Final Bell at St. Ben’s: Part of Strasburg
History for 79 Years
Albasin, Ted. "Final Bell at St. Ben's: Part of Strasburg History for 79 Years." Emmons County Record, 16 May
When the final bell rings at St. Benedict Catholic School in Strassburg
May 26, the book will be closed on the school’s 79-year history.
The three students who will graduate on Friday will be the last
class to graduate from St. Ben’s.
The old school will be sorely missed by many people in the area,
including graduates of the past years and the students who will
move into the Strasburg Public School system next year. But it will
be missed most by older generations.
“The older generation, those in their fifties and sixties,
are the ones who feel the loss most, said Sister Richarde Marie
Wolf, principal and teacher at St. Ben’s. “And they
are also the most verbal.”
Although Sister Richarde doesn’t feel that economics or a
dwindling enrollment are major reasons for the closing, she does
believe that it would only be a matter of time before those things
became real issues.
“We’re still operating in the black,” she said.
“We still have quality education, top notch teachers, and
an ideal classroom situation where children get individual attention.”
But all that could change with lowering enrollment.”
During the 1988-89 school year, St. Ben’s had an enrollment
of 33 in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Next year that would
have dropped to 23 students.
“Interests in Catholic education has dwindled,” said
Sister Richarde. “Young families just don’t see the
value of a Catholic education as their parents did.”
The ultimate decision to close St. Ben’s was made by Bishop
John Kinney of the Bismarck Diocese. A committee was appointed to
consider the fate of several small Catholic schools in the diocese.
According to Sister Richarde, she knew the school was one of those
being looked at, she knew the Rev. Leonard Eckroth had some concerns
as to the school’s future economic status. “He was concerned
that if we continue to operate we eventually might not be able to,”
Sister Richarde’s main concern was how the school would survive
with only 19 families involved. Over the past eight years school
families had been able to pay over half the school’s operating
expenses through tuition and fundraisers, she pointed out. “And
past patrons were also very supportive. That’s how we survived
for 79 years. We couldn’t have done it without those dedicated
Although the school’s closing was announced earlier in the
year, Sister Richarde said the realism didn’t sink in until
Bishop Kinny came to Strasburg in April for a Mass and dinner for
the school parents.
“That’s when it really hit us,” she said. “When
the parents and children were together and the children saw their
parents actually shed a tear. I remember on second grader who stood
behind Sister Rosemary, and saw her cry. He looked up at her and
said ‘good-bye Sister,’ finally realizing the finality
of the school closing. He still prays in class that the school won’t
close. Children really feel it.”
One such student who will feel a deep loss when St. Ben’s
finally shuts its doors is Marie Wikenheiser, a fifth grader. The
daughter of Clarence and Nina Wikenheiser of Strasburg, Marie has
attended St. Ben’s for five years.
Despite her young age, a Catholic education is very important to
Marie, especially at St. Ben’s. “I like out teachers
and we can have a Catholic education so we can learn to be better
people and be nicer to each other,” she said. “We get
to know what’s wrong and try not to do that. I think I would
understand more if I stayed here.”
Marie says that her friends and classmates at St. Ben’s feel
the same way about the closure as she does. “We wish it could
stay open but we know it can’t.”
The things Marie will miss most next year are the Sisters, Friday
Masses and religion. Highlights of the school year besides the Friday
Masses are the Sing of peace in Christ, Catholic schools week, band,
sports, Christmas programs and the Marian Year celebration. But
religious training won’t be lost entirely to the children.
The brick St. Ben’s building will be used as a CCD Center,
where Catholic students will spend one hour a week in religious
Following the school year, Sister Richarde will return to Dickinson.
She has spent 13 years as a teacher, and principal for the last
eight years. She will miss St. Ben’s and Strasburg. “This
has been home to me, because in a small community you get to meet
a lot of people. I’ve been invited to a lot of their homes.”
St. Benedict Elementary School has weathered a lot of storms in
its 79-year existence, including the diphtheria epidemic of 1916,
the Great Depression of the ‘30s, and declining enrollment.
When its doors finally close on May 26, it will be missed by former
students, patrons and friends. But it will also provide a lot of
St. Benedicts opened in 1910
By Ted Albasini
Strasburg’s first parochial school opened its doors on Nov.
7, 1910, some six weeks before the completion of St. Peter and Paul
Church. The first teachers were Ursuline Sisters whose Motherhouse
was in Calveriensberg, Ahreveiber, Germany. Father Max Speckmeier
was the first parish priest, and then the school’s enrollment
jumped from 70 to 170 in six months. By 1913, 200 students were
In 1916 the school was closed because of the diphtheria epidemic,
but two years later a new brick building was built at a cost of
$50,000. That building is the same one where St Benedict now holds
Enrollment soared to 300 students by 1920, and a Catholic high
school was started. That project was abandoned during the 1923-24
St. Benedict’s became an elementary and high school in 1930-31,
but the high school closed in 1931-32 when Strasburg Public operated
an elementary and high school. The school was hit hard during the
Depression. In the years 1934 through 1937, the St. Ben’s
Elementary School was in operation, but ceased to operate during
the years 1937 through 59. In 1949 a new addition, which became
Emmons Central High School was built to house St. Benedict’s
Elementary School. In the school years 1960-61 through 1965-66 there
was a St. Benedict’s elementary and high school in operation.
Emmons Central High School opened in the school year 1966-67 and
St. Benedict’s became an elementary school without any first
During the 1980’s enrollment declined in many Emmons County
schools, including St. Benedict’s. Since 1969 the school consisted
of only grades one through eight.
In 1943 the Ursuline Sisters left St. Ben’s and were replaced
by the School, Sisters of Notre Dame, whose Motherhouse is in Mankato,
MN. The Sisters of Norte Dame are still at the school.