SCHOOL SALE WORRIES Kulm leaders: Residents raise concerns about Leppert purchase
Kulm leaders say there is genuine concern but not to let speculation be a cause for alarm after learning that people associated with an anti-Semitic group now own its former school building.
The Kulm Public School District auctioned off its former school for a little over $5,000 to Laura Leppert during the Kulm 125th anniversary events on June 22, said Tami Kramlich, Kulm Public School superintendent. There were a number of bidders, and Leppert prevailed at the auction that was conducted by Schnabel Auction Company.
Leppert is the daughter of anti-Semitic preacher Gordon Winrod, 90, who served 10 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping six of his grandchildren from farms in the Edgeley and LaMoure County area in the 1990s.
Winrod is an anti-Jewish propagandist and a Lutheran minister who was defrocked from the Missouri Synod, according to “The Winrod Legacy of Hate,” a report compiled by the Anti-Defamation League.
" We want our community members to feel safe, and I think they can. We can’t make assumptions at this point, and so we should not jump to conclusions.
TAMI KRAMLICH, superintendent, Kulm Public School
Winrod may be living with Leppert’s family in rural LaMoure County, according to an Aug. 16 Forum story by Mike McFeely, who interviewed Winrod’s granddaughter Shannon Maresh. The news that Winrod might be behind the old Kulm school purchase was announced by Maresh via Facebook last Tuesday, when she cautioned residents, according to the McFeely story.
Kramlich said there was concern about the Leppert name, but that it was dismissed when Laura Leppert turned out to have a LaMoure phone number. She took Leppert on a building tour in late July, when she also purchased desks, tables and school-related items.
“I asked out of curiosity what her plans were for the building,” Kramlich said, thinking it might be for a school. “She said, ‘Maybe a fun meeting place or a shop. We have lots of good ideas.’”
A call to Leppert seeking comment was not returned.
Kramlich said she and several teachers learned about Maresh’s Facebook announcement on Tuesday while conducting an inservice. The phones started ringing all at once, she said.
“That was the first time that we learned of the possible connection between Winrod and the buyers of the old school,” she said.
The school district takes the safety of children very seriously, Kramlich said. Winrod was convicted of kidnapping his own grandchildren and there is no reason to believe the children of Kulm are in any danger, she said.
“We want our community members to feel safe, and I think they can,” she said. “We can’t make assumptions at this point, and so we should not jump to conclusions.”
Josh Gackle, a Kulm City Council member, said the memory of the kidnappings still stings in the community 20 years later. But until it is clear what the owners want to do with the building, it is best to separate genuine concern from the fear and speculation.
“We are just kind of waiting to see what they’re going to be doing,” Gackle said. “But we know what he (Winrod) teaches and the followers he attracts, and that is not something that the city of Kulm or its residents would welcome.”
Sarah Gackle, a sister-in-law of Josh Gackle, hosts a blog at thekulmindependent.comwhere the Maresh Facebook message was posted. She said it is terrible that isolated Kulm should now be associated with hateful elements.
“It is right and good to be utterly intolerant of racial and ethnic prejudice and any hateful rhetoric, and I believe it will be the solidarity of a caring, inclusive community that ultimately drives out exclusive and prejudicial ideology,” Gackle said in the blog.
Kramlich said the school board was criticized by some for auctioning the school building.
“I don’t know what we could have done differently,” she said.
The building winter costs were around $20,000 in utilities and insurance – money that is better served for educating kids, she said. The real estate agents were not optimistic about selling the property and there was also fear that a delay in opening the new school could happen after the sale, she said.
The Kulm School Board decided the building was a money pit and opted for the auction to control the timing of the sale and to capitalize on the timing of the Kulm 125th anniversary in June, she said.
“We needed to get rid of the old school as an unnecessary and fairly significant expense for us,” Kramlich said. “But we knew we needed to wait until the new school was open.”