John Zuschka was born in 1795 (place unknown) and died in September 1843 in Arenzville, IL. He lived in many places but settled in Arenzville, where he owned and farmed 80 acres of ground just east of the town. In Perrin's History of Cass County, Zuschka is described as "an old bachelor without living relatives, had drifted about from place to place, receiving his first kind words in the employment of Francis Arenz." Six months before his death, John Zuschka prepared his will with the assistance of J.A. Arenz. Having no living relatives and having acquired substantial property, Mr. Zuschka offered to give half his estate to J.A. Arenz and the other half to his brother, Francis Arenz. Instead of accepting, the Arenzes suggested that John Zuschka leave his farm to the school in Arenzville. He agreed, and for this kind act, John Zuschka was remembered by many generations of Arenzville school children. From Perrin's History, we read "Mr. Zuschka was not captivating in appearance, small in size, but he possessed a large soul, full of honesty and trustworthiness. The citizens of Arenzville should honor his grave and remember his generosity."
There is no known photograph of John Zuschka, but photos of two of the school buildings which were built with the assistance of income from the "school farm" are shown below:
The first Zuschka School was built in 1892 and provided grade school and a two-year high school course. This building burned down in November 1908, during the school hours. From A Local History Collection of Arenzville, Illinois, by Hester Lovekamp, we read: "It was believed leaves in the gutters caught fire from sparks from the flue. A train going down the tracks to the south blew its whistle continuously alerting the townspeople to the fire. There was no fire siren and only bucket brigades to fight fires."
"Earl Zulauf told me he was a pupil at the time and while the girls cried, the boys were tickled to death. One boy who hated arithmetic even ran up and threw his arithmetic book on the fire."
Within a year, the town built a new school on the site, and Zuschka School reopened in 1909 (see photo on the right). This building was used until 1969, when the consolidated classes of Triopia High School moved to a new building near Concord, IL. The old school was torn down, and several years later, apartment housing for senior citizens was built on the site,which bears the name Zuschka Square.
The grave marker for John Zuschka, in the Arenzville Cemetery near his old farm. This second marker was placed there with support from the school children and the school district No. 45 of Arenzville, in appreciation for their hometown hero.
Click here to download an article about John Zuschka and the legacy of his gift to the community schools.
The Village gratefully acknowledges Theodore and Hester Ham Lovekamp for their permission to use the photos of the school buildings, which appear in their compilation, A Local History Collection of Arenzville, Illinois, 1988.