by Kenny Knauer
Steve Illum's upper level recreation & leisure classes at Southwest Missouri State University are always intriguing, and, quite often, they are not jammed into a dusty and formal indoor classroom, with student heads nodding to the drone of a distant instructor, following some blind adherence to textbooks or dogma.
On a recent weekend, an outdoor classroom experience with "Dr. Steve" shows that the instructor's lively enthusiasm and devotion to his classes and teaching are not confined to the traditional campus.
To paraphrase the BBC's mission statement, this workhorse teacher and "student of life" means to "inform, educate and entertain (sometimes simultaneously)."
Any less-than-fully enthusiastic students who might plan to take this class, thinking it would be a lark or a breeze, should first peruse the ambitious six-page syllabus covering these three brief weekends in March and April.
There is no lack of things to accomplish, from cleaning out the stream and spring with its lush watercress and welcome, icy cold water, to rebuilding the Weir cabin from its rotten foundation upwards, and making the area more handicapped accessible and friendly.
The time flies by, from Cherokee winter lodge building on Saturday, to taking an oral history on Sunday morning from Waldo Duffy, 102 years old, at the Greenfield Nursing Home. He was postmaster of South Greenfield for 37 years and is proud to be one of the two remaining World War I veterans in the state.
Mr. Duffy's grandfather, Samuel Franklin, lived in the Weir cabin near the original site of the Hulston Mill, which was established in 1840 at the meeting of the Sac River and Turnback Creek, by Ezekiel Madison Campbell, an original settler of these Ozarks. The area was home to the Sac River band of the Cherokee Nation for hundreds of years, and a handsome granite marker testifies to this very early occupancy, as current members of the band are assisting in the restoration.
The mill thrived through the tumultuous Civil War period, when many Secessionist settlers in the area openly supported the Confederate cause. There were some anxious moments when area mill owners were ordered to furnish flour to the Union troops under Gen. Nathaniel Lyons, brought about by the distance to the Army supply depot in Rolla.
Before its original Turnback Creek site was inundated by the new Stockton Reservoir, a group of volunteer historians in the Dade County Society and from the Nathan Boone cabin restoration group in Ash Grove helped banker John Hulston, a descendant of early mill owners, and other donors move and stabilize the historic grist mill. It is now situated on a 50-acre site about a mile from the original mill site, along with two early settler cabins.
The serendipitous meetings with Steve Illum came about when Rosa Rutherford, vice president of the society, Kent Snider, president, and Larry Richerson, another leader of the Boone Cabin committee, heard about an earlier Illum class "The Boone Triangle" and contacted Steve.
Their idea was to create a sort of Bermuda Triangle mystique, to link historically the renowned Phoenix Quarry, the restored Nathan Boone cabin and the Hulston Mill Historical Village and Mill, encouraging environmentally aware tourism in these lovely hills and valleys.
The Hulston class project will continue April 25 and 26. Directions to the site near Greenfield take one through Willard and Ash Grove, where the Dade County Museum sits at the rear of the gazebo and mural area on Main Street, and on to Everton and toward Turnback Creek. The drive time is a leisurely 45 minutes.
Persons interested in visiting the site should contact Dr. Illum at SMSU, 836-4773, or Rosa Rutherford, Kent Snider or Larry Richerson with the Dade County Historical Society, 417-751-2496 or 417-788-2883. For insurance reasons, it is best to contact these people before coming up on class weekends.
When more renovations and improvements are completed, it is hoped that the site will attract families, horseback groups, youth groups, Scout troops, and other gentle travelers. It is truly a trip back in time, and the fascinating reminiscences of the society members and early settler family members could only be fully appreciated on site.
There are two portable toilets on site, and two state-approved wells. Travel- and camper-trailer camping, with electricity, is available, and tent and tepee camping, storytelling, music and folk songs around the campfires are always available at the site. Stopping for a hearty breakfast en route, at Pennington's in Ash Grove, is truly a trencherman's delight!
(Kenny Knauer is an organizer of the St. Pat's Parade, a participant with the parks, greenways and open spaces committee of Vision 20/20, and a long-time member and volunteer on the steering committee of Founder's Park.)
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