Piece of stolen history from Durant school returned after 43 years

Richard Chase Special to the Durant Democrat

September 22, 2013

A piece of stolen Durant history hidden away in a dresser drawer for more than 40 years was recently returned and found its rightful place in the Three Valley Museum.

Following high school graduation in 1969 or 1970, a group of boys broke into the George Washington Elementary School and stole many items, including a large portrait of George Washington painted on a felt-like cloth. Former students prior to the theft remembered the giant painting hanging in the school auditorium.

The return of the painting came through a number of different parties to protect the guilty, although the statute of limitations has long since expired. As the story began to come to light, the person who ended up with the artwork was not involved in the theft, but he was shown by the ones who took the items what they had taken and was in the process of burning the evidence when he rescued the painting from the fire although it did have a burned spot.

Not wanting to get his friends in trouble, he took the painting home and carefully folded and placed it in a dresser drawer where it remained until a few weeks ago. He has become ill and wanted the artwork to find its way back to where it belonged. He gave it to another friend who kept it out of sight until she could think how to get it back to its historical place.

She called Ken Ervin, a former law enforcement officer and alumni of George Washington. Ervin took the painting to the Three Valley Museum where it will eventually be displayed and its story posted. Museum curator Nancy Farris is seeking the public’s help in finding out the origin of the painting and as much history about the artwork that had been a familiar sight to so many Durant students who attended that school.

Ann Flanagan and JoAnn Howard both worked at the school and while Flanagan started there after the theft, doesn’t recall ever seeing the picture.Howard worked at the school from 1965 to 1990 and remembers it hanging in the auditorium but doesn’t recall the theft.

According to a cornerstone laid during the opening of the school, it was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939. It remained a vital part of Durant’s school system until it was finally closed in 2003. The building is still in use, including by the Durant Schools Vision Academy and also Families Feeding Families is located in the cafeteria.

Just when the painting was obtained by the schooland became a familiar sight at school assemblies and other activities in the auditorium is unknown. That is information the curators at the museum will be trying to find out and seeking the public’s help in solving the mystery.

The school recently held a 10-year reunion of the closing of the school and alumni who have such fond memories of their time spent there. The picture of its name sake George Washington was not part of their conversations due to its absence except for those who attended before it was taken.

The return of the one-time icon of the school to the museum will give some closure to the person who saved it from being destroyed more than four decades ago and had forgotten about it until he became ill. Hopefully he will be able to enjoy the publicity of its return and the community will be able to discover the origin of the painting.

Anyone who has information about the painting is encouraged to call the Three Valley Museum at 920-1907.