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More than a memory

Central Point resident Dalton Straus, 79, gets teary-eyed when he recalls his childhood days as a pupil at Sams Valley School in rural northeast Jackson County. "The thing I looked forward to was May Day," Straus recalls. "That was a big day for us. The teachers put streamers down from the flag pole."

Back then, neighbors weren't divided by the walls of vehicles and relentless chatter on their cellular phones and computers. Sams Valley neighbors gathered at the general store, the grange, the service station and the school, then located in a circa-1921 building at Old Sams Valley and McDonough roads. By the scores, they attended dances each Saturday night at the grange next to the school.

Today, the only vestige of that community vitality is Sams Valley Elementary School, now on Table Rock Road, Straus says.

Straus, a longtime rancher, says he worries that more than the school will be lost if the Central Point School District decides to draw the curtain on the 150-year history of Sams Valley schools. "The school helps us keep the community network that we've had for four or five generations," Straus says.

"If you lose the school, you lose that identity and community spirit and the history that goes along with that."

The school district has proposed closing the school to help offset an expected $5 million budget shortfall, caused by declining state and federal education funding and rising expenses in health insurance and the Public Employees Retirement System.

Sams Valley Elementary School, a grades K-5 campus with about 200 pupils, first opened in fall 1965. But the first Sams Valley school opened in 1861 in a small structure furnished with timber to serve as long benches for about 50 students, said Tammera Mullings, Sams Valley school building technician and yearbook coordinator. It's unclear where it was located, but a history of the school written in June 1961 by unknown authors places it "just west of where the Paul Schulz garage now stands."

The Sams Creek School District, as it was called, was named after Chief Sam, a leader of the Rogue River Indians and a signer of the Treaty of Table Rock in 1855.

Both of Straus' parents attended Sams Valley School, as did his children and grandchildren. His wife, Ruth, was the secretary at the school for 30 years, from 1965 until 1995.

When Straus was a student, there were four grades in each classroom in the 1921 building. There was a tiny library with a choice of about 20 books for the 25 to 30 students in primary grades. The students were most proud of the school's gym, Straus says.

"Not many schools had a gymnasium in those days, so we felt very fortunate," he says.

The principal was the part-time bus driver and custodian and owned the general store about a block from the school.

"During recess or lunch, we would run to the store and get bubble gum or 1-cent candy," Straus says. "It was a big thing to go to the glass counter and pick out what we wanted from the glass case."

Straus remembers when soldiers took target practice with artillery at Camp White, the reverberations rippled all the way to Sams Valley.

"The kaboom would shake the whole schoolhouse," he said.

The impact caused cracks 3-4 inches wide in the east wall, he said.

The whole community used to attend the Saturday night dance at the grange.

"Folks just brought their children because they didn't have babysitters back then," Straus says. "That's the kind of fond remembrances, the good old days."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Central Point resident Dalton Straus, 79, and his wife, Ruth, talk about their years at Sams Valley Elementary School in rural northeast Jackson County. “The thing I looked forward to was May Day,” he said. “That was a big day for us. The teachers put streamers down from the flag pole.” - Bob Pennell