Restoration efforts at Epler Schoolhouse took a leap forward this week.
A $100,000 donation, previously earmarked toward the cost of moving the schoolhouse will be redirected toward its restoration, the Friends of Epler Schoolhouse and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance announced Tuesday.
"We couldn’t be happier,” said Jane Goetz, chairwoman of the grassroots group responsible for saving the historic one-room school. “We are thrilled. It is like a miracle to actually have the money to restore the schoolhouse.”
Goetz of Leesport and others campaigned for months to preserve the building, which had been slated for demolition. Their dedication earned the support of county officials; the Greater Berks Development Fund, which owned the building before it was transferred to the county; and George S. Sproesser, who stepped in with a $100,000 donation only days before the scheduled razing.
Sproesser’s contribution, initially an anonymous donation, was made in memory of his wife Vicki, who was a Conrad Weiser schoolteacher.
Sproesser redirected the funds toward restoring the school after GBDF received a grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to pay for moving the building 1.5 miles from its location in Bern Township to the Berks Heritage Center, also in Bern.
“I knew that there was a huge task lying ahead of the Friends group with restoration and rehabilitation of the building,” he said in a news release. “I said I’d be more than happy to reassign what I had pledged towards that effort instead. It just gets them farther along, which is great.”
Goetz said some of the funds from Sproesser will be used to restore two windows and the stonework at the back of the building. The group also plans to have the roof replaced later this year before addressing the interior.
Although the old school was moved in July, the Friends did not have access to the building until September, after the county finished grading and otherwise stabilizing the site. Since then, volunteers have torn out updates made after 1931 when the school was converted to a home.
Plans are to restore the school as closely as possible to its original appearance, Goetz said.
“We're hoping to be able to have the schoolhouse open so that when people come, they'll be able to see what a one-room schoolhouse looked like in 1847,” she said.
Goetz also said that Sproesser’s donation has not only sped up the restoration efforts but has also made
all her efforts to save the schoolhouse worth it.
“It was incredible. ... Sometimes you think, ‘Why did I ever do this?’ because you're so overwhelmed and
then things like that happen,” she said. “It's just like it was meant to be. That's all. It was just meant to be. The schoolhouse was meant to be saved.”
Sproesser said his wife would be pleased since education was so important to her.
“She was a dedicated elementary school teacher for so many years, and I believe that in her earliest
years of school she might have actually attended a one-room schoolhouse. So, there would have been a
tie in there as well,” he said in the news release.
In exchange for his donation, he asked only for a plaque at the schoolhouse commemorating Vicki.
“I don't want the spotlight on me. I want it on the school and on her,” he said.
Dan Langdon, chairman of GRCA board, said he had the pleasure of knowing and working with Sproessor for 30 years.
“This donation is only one of many that George has made in the community over the years,” Langdon said. “He and his wife were a great couple. She would have loved what George has done in her name.”
Bonnie Schaeffer, treasurer of the group, said the Friends raised about $10,000 in addition to the funds from Sproesser, but the restoration is expected to exceed that amount and the lack of in-person events due to COVID-19 has made fundraising difficult.