History

James Callanan

James Callanan land speculator, railroad builder, and one off Iowa’s first bankers, died in 1904. Mr. Callanan and his wife, Sarah were civic leaders and fought for issues such as woman’s suffrage, higher education, and city hospitals.In addition to his business interests, Callanan was interested in education. He was a liberal giver to The Home for the Aged, Penn College in Oskaloosa, and was president of the Iowa Humane Society. He donated land to Mercy Hospital which was later sold to the Des Moines Schools. He also founded a normal college where teachers were trained. It was first called Callanan College, then Callanan Normal College. After a fire destroyed part of the building, the college was moved to Drake University, to which he was also a donor. Eventually the Callanan Normal College became the College of Education of DrakeĀ In 1921 their beneficiaries’ sold the entire area now occupied by Callanan, Ruby Van Meter, and Smouse Schools to the city for $55,000. In 1925 the School Board voted to build and name the new junior high school after this Polk County pioneer. Callanan Junior High School first opened it’s doors in September of 1927.

One of the most popular and prominent Callanan traditions was the “May Fete”. The first one was held in 1928. The student body of seventh, eighth, and ninth graders voted for a May Fete Queen and attendants. The queen and her court opened the festivities escorted by “patriotic chairmen” from their home rooms. Boy and Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Girl Reserves, flag bearers and an official Color Guard were all included in the ceremonies. As many as fifteen hundred parents, students and spectators were involved in an afternoon of ceremony, music, picnics, and athletic events.