“Huss Stories” is the name of a summer play project undertaken by Christina Binder, an intern from Calvin College who is spending her summer in Three Rivers.
Binder, a “rising senior” studying theatre at Calvin, hails from Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In her role as a summer intern, she is working with *culture is not optional (*cino), the organization that purchased the former Huss Elementary School property in 2009 to develop as an “intergenerational community and educational center.”
Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma are spearheading the Huss School project through the “Imaging Space” campaign with the goal of breathing new life into the 22,000-square-foot building located on four acres in Three Rivers’ Second District.
Binder’s “Huss Stories” project is very much in line with one of the items in a list of “Ten Things for Huss School in 2011,” an article by Kirstin that was published in catapult* magazine in January:
4. Preserving the stories of the historic Huss School and the surrounding neighborhood. A few weeks ago, I was sharing the peace at the church that graciously hosts our interns in their rectory and a lovely older woman in a fuzzy hat informed me as she shook my hand, “You know, I went to kindergarten at Huss School in 1922 when the building was brand new.” Wow! In 2011, we hope to continue preserving these and other stories from our historically rich community.
During an interview with the River Country Journal, Binder said she’s collecting stories of Huss School through interviews with people in the community – students, teachers and others who have been involved at Huss – and hopes to turn the interviews into a play that will be presented at the school at the end of the summer. (Christina_Binder_audio clip – :15)
Binder said the inspiration for the project came from one of her professors at Calvin College, Stephanie Sandberg, who “has done a number of these types of play pieces” that she calls “ethnographies.”
Binder said, “I want to look at the nostalgic, happy stories of Huss when it was used as an elementary school as well as what happened when the school was abandoned – when they stopped using it as an elementary school and some of the hurt feelings that went along with that and also looking at what *culture is not optional is doing with the school now and how that is bringing life back to the community.”
At this point, Binder has interviewed Rob and Kirstin and Jo Barton, a retired teacher. She also has access to a number of other interviews from a student who collected them for her own history project last year. Beyond that, she said, “I’m just taking names, word of mouth, trying to get into contact with people to see who else has a story that they would like to share with me.”
In the “Beliefs and Mission” portion of her play project proposal, Binder wrote, “Stories are a vital part of community as they capture our views of the past and inform community identity. Stories can unite people to support a common goal. Huss School is a symbol of Second Ward and the stories surrounding the school shape how those in Second Ward see themselves and their community. By collecting the stories of Huss from its school days to its closing and the eventual purchase by *cino, I hope to capture all aspects of the school’s past and provide a vision for the future of school. I hope that the story of Huss will help define Second Ward as a community that overcomes.” (Christina_Binder audio_clip – :21)
Binder wrote that she recognizes she is an “outsider to the community” and, “As much as I hope storytelling through theatre will help the community, I cannot determine what the community needs. I approach this project with the humility of a student willing to listen and learn.”
Regarding the timeline for her project, Binder said her goal is to finish interviews by early to mid July, conduct auditions for the play the week of July 24th to July 30th, begin rehearsals in August, and present the play at the end of August.
In addition to persons willing to share their stories of Huss School, Binder is also looking for persons interested in acting in the play.
If you would like to be contacted by Christina Binder regarding an interview about Huss School or performing in the play, contact the River Country Journal by calling (269) 279-8000 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear the full interview with Christina Binder – conducted by Bruce Snook – click on the following link: Christina_Binder_interview (6:38 – 6.08 MB).
ADDENDUM: Three Rivers Mayor Ken Baker has added a “Huss Story” – and a photo – regarding an “all-sports trophy” awarded in 1955.
In an e-mail note prompted by this story, Baker wrote, “I went to Huss School from 4, 5, 6, 7 grades. I received a leg injury while pole vaulting and had to use a crutch for several months. I played center field – crutch and all. Also, I had polio while attending Huss School and missed several months before being able to return to school. David McCalley and Larry Mains had polio at the same time. I was the lucky one, only slight difference in leg length and a small curvature of the spine. Many other memories. Like the old gang above.”
Editor’s Note: This post was expanded at 1:55 p.m. 6-29-11 to add the information and photo from Ken Baker.