GI Night School and President Truman’s Platform

“Your dad and I helped make that platform for the president, you know.” Earnie and Dorothy Kopaska visited the Dexter Museum, which has a large display about the 1948 National Plowing Match. President Harry Truman gave a speech there that day, with an audience nearing 100,000 sweltering souls.

“Dad? Warren Neal? How did that happen?”

Earnie and Dad were both veterans of WWII and taking a class at GI Night School. They were asked to build the platform for the historic event. Dexter historian Bryon Weesner said that the platform was built with bridge deck planks upon 55 gallon oil drums.

The platform was large enough for the row of those who brought the National Plowing Match to Dexter, Iowa. Dignitaries included Herb Plambeck of WHO Radio.

I was a four-year-old that day, hoisted on Dad’s shoulders to see the man on the platform, but I’d never heard that story. After my folks bought the farm south of Dexter in 1952, I remember Dad’s being gone at night for those classes at the Dexter school, probably because Mom was a little more nervous about being alone with two small daughters in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

That night school was part of the GI Bill of Rights, passed in 1944, which provided funds for college or training for veterans after WWII. After the war, Mom wanted Dad to go to college, but he thought he was too old, at 27, with one child (me) already. He really wanted to farm.

From Bryon Weesner: From June 1949. Dexter was one of many On-Farm schools that were created under the GI Bill after WW2. At one point there were 243 area farmers who had served in the war enrolled in classes at night. In the photo are Glen Patience, Gail Higgins, Clifford Rater and Ag Instructor at Dexter, Jim Kleen.

Earnest Kopaska was a 1947 graduate of Redfield High School. He dropped out of high school to serve in WWII, then returned to earn his diploma.

The tote boards from the 1948 National Plowing Match, part of the WELCOME TO IOWA backdrop on the stage, are now owned by the Dexter Museum. (“Museum season” is April through October.)



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