KULPMONT — Leanne Bjorklund, of Den-Mar Gardens, has shared vintage photos of a Ukrainian dance group and a class photo from the Wilson School, both once located in the borough.
Bjorklund’s mother, the late Ann (Weslotsky) Wydra, is in both photos taken in 1936 and 1924, respectively. The oldest photo is a composite of 22 fourth-grade students from the Wilson School, which was located at 860 Spruce St. The other is a studio portrait of members of the Ukrainian National Dancing School, located at Liberty Hall, Pine and 10th streets, comprised of young teenagers and instructor Ivan Zablotsky.
Weslotsky, born Dec. 5, 1915, was a member of the Ukrainian group that performed ancient and historic folk dances of both Ukraine and Ukrainian music, both instrumental and vocal. Some of the dance numbers presented dated back as far as 2,000 years, including the Kozak battle dance, which symbolizes the heroic stand made by the Kozak warriors when they repelled Asiatic invaders and preserved western civilization.
“She said it was something really special for them to do,” Bjorklund recalled her mother saying about the group.
Zablotsky, of New York City, announced in December 1935 the opening of the Ukrainian National Dancing School at Liberty Hall. Lessons were conducted Wednesday and Friday evenings.
The group already had at least once performance under their belts prior to the creation of the school. In October 1935, the group performed at “A Ukrainian Evening,” presented by the Ukrainian Church of the Transfiguration parish, at the Capitol Theatre in Shamokin.
Zablotsky also directed a Ukrainian folk ballet on April 22, 1936, at the Imperial Theatre, Kulpmont, with the Ukrainian chorus and the Capital theatre assisting with the presentation.
The photo of the Ukrainian dancers submitted by Bjorklund first appeared in the Shamokin News-Dispatch on Thursday, July 23, 1936, when it was told the group would perform at an annual Ukrainian outing at Lakewood. Thousands of Ukrainians from all parts of the region reportedly attended.
Members of the group were Helen Kuzemchak, Stephen Watral, Alexander Spock, Helen Diak, Jean Soloney, Susana Diak, Anna Soloney, Mary Spock, Anna Spock, Anita Gacura, Andrew Kurilla, Mary La Haza, Effie Mychak and Weslotsky.
Zablotsky would later go on to form similar groups in cities throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.
Before becoming a member of the dancing group, Bjorklund’s mother was a student at the Wilson School. Students of the fourth-grade class in 1924 were William Sholly, Dorothy Evert, Harold Clemens, Reno Ramsay, Albert Ravinus and Oscar Koons, Mary Obrekes, James Augustine, Hilda Cook, Emma Dobson, Frank Olearnick, Ben Henninger, Louis Howells, Grace Fisher, Weslotsky, Ralph Wetzel, Sam Morino, Albert Mauray, Kathryn Shively, Edward Klepacki, Ethel Marcheki and Dominick Obrick.
The building was used as a school through the fall of 1975. The borough took control of the building from the Mount Carmel Area School District and used the former classrooms for borough offices from November 1977 until the borough relocated to the former East End Fire Co. in 2017.
Wilson, high school struck by flames
The original Wilson School, which was built in the fall of 1917, caught fire around 2 a.m. Nov. 20, 1934, just 30 minutes prior to a fire breaking out at the high school just two blocks away.
Smoldering ruins were all that remained of the 2-year-old high school while the Wilson School was partially gutted. The fires, later deemed arson, caused a combined $90,000 in damage, a significant sum in those days.
A driver for Maurer Dairy Co. discovered the fire at the Wilson School. Firefighters brought the flames under control in 30 minutes. The source was in the basement at the rear of the structure, where a large pile of kindling wood was involved.
At the time the firemen had the Wilson School blaze under control, a youth rushed to the scene to inform them that the Kulpmont High School, at Spruce and Tenth streets, also was in flames.
Instead of delaying to roll and load the long lines of fire hoses stretched from several fire hydrants, firefighters were directed to drag their hoses to the second blaze. Firefighters from Shamokin and Mount Carmel were called to assist and officers were deployed to other schools to protect them from a suspected arsonist. By the time firemen reached the high school the entire interior was involved.
Arson was given as the cause of both fires, but no one was ever arrested. The fires affected 1,320 students, who were forced to attend classed in other buildings, two of them wood-frame structures.
On Dec. 30, 1936, a second disaster occurred at the Wilson School. A driver of Shimko’s Dairy, returning to Kulpmont from Marion Heights, discovered flames at about 4 a.m. This time, flames practically destroyed the building. A cause was not determined.
In 1938, construction of a new school began. The school, having been twice destroyed by fire, was built with fireproof construction in mind. The two-story, 13-classroom building was completed in time for the 1939-40 school year.
End of an era
With a new junior/senior high school under construction, borough council in 1975 expressed interest in having the borough acquire the Wilson School building.
The school was used for students in kindergarten through fifth grade for the 1974-75 school year. It was also used in the fall of 1975 for students in grades seven and eight after the state declared the Wilson School in Atlas structurally unsound.
The Wilson School building, having served the borough for nearly 70 years, was torn down in the fall of 2017.