Career educators from Iowa capture the state’s lost high schools

Jun 4, 2014

In a pursuit designed to rekindle memories of Iowa’s great rural schools, Barb and Dave Else drove throughout Iowa to photograph more than 230 abandoned or repurposed high school buildings. Their resulting book, For All the Small Schools: A Photographic Pursuit of Iowa’s Forgotten Schools, was called by Senator Chuck Grassley “a labor of love that will spark fond memories for many Iowans who will enjoy reminiscing with friends and sharing stories with their kids and grandkids.”

These photos are displayed in full color in For All the Small Schools, along with the school colors and mascots for nearly all the schools as well as notable athletes and facts. Interspersed throughout the book is a commentary on the history of education in Iowa, including information on the consolidation of Iowa schools, famous names from Iowa schools, and accounts of transportation as well as sports, music and other student activities. Also included are sections on the evolution of athletic uniforms, school lunch programs and teacher requirements and certifications.

Bernie Saggau, retired executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, calls it “A fantastic book! If you live in Iowa or have lived in Iowa, this book is a must. … The school was certainly the center of daily life in ‘small-town’ Iowa. The pictures are great, and some of them will put a smile on your face.”

Chuck Offenburger, former Des Moines Register “Iowa Boy” columnist, says, “I can never quite decide how I feel when I stop outside old abandoned, or converted, school buildings in Iowa. Do you focus on how sad they look now, especially if they are sitting in ruins? Or do you enjoy the thought of how much life and spirit they once held? Dave and Barb Else, career educators who are fans of all things Iowa, have had those same feelings while visiting hundreds of those old schools around the state. … They will have you smiling, occasionally wincing, and maybe even shedding a tear.”

The Elses are deeply connected to education in Iowa. Barb Else established and taught preschools in the Iowa communities of Greene, Holstein, and Atlantic. She also taught elementary school reading for twenty years in the Parkersburg and Aplington-Parkersburg School Districts. After raising four children, she went back to school, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Buena Vista University, then received a master’s degree in education from Vitterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Her graduate study research was on the impact of parental reading with children.

Dave Else has been a middle school and high school teacher and coach, elementary school principal, and superintendent in Iowa school districts. He was director of the Price Laboratory School and the head of the Department of Teaching at the University of Northern Iowa from 1988-90. For the last 23 years he has been director of the Institute for Educational Leadership at the University of Northern Iowa and associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education. Dr. Else has a PhD in educational leadership from Iowa State University. He and Barb have been married for 50 years as of August 15, 2014.

For All the Small Schools is available for purchase at Amazon and


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