Also at the time, what currently is known as West St. Louis County essentially was farmland. In the late 1950s, one man had a vision to use some of that farmland to grow one of the premiere education systems in the state.
The dream that Clarence "C.W." Farnham envisioned became reality.
In fact, 50 years after the Parkway School District came into existence, the development of a well-respected public school system likely has far exceeded Farnham's expectations.
Today, in the year 2004, Julia Rueschhoff, Farnham's granddaughter, is teaching her fourth-grade students at Bellerive Elementary School in the Parkway School District with a "Smartboard" (a high-tech chalkboard that essentially is a large-screen interactive television). Rueschhoff can give her students a virtual tour of the Missouri Supreme Court, the Missouri State Capitol and the Governor's Mansion - right there in the classroom - before they actually take a bus ride to Jefferson City to see all of it in person.
Rueschhoff's grandfather, C.W. Farnham, likely never fathomed how today's technology would fit into his plan nearly 50 years ago.
Rueschhoff is the third generation of her family to become an educator in the Parkway School District. In fact, Rueschhoff, her mother Mary Rueschhoff, and her grandfather currently are the only known three-generation educators to call Parkway their home.
"My Dad would be so impressed with all the technology," Mary Rueschhoff said. "He would be amazed at how far we have come."
And how far his daughter and granddaughter have come. Mary Rueschhoff currently is a guidance counselor at Parkway West Middle School. She began her education career as a home economics teacher. Julia Rueschhoff is in her second year as a fourth-grade teacher.
Both Rueschhoffs also are Parkway graduates - Mary graduated from Parkway West and Julia graduated from Parkway South.
Although many in the community and the school district have guided it into what it has become, Farnham is the man credited with literally mapping out and plotting an extensive growth of the Parkway School District. Farnham looked at the vast farmland and visualized a home for a tradition of excellence in public education - long before many of the buildings, students and teachers arrived on the scene.
The Parkway School District that Farnham envisioned turns 50 on May 8 and a yearlong celebration of festivities is planned to mark the 50th anniversary as well as to honor people like Farnham for their dedication and service.
The district's actual "birthday" is considered May 8, because on May 8, 1954, a special election was held in which voters decided to consolidate three elementary school districts into one large district. According to the consolidation agreement, people living in the three districts felt the need for a high school for their children. With population still sparse, the three areas needed to merge to pool their resources to build that high school.
The three districts involved were: Fern Ridge, Weber and Mason Ridge. The final consolidation produced a 68-square-mile district (larger than the city of St. Louis) located in the west central portion of St. Louis County.
According to documents related to the consolidation, the area was described as partly rural and partly suburban at the time. Students traveled from as far away as 20 miles to attend the new Parkway school.
The first combined junior/senior high school (now Central Middle) opened in 1957. The first Parkway graduating class was 1959. Parkway has granted high school diplomas to more than 60,000 graduating seniors since then.
Parkway started with five elementary schools and 1,448 students. In the past 50 years, it has grown to become the fifth-largest school district in Missouri with 18 elementary schools, five middle schools, five high schools, an early childhood education center and nearly 20,000 students.
"When we moved here (in 1959, when Mary was in the second grade), there was a big westward expansion," Mary Rueschhoff said. "My Dad was responsible for the phenomenal growth of the district."
Farnham was 48 years old when he became superintendent of Parkway. He previously had been superintendent at West Plains (Mo.) for 12 years and at St. Clair (Mo.) for five years. He also had taught in Iberia (Mo.), where he also grew up. Farnham and his wife, Jean, had five children - three boys and two girls.
Unfortunately for many in the Parkway community, Farnham died of a heart attack on July 27, 1971. According to an article that the school board wrote in the August 1971 Parkway Schools Bulletin:
"Clarence Farnham's service to the district has been a triumph over adversity and challenge. More than any other man, he is responsible for the solvency, the stability, and the sterling reputation of the Parkway School District. Every building block of the complex school system bears the imprint of his character and his concern . . . Under his leadership, the district grew from 2,500 pupils to more than 25,000; from seven school buildings to 23, with two more under construction at the time of his death."
The bulletin also stated that Farnham, "would be the first to say that Parkway is not a one-man school district, that many people have contributed to the success of its growth. He expressed deep admiration for the qualities which he found in the early residents of Parkway, such as pride in the community, a dedication to education, prudence in financial affairs, and stability of character."
In a display of the immense respect the Parkway community had for Farnham, flags were flown at half-mast at all Parkway schools on July 29 and 30 of that year.
"I did not know that until I read that in one of the articles about him," said Mary Rueschhoff, who currently is serving on the History Committee for the 50th Anniversary celebration.
