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Leif Arne Holen of Norway helped disassemble and pack the Leet school for the overseas trip to Norway in 2007.
Leif Arne Holen of Norway helped disassemble and pack the Leet school for the overseas trip to Norway in 2007.

Leet School: Spanning Time and Space

Jun 23, 2015

Once a teacher, always a teacher. That’s true of many educators, and it also applies to a little country schoolhouse built long ago in Sanborn County.

The Leet School, built in 1883 by Norwegian immigrants near Letcher, was painstakingly deconstructed board by board in 2007. It took two weeks to disassemble and pack the country school into a 40-foot container. The school was sent by train to New York City, then by freighter to its new home — the Norwegian Emigration Museum in Hamar, Norway.

Eight years after its relocation, the doors of the Leet School have reopened at the Norway museum as part of a permanent exhibit. “The school is a wonderful addition to the Norwegian Emigration Museum because it is a true, unbroken link with Norwegian-American pioneers,” says Elyce Rubin, who originally notified the museum about the Letcher school. "It will teach invaluable lessons of self reliance, love of the land and patriotism."

Rubin, a travel writer, became aware of the school when she came to South Dakota researching pioneer photographer O.S. Leeland. She sent out a request to South Dakotans to contact her if they knew of any information on Leeland. H. Richard Christopher, a Letcher farmer, knew of some Leeland photographs and contacted her in New York. When Rubin visited Christopher in Letcher, she was amazed to find the Leet School on his farm.

When the school closed in 1968, Christopher purchased it at an auction for $115. He moved it to his farm and started collecting items from the school's past. Over the next several decades Christopher found furniture, textbooks, photographs and assorted school supplies including lunch buckets and a school bell, a coal stove and kerosene lanterns. “The school was my baby,” Christopher told a South Dakota Magazine writer in 2007.

Donating the school to the museum was difficult, he said. In the end, Christopher agreed if he could control the classroom's setup and placement of his memorabilia, which included his own report cards, art and tests. The museum was especially thrilled to receive the school's contents, which Christopher had carefully displayed in the school.

“I tend to give life and personality to inanimate things. I had dialogue with the books and desks and what these items meant to me. I thought about keeping the teacher's desk bell and a student desk. But they all seemed to say to me, ‘We all want to stay together,’” he said.

Eight years after Christopher made the hard decision to donate the school and its contents, he is traveling to Norway this month for the grand opening of the Leet School, now called the Leet-Christopher Skolehuset. The simple schoolhouse has new life in Norway.

Someone once said that education is a matter of building bridges. In the case of the Leet School, the spans of time and distance are fairly impressive.

Editor’s Note: The article on Leet school, written by Steven Garnaas, was originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


01:50 pm - Tue, June 23 2015
It is so wonderful to read such an inspiring story. Being a Norwegian descendant, it takes on extra meaning for me. I still have family in Norway, and my bucket list includes a trip to see them. I understand that there is a picture of my young family on the wall of the home where my great grandfather lived, and in which his descendants that stayed there now live. I would LOVE to go see this schoolhouse over there! I lived and taught school in Sanborn County for 27 years.
06:04 pm - Wed, June 24 2015
J Uzzell said:
Ah! A great reason to renew my placement of a trip to Norway on my bucket list! Now I have a school to visit. Any of these type of school museums still in SD?
02:26 am - Thu, June 25 2015
Arnie Slater said:
This is Amazing ! I believe I maybe distantly related to Mr. Great grandmother's father was Knut hefte. His first wife was a Christopher...this article was pointed out to me through mutual cousins doing genealogical research. I have been trying to get to Norway for years! Now I have one more reason to go! I would love to see the school house!
Arnie Slater
Gr. grandson of Anne Hefty Torkleson daughter of Knute Hefty and Bertha Winterton..his second wife.
04:53 pm - Wed, July 1 2015
I attended the opening ceremony. It was a very heartfelt event. Richard Christopher spoke about his learning in the school and how he rescued it from demolition. The Museum director explained that in honor of the man who saved the school, it would henceforth be called the Leet-Christopher School. The local school band played and walked to the school on the museum grounds as we followed. Richard and the director cut the ribbon. Richard rang the school bell, and we all entered the school. People took their places at the desks while Richard sat down at the school's organ and played traditional school songs. We all sang along to "School Days" and "Home on the Range." The Norwegian audience seemed to know the words to the songs. It was a grand celebration!

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