was sought, in the forms of monetary donations and volunteer help, and Joki describes the response as “overwhelming.”

Sibanye-Stillwater’s donation of the funds necessary to redo the roof and a large donation from Johnna Williams, the daughter of the schoolhouse’s final teacher Delores Hass, got the project rolling. Using the MOB as a 501(c)3 nonprofit sponsor, the DCC received donations from 82 individuals and grants from the Nye and Absarokee community foundations.

With such support, renovation of both the outside and inside of the building was possible.

Once the funds were raised, the hard work began, and to this point, the Dean Schoolhouse has received quite a facelift.

Local community members provided about 530 volunteer hours to complete the renovations, which could not have taken place without all of the community support, Westrum and Joki noted.

Volunteers prepared the siding by power-washing, scraping, and sanding off the old paint. Professional paint contractor Rodney Gauthier donated his time to paint the exterior. The steps were replaced through volunteer help,

and locals also aided with some of the interior renovations. The roof and the inside flooring were replaced by professionals.

The original siding has been restored and repainted, the building has functioning steps, and a new roof now protects the building from the wind. Inside, the floors have been replaced or refinished, cracks have been repaired, and the room has a fresh coat of paint.

Original light fixtures, classroom ceiling and windows, and blackboards from when the building served as a school still remain. Most importantly for some, like Kirch, the original bell still hangs atop the building.

Joki described the Dean Schoolhouse as “worthy of being saved,” and added that her and Westrum’s parents, as well as Kirch’s parents, were original DCC members and would have wanted the renovation work to occur.

“This was our job,” Joki explained. Kirch, Westrum, and Joki described how they are the last generation with a close connection to the building as an actual school, as well as to the people who came before. They feel as if it was their duty to preserve the building for coming generations so the local history is not lost.


Currently, the DCC is working with Joan Brownell to complete an application for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Now that the building has been renovated and liability insurance purchased, the Dean Schoolhouse is available for use by all community members. Joki, Westrum, and Kirch hope to hold more public functions at the building in the future.

The 30 current DCC members will continue to hold monthly pinochle potlucks, and any person who may be interested in joining the club is encouraged to attend and get involved.