Mysterious box holds treasures from McKinley Elementary School's past

2011-02-08T15:43:00Z 2014-08-25T08:30:07Z Mysterious box holds treasures from McKinley Elementary School's past


Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette

Believe it or not, the McKinley Elementary School PTA once had a Chorus of Singing Mothers.

The school itself had a Harmonica Marine Band and a Junior Red Cross Club.

“The sense of community that was there is remarkable,” said Kevin Kooistra-Manning, community historian for the Western Heritage Center in Billings.

These little bits of McKinley history came to light recently when a box filled with various types of school memorabilia from the 1920s and '30s mysteriously showed up at the school one afternoon.

In the box were vintage photographs of PTA presidents, honor students, clubs and general school life. It also included handwritten invitations for school open houses, programs for Arbor Day celebrations and press clippings.

“It came from one of our neighbors,” said Ceci Bentler, a parent at the school.

The school's current PTA president Shannon Westerman was working the front desk at the school one afternoon when an older man entered the office holding a box, Bentler said.

Because Westerman was on the phone, she wasn't able to talk to the man and he left before she got any information. When she and the others in the office finally went through the box and realized what it contained, the man was long gone, Bentler said.

The contents were remarkable, Bentler said. Going through it, “everybody was choked up.”

The Western Heritage Center has digitally scanned the photos and recorded the contents.

“It's a really nice little collection,” Kooistra-Manning said.

The school, which held a PTA fundraiser Tuesday night, used the occasion to display the contents for the community.

And now the hunt is on. McKinley parents and PTA members are scouring the neighborhood to find the man who left the box, thank him and ask him more about the history of the collection.

The box and its contents are being kept by McKinley's current principal, Burt Reyes.

Reyes did not return telephone calls Tuesday. A new Billings School District 2 policy prevents him from contacting the news media without express permission from Superintendent Keith Beeman.

Beeman was contacted by e-mail on Tuesday with a request asking him to give the school permission to comment. He did not respond.

Contact Rob Rogers at or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at or 657-1231.

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