As a new school year begins, we take a look back at Prairie's very first opening day.

Rarely is the road from dream to reality smooth. Any entrepreneur or artist, any doctor or teacher can tell you – the path to accomplishment can be rutted and zigzagging, often characterized by resilience and determination.

The story of Prairie’s very first opening day is no different.

On September 13th, 1965, Prairie opened its doors to the first 87 Hawks in school history.

It’s strange to think about now, but there was a time when Prairie’s current campus wasn’t part of the school’s vision. Perhaps you’ve heard the story – originally planning to open in the former Washington Avenue mansion of Racine magnate William Horlick Sidley, it wasn’t until Jack Mitchell, the first Head of School, toured the location and expressed concern over the building’s size that Prairie decided to pivot.

As such, the summer of 1965 saw Prairie’s decisionmakers sell Sidley Mansion, identify land in Wind Point as a replacement, and hire Taliesen Associated Architects on a nine-month crash construction program. The building permit was issued on June 4th. (Keep in mind school opened on September 13th.) Despite Taliesen’s reassurances, Board Chair Sam Johnson said he would eat his hat if the school was ready for Opening Day.

Eat it he did.

Fast forward three months: Prairie’s first semi-circle was completed on time, 87 students were welcomed by grinning faculty members, and Sam, a man of his word, eagerly ate a piece of hat-shaped cake at the year-opening festivities.

There are many stories from Prairie’s inception that highlight how this community came together in that first year to make our founder Gene Johnson’s dream a reality.

One of the most poignant, however, involves furniture. On the eve of Opening Day, Prairie was still missing desks for four of its classrooms. Because of a shipping snafu, the desks – which ultimately came unassembled – didn’t arrive on until 7:00PM the night before school was set to begin. The solution? 13 faculty members, numerous board members, two dozen students, and Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell worked until 1:00AM putting the desks together and getting classrooms ready.

This fall, the students and faculty will write the next chapter in Prairie’s story, and something tells us the latest installment will again be highlighted by themes such as hard work, eager exploration, and relentless creativity, all in a pursuit of lifting each other up and being better human beings.

It’s a tale as old as 1965.