May 26--HOVEN -- Members of the Hoven community gathered outside of the burned wreckage of their school at 335 S. Main St. on Sunday morning and into the early afternoon.
There was a haze over the city -- remnants of a fire that destroyed the local school, a building that had been there since 1940.
Little was known about the fire 12 hours after it was called in at 1 a.m. Sunday, but it was apparent the building will be unusable.
"The cause of the fire is under investigation," said Doug Hinkle, the state's chief deputy fire marshal. An investigation is expected after Memorial Day.
Crews were still fighting the fire into the afternoon Sunday
"I found out at 3:30 (Sunday) morning," Superintendent Peggy Petersen, who lives out of town, said late Sunday morning. "I've been here ever since. When I got to the school, flames were shooting out of the roof. The entire middle section of the school was in flames. This is a devastating loss for the community. Generations of people have gone to that school."
Even as the embers were still smoking, Gloria Duenwald, 15433 316th Ave., held strong with those around her.
"The scene is very sad, watching all those memories going up in smoke," said Duenwald, whose husband and eight children graduated from Hoven High School. "Hoven has a reputation for not giving up easily. Any thought of not continuing Hoven High School? Not a chance."
It is a question being asked by those still in high school. One group of students was camping nearby when news of the fire reached the campsite.
"It's just kind of unbelievable," Hoven freshman Calie Kaiser said.
"All the little things in there that aren't replaceable, like composite pictures and all those pictures from the past," senior Abby Simon said.
The girls expressed worry about how the school would be replaced in the fall, whether they would be split between nearby Bowdle and Gettysburg or if another location in Hoven would be utilized.
No decisions had been made as of Sunday afternoon, Petersen said. Many of the school board members are also on the volunteer fire squad.
"We haven't even had a chance to get together and talk about that yet," Petersen said. "We probably will do that later this week."
This was Petersen's final year as Hoven High School's superintendent and principal.
"It's really a bad deal," Petersen said. "Stuff in Hoven is really centered around the school, just like any other little community. You could tell today everybody was pitching in and helping."
Several area fire departments responded to Hoven. There were fire crews from Gettysburg, Onida, Bowdle, Java, Selby, Ipswich, Roscoe, Mobridge and a few other neighboring towns.
"Everybody pitches in, those volunteer firemen. I can't say enough good things about them," Petersen said. "There were fire crews from almost every little town within a 100-mile radius it looked like to me."
'Not giving up'
Smoke was still billowing out of Linda Coyne's classroom late this morning.
"It is not giving up," Coyne said of the embers that smoldered within the burned-out frame of Hoven's combined high school and junior high school.
"You never, ever dream of something like this. And to think that you had just been in there a day or two earlier," said Coyne, who has taught at the school for 37 years and was a 1968 graduate of Hoven High School.
Seniors celebrated graduation a week ago on May 18. School was out last Wednesday for students. Meanwhile, teachers had packed their things by Friday, but many leave items in their classrooms over the summer.
"Your posters and your textbooks and all of that is pretty much gone," said Coyne, who met her husband, Michael, at Hoven High School. He began as a music teacher in 1966, when she was still in school. They began dating when she returned to teach in 1976.
Norm Stethem, a retired teacher, waited until about 8:30 Sunday morning to check out the firefighting activities.
"There was still plenty of activity," said Stethem, who taught at the school for more than 30 years. "They were watering down the roof. It looks pretty sad. All the windows are out. It is pretty much history."