Saturday, April 13, 2013
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Mount Pulaski 3rd-graders' stunning 'Courthouse Cash' raises praises

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[April 13, 2013]  MOUNT PULASKI -- "Kids can make a difference!" was the proud chant the students shouted with joy. It was the conclusion of a public assembly at the Mount Pulaski Grade School on Friday morning.

"Courthouse Cash," a one-month project, surprised many in the small central Illinois community, maybe because it was "mere" third-graders who had taken on a large community project that had proven daunting to many savvy adults.

Mrs. Mary Ann Radtke and Mrs. Megan Jones and their students even seemed to surprise themselves, a little, by the end of the project.

It all began earlier in the school year when Mrs. Radtke read a story in which a little girl wanted to help a zoo and started a $1 donation campaign. Her students asked if they could do something like that. It was brought to her attention by a student that the historic courthouse in Mount Pulaski was badly in need of renovations and there were no funds to do it.

The project had to be put aside until the completion of the ISAT testing, Mrs. Radtke said.

The Mount Pulaski Courthouse has great historic value to the community. It is a place where Abraham Lincoln practiced law.

Mount Pulaski was established in 1837. The courthouse was built in 1848 and served as Logan County's second seat of government until 1855. Attorney Abraham Lincoln regularly argued cases in the second-floor courtroom as one of his stops on the 8th Judicial Circuit.

The students all agreed this was something they wanted to do. Like the rest of the community, they felt that it is a responsibility to preserve the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law. "We're doing this for people around the world; for people that love Abraham Lincoln," they said.

Courthouse Cash began on March 8. The students all got involved. Collection cans were decorated and placed in local businesses. The students wrote letters asking for donations. The teachers invited the media to help.

Two days into the project, the highest expectations were already being broken at $139. Students held up the large, red fundraiser thermometer that went by the wayside to count higher. Ultimately, what worked were posters with new numbers, decorated and hung on the gymnasium wall, where they eventually went all the way up to the ceiling, reaching $9,000 with the top figure covered.

Early Friday morning, the students stood before a waiting crowd, all smiles, calm with self-satisfaction and a gleam in every eye. City and state government representatives were present. The Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation and Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau were there. Parents and grandparents came. Members of the community and the news media were there as well -- all to see what the kids had accomplished in one month.

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One by one, the students took the microphone and narrated their story of what they did to bring the project forward, how they got help, what they learned along the way, who helped them carry it out, interspersed with the benchmarks they had broken along the way. They could now add public speaking to art work, reading, learning history, letter writing, counting money, communications and community service in their expanded skill set.

As a small contingent carried forward a veiled check, the room fell silent in anticipation. When the cloth dropped, there was a moment of stunned surprise, and then applause erupted. The students had a check of $11,180.89 to give to the Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation.

Tom Martin, foundation president, mightily thanked the students, teachers and all who contributed. "They reached out to the community, the country and all around the world," he said. Funds came from as far off as Germany.

Martin said, "You guys have taught us a lesson: that everyone can make a difference."

Martin added that the teachers and kids would get a say in what gets done in the courthouse.

Mount Pulaski Alderman Darrell Knauer read a proclamation honoring the students and their teachers for their efforts and accomplishment on behalf of the community. Knauer said that Mayor Jim Fuhrer was out of town on city business for the day. On the mayor's behalf he pronounced the teachers and students all honorary citizens of the city of Mount Pulaski for the day. Each student was presented a button to wear.

Also present for the morning were state Rep. Rich Brauer and Geoff Ladd, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County. While in town, Brauer planned to tour the courthouse.

Every February, the tourism bureau hosts Abraham Lincoln birthday celebrations in both the Mount Pulaski and the Lincoln Postville courthouses. The events attract many visitors and help keep the memory of Abraham Lincoln alive in Logan County.


Mount Pulaski Courthouse:

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