Rueschhoff said her father actually was known as the "flag" man. He expected every school building in the district to have the flag flying each day.
"He was very patriotic," Mary Rueschhoff said. "He was very picky about having the flag flying. And if he went by a school and the flag was not flying, he was known to go in and have a little conversation with them to make sure the flag would be flying."
Although his first name was Clarence, Rueschhoff said that most people referred to her dad as C.W. or Mr. Farnham.
"I am told that although he was extremely personable, respected and well-liked, when he walked into a room, he had a certain presence that tended to have people refer to him in a more formal manner, such Mr. Farnham or C.W," Rueschhoff said. "He was Dad to me." In fact, Rueschhoff said she never really paid attention to the fact that her Dad was the superintendent.
"I didn't really pay that much attention to him as the superintendent," Rueschhoff said. "You're in your own little world and have your own things going on when you're in junior high and high school. But if my Dad would have come near me at school, I would have been mortified. I actually was known as Mr. Farnham's daughter, not Mary."
Particularly when there might be a snow day in the very near future. "The biggest deal was the snow days," Rueschhoff said. "My friends would call to see if we were going to have a snow day. My Dad would tell me to tell my friends to quit calling. If they had a teacher they didn't like, they would ask me to talk to my Dad about it. They thought I had some power over the superintendent that I actually didn't have."
Rueschhoff likely would not have gotten very far with her Dad if she pled her friends' cases anyway. "The teacher was always right in my household, and that's a family tradition we have passed on," Rueschhoff said. "There was pressure to be good, not just because he was the superintendent, but because that was what was expected."
While she said she does not remember what he did specifically from day to day as superintendent, Rueschhoff said he went to nearly everything involving the school district.
"He was gone a lot," Rueschhoff said. "He thought he had to be on top of everything. He went to all of the PTA meetings and was gone every night. We had to have dinner at 6 p.m. sharp every night so he could come home and eat dinner with us and then go on to whatever meeting he had. He was a very busy guy. I mostly saw him at dinnertime."
But it is evident his words and his wisdom live on in the Rueschhoffs - as well as in the thousands of students who have been educated and the educators who have taught in the Parkway School District.
A famous quote of Farnham's inscribed on a plaque hanging in the Parkway Administrative Center epitomizes his wisdom:
"We make our best decisions when we determine first what is best for the students, and then make all subsequent judgments based on that insight."
Those who knew him say that is a true characterization of Farnham's philosophy.
"My Dad was always referred to as a teacher who loved kids," Rueschhoff said. "He was very strong in his beliefs and knew what he wanted. He had high goals and when he was out choosing land for the buildings for the future growth, he knew exactly what he wanted. I was told when we dedicated the plaque to him a few years ago that my Dad had enough foresight way back then that he knew Parkway was going to need more land. He just knew."
Rueschhoff also said her Dad was very much a believer in public education. "Education was held in very high esteem in our family," Rueschhoff said. "Dad grew up in Iberia, a community that was ahead of its time. They wanted their children to be high school educated so they built a high school, which was unusual for a small town like that in the 1920s. That's why he was such a good person to lead Parkway in its early years."
He also was a good judge of those who would teach the students who came to Parkway. "Dad felt strongly that if you were going to be a teacher, you had to be a teacher for the right reasons," Rueschhoff said. "A teacher has so much responsibility and influence on kids. He would say that if you're going to do the job as a teacher, do it right or don't do it at all."
Rueschhoff and her daughter obviously learned that lesson. "Growing up I always thought I would be an educator," Rueschhoff said. "We were never pushed into doing anything but I just knew. Nothing else crossed my mind. We were the same way with Julia. I knew she would be a good teacher but I never pushed her into it."
Julia Rueschhoff echoed that sentiment. "I knew I wanted to teach and my Mom always said I would be a good teacher, but she never said I had to teach," Julia Rueschhoff said.
Growing up, Julia was a teacher of sorts anyway. She taught ice skating and swimming and also was a cadet teacher for an autistic child while she was in high school. "I thought that was really, really rewarding when I did that," Julia said.
It is evident when talking to Mary and Julia Rueschhoff that they find educating children in the Parkway School District as rewarding as Farnham did.
Perhaps the family's tradition of educating children is best summed up in an April 16, 1997, presentation to the Parkway Board of Education on behalf of the Friends of C.W. Farnham organization, when another former and well-respected Parkway administrator Al Burr, said:
"Mr. Farnham never forgot (even as a superintendent) that he became a teacher because he liked kids, wanted to work with kids and felt that he had something to offer kids."
By Susan E. Sagarra
Managing Editor West Newsmagazine
Parkway West Class of 1985