March is designated as Women's History Month, when we celebrate the progress women have made in society, as well as celebrate their contributions to society in all its forms. Here at Genoa-Kingston CUSD #424, we see and work with countless women every day who inspire us through their strength, intelligence, and kind actions. Throughout the district's history, there have also been many women who have demonstrated great leadership by breaking molds and shining bright. We rounded up a few of the coolest stories about GK girls and women standing strong and achieving goals.
1. In 1972, the first female student at GKHS took shop class.
In 1972, GKHS Senior Mary Quist made her mark by being the first girl in the school to ever enroll in shop class (or any other industrial arts programs). Though at first she faced a bit of hesitation from her mom, and even her guidance counselor, both agreed to let her pursue the class. Mary told The Daily Chronicle that she wanted to learn how to fix small appliances herself and admired her father's handiness when it came to making repairs on their farm. Due to her male classmates' sports scheduling conflicts, the eighth-period class ended up empty — except for her. Teacher John Moon decided to keep the period as-is and he and Mary worked on woodworking, electrical, metalworking, and drafting projects together. Moon was a supportive teacher who encouraged other girls to join shop and even said he hoped to teach them how to make common home repairs so they wouldn't have to later rely on their husbands.
2. Before GK schools had softball, Genoa had a "Cinderella" softball team — and one of its players was a national "Cinderella Queen."
Before former President Richard Nixon signed the Title IX provision of the Civil Rights Act into law in 1972, girls' sports in schools were few and far between. Most schools focused their attention and funding on sports for boys. After the new amendment was signed into law, it guaranteed the rights of girls to play their own sports at schools, too. However, it took a few years for schools to begin implementing the new rules — and in the meantime, individual towns often had their own recreational leagues girls could participate in. Genoa was a pioneer in offering girls softball in Illinois by being the first community to bring a "Cinderella" league to town.
In 1973, a Cinderella Softball commissioner from New York came to Genoa and offered the girls the opportunity to represent the state at the Annual Cinderella World Series in Corning, NY. Girls selected to attend were part of the town's All-Star Team, which consisted of the best players from Genoa's four teams.
Interestingly, the World Series event would also crown a Cinderella Queen — and Genoa's very own Pam Simon was chosen among 20 other competitors. Not only did she have to play ball well, but she also had to demonstrate poise and read an original essay titled, "What Cinderella Baseball Means to Me" in front of over 1,300 people.
"The Cinderella Softball Team to me means it's an opportunity to look forward to as a young girl," she wrote. "It's young girls getting together learning how to play the game right, cooperate with each other, and have fun as well....I appreciate the opportunity that there is now a team for girls. I had to earn my position on the team as I will have to work for and earn my position in life."
3. Then, when GKHS had its own official softball team, it went to the semi-finals of the State Championship.
It took a few years for the high school to fully adopt a girls' softball team, but once it did, the players hit the ground running. In 1978 the team consisted of five Sophomores and four Juniors — no Freshman or Seniors. That year, the small team made it all the way to the state tournament for the very first time and succeeded all the way up to the semi-finals before losing. Still, coach Lenny Peterson considered it a massive success, and promised that it was only the beginning for these dedicated players.
"I knew there was a lot of potential," he told the Chronicle. "There's not any difference between the girls' game and the men's. You can get the girls to do the same things the guys do. Sometimes it takes a little longer because you have to get a bit more basic. The girls don't have a baseball in their hands at age five like the guys do. Although in Genoa the girls are starting to, also."
4. In 1892, the sole graduate of Kingston School was Miss Emily J. Lentz.
We all know that the GK school district is relatively small compared to some of the huge suburban districts — but a graduating class of one?! That's a bit small, even for us! Yet that's how it was for Emily Lentz in 1892 when Genoa and Kingston had their own respective schools. During her graduation, she recited a short essay she wrote called, "Neath the Snow Lie the Daisies." At the time, the newspaper remarked that it was "well rendered and made up in excellence anything it may have lacked in length.” After graduation, Lentz pursued additional education and shortly thereafter married. Later in life, she held the position of Conductress for the Kishwaukee chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
5. Soon after girls' sports were added, a GK track athlete went to state — and later witnessed the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's.
In 1974, the GKHS track team had only been running a year or so when Sophomore Connie Reints, a star athlete, made it all the way to the state championship — one of the first girls (if not THE first) at the school to do so. Two years later, she was named salutatorian for her 1976 graduating class. Then, in 1980, while Reints was training to be a forester for the U.S. Forest Service at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Packwood, Washington, Mt. St. Helen's erupted just 30 air miles from her — which is much closer than it sounds. She wrote a public letter to her hometown that was published in the Genoa Kingston Kirkland News describing her experience:
"I looked up from my reading because the plunking noise had been replaced by an eerie hissing," she wrote. "Outside, the sun-shiny sky had been smothered by the black of night. I truly thought it was the end of the world!...A black vastness and a gassy smell, along with a fine but gritty powder falling from the sky, made me realize what was happening. THE MOUNTAIN BLEW!"