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July 15: Antler School

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The tiny town of Antler is situated two miles south of the Canadian border. Named for nearby Antler Creek, it was first platted in 1905. A school was built two years later, and by 1910 the town had 342 residents.

The school expanded over the decades. In 1950 a gym was built, and a modern addition was added in 1964.

Unfortunately, Antler’s population had peaked in 1910. It slowly declined over the decades, and in 1976 the decision was made to close the high school, with students in grades 7 through 12 going to school in Westhope, Sherwood, and Mohall. The last graduating class had three students. By 1980, Antler’s population had dwindled further, and in April 1981 the school board voted to close the elementary school, too.

But to the rescue came Harley Kissner, a 72-year-old bachelor farmer. He was distraught at the thought of the school closing and came up with a clever, idea. He announced that he would give away six plots of land to anyone with children. He was inundated with calls from all 50 states and over 1,000 letters. He chose six families with a total of 21 children. And on this date in 1981 it was announced that the Antler School board had voted to keep the school open.

In February of 1983, the Antler School provided perhaps the most exciting thing the town had seen since the 1911 tornado. Tiny Tim came to perform in the gymnasium. Some of our listeners will remember Tiny Tim as a quirky ukulele-playing singer. It was hoped his appearance would raise funds for the school, but perhaps due to the -22 degree weather, the crowd was small, and not much money was raised. However, Tiny Tim enjoyed his visit and the crowd was enthusiastic.

Harley Kissner’s hope to save Antler’s school didn’t last. By 1986 only one of the six new families was still there. So, in May 1987 the school closed for good, handing out report cards to its last 12 students.

After closing, the building was briefly a home for the Antler Historical Society and a museum, but it’s now abandoned and falling into disrepair. As of 2020 only 26 people remained in Antler.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa

“Antler, North Dakota,” Wikipedia.,_North_Dakota accessed June 14, 2022.
Antler Jubilee Committee, Antler Diamond Jubilee, 1980. Accessed June 14, 2022.
Associated Press, “Antler School Hands out 12 Report Cards, Closes,” The Bismarck Tribune, May 21, 1987, pg. 2C.
Associated Press, “Antler School to Stay Open,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 15, 1981, pg. 3.
Associated Press, “Modern Homesteading Plan Falls Flat in Antler,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 2, 1986, pg. 2C.
Author Unknown, “Antler School Notes,” The Bottineau Courant, November 9, 1922, pg. 2.
Author Unknown, “Antler School,” Antler, ND: Pride of the Prairie, accessed June 14, 2022.
Author Unknown, “Doings Over the County,” The Bottineau Courant, May 17, 1912, pg. 1.
Author Unknown, “Over Bottineau County, The Bottineau Courant, June 5, 1914, pg. 5.
Author Unknown, “Seen and Heard,” The Bottineau Courant, October 5, 1916, pg. 5.
Author Unknown, “State Deaths,” The Bismarck Tribune, August 31, 1994, pg. 11A.
Author Unknown, “Tiny Tim,” Antler, ND: Pride of the Prairie, accessed June 14, 2022.
Loh, Jules, “New Crop of Children Aid Antler,” The Bismarck Tribune, October 7, 1982, pgs. 1, 3.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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