Benson West School History
The first school in Benson was known as the Seeley House or Seeley School. It was constructed in about 1870 and was located somewhere in the vicinity of Benson West School. A small school, it served only a few families in the area prior to the founding of Benson.
The Seeley School was bought by Mr. C. Steiger and moved north of Maple. The building was occupied by Mr. George Snell while he was building his new home at 63rd and Binney. His daughter Verna is a retired Rosehill teacher.
The Benson Central School property was given to the village of Benson by Frastus Benson when the village of Benson was platted in 1887.
Central School was located at 63rd and Maple Street, the present site of Dr. Murray's Medical Center.
The first teachers were A.E. Agee, principal, and Miss Winnie Hiles, followed by Mrs. A.M. Walton and A. Hawthorn.
In 1892 a fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the Central School building. School was then held in the hotel, which stood on the present site of the Ross Grocery Store, 62nd and Maple, and in the home of the principal until the school was rebuilt.
George Snell was given the contract to build a new school. J.M. Guth was the architect. The new building had four rooms and a bell tower. The grounds were planted with trees and in their shade, the students who brought lunch sat and ate their noon day meal. There were no kindergarteners in this early school. All students used slates and slate pencils.
In 1900, the school consisted of four teachers, including the principal. Mr. Gallegher was the janitor of the school. Enrollment was about 140 pupils. The school was governed by the same subdivision law as the county school districts. This governing body consisted of a board with three members.
In 1901, a fifth teacher was added and another room provided. In 1902, it was found necessary to have a sixth teacher. The Town Hall was used for school purposes during the last part of the year. In 1903, it was voted by the board to form a high school district, and an entirely new school board was elected with six members.
In 1907, when Benson became a city of the second class, it was necessary to organize a city school district and new board was elected.
With the steady growth of Benson, the number of school children increased. School was being held in the I.O.O.F. Hall storeroom and several other places.
Then, in July 1909, the main two-story building and library were gutted by fire. In 1910, bonds were voted and Benson West, a new four room brick school was built on West Maple Street.
In 1914, voters approved bonds for an addition to the Benson West School. Upon its completion, the high school was moved from Benson Central School to Benson West.
In 1917, the city of Benson was annexed by Omaha. The schools were then governed by the Omaha School Board.
The Central School was abandoned in January 1927.
Two more additions were made to the present building; the last was dedicated in 1958.
Through the efforts of a bond issue, the current facility was completely renovated during the two years from 1988 to 1990. During this time, students were housed in Westbrook Junior High School. In the fall of 1990, Benson West Elementary began a new legacy built on tradition and excellence.
Eriksen Construction Company of Blair, Nebraska was the general contractor. James K. Dennell of Ciaccio Dennell Group, Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska was the architect.
The major changes made during the renovation addressed the most pressing issues faced in the building. The greatest change came in the school's "front door." Attempts to modify the existing entries facing south on Maple Steet were discarded and the entrance was flipped 180 degrees to what had been the back of the building, facing Binney Street. Thus, school traffic was diverted to a less traveled street. With a new front, a new entry was created. The existing slope of the land was used to create a two-tiered approach to the building. The ground level entry provides pedestrian access from parking lots, while the upper level accommodates the service drive and access for the school buses. The two specific entries simplify and help control admisssion to the building.
The new access on Binney Street permitted switching the playground and parking locations to enhance safety for children on the playground. The new entry also helps solve interior space problems. An addition was constructed to serve as the entry and to house new administration spaces. Spaces were reassigned and relocated to areas appropriate to the educational program needs. Heating and ventilating systems were upgraded.
Ramps were installed on the first and second floors to overcome the differences between levels and to enhance continuity within the building.
Benson West was the first school in the Omaha Public Schools to be renovated as a result of the $56 million bond issue passed by the citizens of Omaha in 1988.
The completed project expanded Benson West to 67,500 square feet. The existing usable space of 53,200 square feet was renovated, while an additional 7,821 square feet in the exisiting building was upgraded so it could be used. The new addition provided 6,479 square feet for office space, classrooms, kindergarten entry, stair/vestibule, tunnel, dock and penthouse/mechanical equipment. Cost of the renovation was $3.2 million.
A six-panel frieze was added to the walls of the lower circular drive during the renovation. The frieze greets visitors to Benson West and represents the spirit of community and commitment to the community heritage. Designed by artist Tom Schlosser, executed by Benson High School students under the artist's tutelage, and paid for through donations from the community, the freize represents the artist's concern for the environment and the need to communicate these concerns to a younger generation. The panels represent 1). Unspoiled Places, 2). Native Americans, 3). Vanishing Prairies, 4). The Iron Horse, 5). Hazardous Waste and 6). The New Awareness.
The groups and firms that contributed their time, talent, or financial support to the realization of the frieze were:
American Concrete Products, Inc. Benson High School Benson West PTA Benson West Students and Staff Ciaccio Design Group College of Saint Mary Douglas County Bank and Trust Greater Omaha Kiwanis Nebraska Arts Council Artists-in-the-Schools Program Omaha Public Schools Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District
Benson West has a history of using every inch of available instructional space. Children have been housed in area shops, Benson Park Pavilion, and attended half time sessions. They have been transported by bus from the north, as far as Fort Street, and west from 132nd Street. The first Hattie B. Monroe Home was part of Benson West's organization.
In reviewing the history of any school, it is most interesting to discover who went to school there and what became of those pupils as time went on. The enrollment list at Benson West contains many names that are now widely known. Harlow Wilcox of radio fame was a pupil in Benson West's grade school and high school. Various branches of the ministry called a number of the young people, among them: Dean Dabett, Irvin Williams, Robert Scheirk, Charles Johnson, Fred Rasmussen, and Perry London. The field of medicine attracted Don Marquist, John Clvert, and the fine arts became the pursuit of Jack Hines, Alice Hooper, Olga Sorensen Fuss, Lucile Barnham and Russell Mass. Lester Palmer became a municipal judge; Byron Reda was with radio station KOIL, Dace Washburn was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army; Jean Griffith was in the Navy. Many others became highly successful teachers.
Benson West has been the starting point for many Omaha Public School administrators. The following is a list of the administrators beginning in 1939:
1939-47 Anna T. Healey, Principal
1947-51 Maude Compton, Principal
1951-56 Johannah Chapman, Principal
1956-77 Thresa Clark, Principal
1977-2000 Edward Huff, Principal
2000- Martha Stofko, Principal
1969-70 Karen Kaufmann-Crawford, Administrative Intern
1970-72 Harvey Springer, Administrative Intern
1972-73 Kay Moore, Administrative Intern
1973-74 Kay Moore, Assistant Principal
1974-75 Thad Tinder, Assistant Principal
1975-76 Winnie Callahan, Administrative Intern
1976-77 Edward Huff, Assistant Principal
1977-79 Rosemary Moore, Assistant Principal
1984-85 Joan Baker, Assistant Principal
1985-86 Jeanne Rogers, Assistant Principal
1986-89 Sammye Jackson, Administrative Intern
1988-89 Rose Ann Shay, Assistant Principal
1989-90 Alina Bass, Administrative Intern
1989-90 Carol Wakin, Administrative Intern
1990-96 Kathryn Trotter, Assistant Principal
1996-2000 Mary Stiverson, Administrative Intern
2000- Dorothy Nolan, Assistant Principal