Last vestige of Thorsby Institute still stands

Published 4:59 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Like signatures scribbled in an old high school yearbook, two sets of initials carved into the wood at Jane Sutlive’s house in Thorsby are the etchings of a bygone era.

The initials are located in an upstairs bedroom of what used to be a boys’ dormitory for the Thorsby Institute, the first accredited high school in the area.

The house is the only structure of the institute still standing.

“I’ve lived here for 19 years,” said Sutlive, whose parents bought the house after the institute closed in 1959. “I’ve always liked it. I like the history in it.”

Thorsby Institute was built in the 1910s and consisted of 20 acres and a cluster of buildings, including two dormitories and a house where the minister of the Norwegian church lived.

“This house was built because they needed more room for the boarding students,” Sutlive said. “It was just four rooms upstairs for the boys to live. Downstairs was a common gathering room and parlor, and a room for the teacher to live.”

Sutlive estimated as many as 25 students could have boarded and attended the institute at one time.

The institute was coed from the beginning and received financial support from the local congregational church, whose members, according to Sutlive, “wanted a good atmosphere for their children.”

“Many of the students went to church there,” she said. “The school never had a lot of money, but they gave a lot of people here a good education.”

Helen Jenkins, for whom Thorsby’s Helen Jenkins Chapel was named, served as principal at the institute for many years and was instrumental in the church.