Oral History of Forgottonia – Experiencing a Rural School Closure: Cooper Leonard’s Interview with Retired Principal Daryle Coleman

“The community did the best they could with that school, rather than let it sit vacant.”

Daryle Coleman


As part of our Oral History in Forgottonia series, Cuba High School sophomore Cooper Leonard interviews Retired principal, Daryle Coleman, about her experience with the closure of the Red Brick School in Smithfield, Illinois. Mrs. Coleman taught elementary school for 18 years, and then served as a building principal for 18 more years (10 at the elementary school and 8 at Cuba Middle-High School). Originally from Topeka, Kansas, Mrs. Coleman graduated from Ottawa University in Kansas where she met her husband, Al. The couple eventually moved to Al’s hometown in Fulton County, Illinois where they’ve been for the last 50 years.

Not only has Mrs. Coleman experienced what it’s like when a school closes, she was also involved with the construction of Cuba Middle-High School’s current building located in Fulton County at the intersection of IL Routes 95 & 97. Our school received various grants over the years to support energy efficiency & renewable energy starting back in 2002.  Today CHS has a geothermal system that heats & cools the entire school. Extensive daylighting reduces energy usage & is linked to student performance. Mounted solar arrays have significantly lowered operational costs. And a wind turbine that helps lower utility bills even further. 

Since Cuba Middle-High School was one of Illinois’ first Green Schools, it’s fair to say that we helped pave the way for other schools in IL to embrace energy-efficient designs & renewable energy. This work of Mrs. Coleman and others is why Cuba MS/HS was named “One of Illinois’ Great Rural Schools.”


  • The joys & challenges of being a principal at a rural school
  • The factors that contribute to closing a rural school
  • How closing a rural school impacts communities
  • How school buildings are used after they are closed
  • Mrs. Coleman’s Experience with the construction of the new MS/HS in Cuba, IL
  • Why it’s important for young people to learn about the history of their own school buildings

Cooper Leonard BIO

Cooper Aaron Eugene Leonard is a sophomore at Cuba High School and the son of Randy & Meghan Leonard. Cooper is involved with history club, drama club, track and field, and he works as a student technology specialist for CHS. He enjoys soccer, baked potatoes, sleeping, hanging out with friends, and following his curiosity. After high school, Cooper is thinking about going to Bradley University to get a degree in computer science or engineering.

Cooper holding the book “Memories of the Heart” which he used as a resource for his topic about closing Rural Schools in Western Illinois
Tales from Two Rivers are a series of books that capture a variety of experiences in the Western Illinois region (the region between the IL & Mississippi River). Book #7 contains stories of rural schools (edited by John E. Hallwas).
Documents the history of 169 one-room schools in the county, published by the Hancock County Historical Society
Another great book Cooper was able to use for research into the diversity of rural school experiences in the western IL region


Our ORAL HISTORY of FORGOTTONIA series is part of the NCHE Rural Experience in America grant in partnership with the Western IL Museum, and the Western IL University Archives.  In 2021, the National Council for History Education (NCHE) recruited teachers nationwide to participate in free and open professional development that occurred asynchronously and synchronously online, focusing on rural history and historical inquiry using Library of Congress sources. Teachers traveled to Norman, Oklahoma to collaborate with a community partner selected from their hometown to create a public history project.

These community-based, service-learning public history projects enable students to investigate their local and regional histories deeply and to connect their own histories to the larger human experience. A key purpose of this project is to link rural communities and their histories to national narratives and primary source collections, and the targeted focus of this proposal provides an avenue for such purposeful connections.

Our project, The Oral History of Forgottonia, is one of several throughout the country featured by the NCHE. To learn about other projects featured by this grant, check out this list and visit the links at the bottom of this post.


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