GENEVA – Harry Coultrap, Geneva District 304's first superintendent, was honored and remembered Saturday in a ceremony in front of the newly renamed administration center - the Coultrap Educational Services Center – at 227 S. Fourth St., Geneva.
About 50 people attended the ceremony, which included opening a time capsule from the original Coultrap school's 1923 cornerstone when the 90-year-old building was torn down earlier this year. Some of the bricks from that building were used to build the sign and the walkway to it, officials said.
Coultrap's grandchildren, Paul and Martha Coultrap, thanked the district for creating a permanent reminder of their grandfather's contribution to the Geneva community. Coultrap served as superintendent from 1912 to 1950. He died in 1963.
"It was over 100 years ago that my grandparents first settled in Geneva," Paul Coultrap said. "Harry Coultrap had a huge impact on the community of Geneva. After having been gone 50 years, his legacy continues within this community."
Martha Coultrap said she was honored by those who came to the ceremony.
"When my grandfather was wooed by Geneva – they were in Elgin – and Grandma packed a lunch and they came down," Martha Coultrap said. "He had his interview and they went over and sat on the courthouse steps and ate their lunch and looked at each other and said, 'This is a nice community.' If they had been here today, they would just be so amazed and would say, 'This is a nice community.' "
School board member Kelly Nowak recounted Coultrap's legacy in the district and the community.
"I really think that it is our community [that] was probably more honored by his service," Nowak said. "He did so much for the students in this community and his vision is something … really is still present in our academics today."
Coultrap, Nowak said, was recognized locally for his vision for education. In researching Coultrap's history, he was honored in 1937 when more than 200 people came to Geneva city hall to recognize him as the superintendent for 25 years.
One comment noted that, "Geneva has a very high batting average when it comes to citizenship," and it was attributed to being developed in the schools, Nowak said.
Another comment was that under Coultrap's leadership, the district taught both practical and cultural values.
"Education has to advance both needs at one time," Nowak said. "I think it's that balance that has stayed with us."
Nowak said Coultrap was also noted for his devotion to continuing professional development.
"Even then, our mission was to develop lifelong learners, and this is actively modeled by every member of our professional staff," Nowak said. "He retired in 1950 and from that time until his death in 1963, Mr. Coultrap and his wife Anna lived at 207 Logan Ave. across the street from the old Geneva High School."
The school named for him was dedicated 55 years ago to the day that the administration center took on his name – as Coultrap Junior High – on Sept. 28, 1958, according to the district's history. It became a middle school in 1968 and was converted to an elementary school in 1994.
It was closed as an attendance center in 2009. The Coultrap facility was torn down this year as too expensive to maintain. It was the only school in the district to be named after a person rather than a geographic location, officials said.
Paul Coultrap reflected on how his grandfather's nature served him as the school district's leader.
"I was five when my grandfather died so I have limited memories of him," Paul Coultrap said. "The most vivid memory I have involved a can of apricots. My grandmother was in the hospital and my parents were visiting. I was too young to go to the hospital and stayed with my grandfather at their house in Geneva."
Coultrap said he cut his finger with the can opener.
"I still have the scar," Coultrap said. "Being a kind, caring, compassionate man, he demonstrated all of those qualities as he mended my finger. Harry Coultrap served as superintendent of Geneva schools for 38 years. Caring, kind and compassionate are the perfect words to describe a man who put his fingerprint on a school system he would lead for almost four decades."
Coultrap said under his grandfather's leadership, kindergarten classes began, a manual arts department was formed, home economics and music classes became part of the curriculum.
"I often wonder what he would think of Geneva schools today," Coultrap said. "I think he would be truly proud of them …. I think most of all, he would be proud of what a great school system Geneva has become."
As the Coultraps opened the time capsule, they removed items such as the district's records of buying the land to build the school, a copy of the Geneva Republican, a yearbook and some coins. Superintendent Kent Mutchler said the items would be put on display at the administration center for public viewing.