, ,

Wausau middle school opens 63-year-old time capsule to find … budget documents

The school's principal said students will contribute personal items for a new time capsule next year.

Principal Angela Rodgers of Wausau's John Muir Middle School, second from right, holds a time capsule from 1961 that construction crews found in the school's cornerstone.
Principal Angela Rodgers of Wausau’s John Muir Middle School, second from right, holds a time capsule from 1961 that construction crews found in the school’s cornerstone. Photo courtesy of Wausau School District

Teachers and officials at a Wausau middle school on Friday publicly opened a time capsule that was placed in the building’s cornerstone in 1961 and then largely forgotten.

The contents, unveiled Friday at a public event at John Muir Middle School, were not school mementos, letters from students or items of sentimental value. Instead they were a dusty collection of bureaucratic documents: a copy of the school building’s construction budget, the district’s operating budget from that year, a general administration handbook and a tax analysis document.

“I was hoping for films and things like that, pictures,” said Angela Rodgers, principal of the school. “I was kind of hoping to get more of a feel of the students’ perspective.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
A tin box placed in the building's cornerstone in 1961 held documents including the school district's budget
A tin box placed in the building’s cornerstone in 1961 held documents including the school district’s budget. Rob Mentzer/WPR

Rodgers said she’s working with students to assemble a very different kind of time capsule that they plan to leave for future generations. It will include a Stanley water bottle of the sort currently beloved by middle-school students, an iPhone, a pair of Crocs and, in case future historians have forgotten about her, a photograph of Taylor Swift. They’ll also include some more local items, such as pens made by students in a manufacturing class and a photo of Moxie, the school’s therapy dog. 

The 1961 time capsule was preserved in a copper box, its lid soldered shut against water damage. It was placed in the cornerstone during construction of the central Wisconsin middle school.

Now, the school is undergoing an expansion. After construction crews were tipped to the possibility of the capsule, they drilled into the cornerstone to find it.

“They plunged the (drill) bit in as far as it would go, and right before they ran out of room it popped into a hollow cavity inside that stone,” said Erik Radtke, the project superintendent. “They came and got me and told me and I said, ‘Well, keep working on it! We’ve got to see what’s in there.’”

Construction crews removed the time capsule while working on renovations and expansions to the middle school. Photo courtesy of the Wausau School District

Even if the contents of the sealed box were not as personal as Rodgers and others might have hoped, they still do provide a window into the time. Teachers with master’s degrees earned a salary of $5,000; by policy, male teachers were paid an additional $200 per year. A student handbook expressly forbids wearing of slacks for girls and Bermuda shorts for boys. The cost of building the school at that time was $2.6 million.

“When you kind of dig through the items a little bit deeper, there is actually some really cool information about what was important to them in the educational field at that time,” Rodger said. She noted that the principal’s report from 1961 included his hopes at the time that the school would hire a full-time counselor — a familiar issue as Wisconsin has tried to boost youth mental health services in recent years.

At an event to open the time capsule, Wausau superintendent Keith Hilts holds up a copy of the Wausau Daily Record-Herald newspaper from 1960 that had been placed inside. Rob Mentzer/WPR

School staff, alumni and community members attended the unveiling event on Friday. Students from the John Muir Pop Jazz Choir sang the school song. Rodgers thanked them for coming to the event on the first day of their summer break.

“I promise I won’t ask any more of you this summer,” she said.