The History of Shirley Ben Funk High School
Shirley (population approximately 50) is located in central Illinois about six miles southwest of Bloomington. This places Shirley in the southwestern portion of McLean County. Old Route 66 passed through town during its “hey day” and is still the main roadway leading to and from Shirley. Interstate Highway 55 passes by the east side of town and has exit ramps allowing you to visit Shirley. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad runs through Shirley as well. According to MapQuest (www.mapquest.com), Shirley is approximately three blocks by two blocks long and wide. A few photos taken in and near Shirley can be viewed at the website page of http://www.philiater1.com/Shirley.html .
The history of the town is in need of research. Education goes back to 1912 when a school opened for grades 1-8 on land donated by Frank Funk, which added two years of high school in 1914, followed by a third year in 1920. In 1917, Ben Funk became the first school in McLean County to use transportation (in the form of horse-drawn coaches) to bring students to and from school.
Promient architect A.A. Pilsbury, who designed many a building in McLean County in the early part of the 1900’s, was the architect behind the plans for the Ben Funk building in 1912. The school added on a second floor in 1920, then more space in 1954, and again in 1960 while removing the second floor.
Students had to attend a nearby high school in either Normal, Bloomington, or Heyworth to gain their high school diplomas. In the late 1940’s, Ben Funk fell victim to the consolidation effort pushed throughout the state. It was decided in 1948 to close Ben Funk High School. The students were then bused to nearby Heyworth to complete their high school eduction.
The Ben Funk High School building was then used for grade school students until 1991 when all students were brought to Heyworth. The building still stands today, and is owned by a family who lives in the building. The caretaker’s home on the school grounds is also used a dwelling for a family.
Ben Funk was featured in a 1920 Illinois schools journal. The following facts about the school were furnished:
No. of districts consolidated: 2
Square miles: 16.5
Assessed valuation: $440,319
Cost of house: $9,000
Annual tax levy: $4,200
Tax rate: 0.93
Annual tax levy before: $1,175
Teachers now: 3
Teachers before: 2
Enrollment now: 72
Enrollment before: 46
Enrollment in grade school: 56
Enrollment in high school: 16
No. studying agriculture: 3
Aid from vocational fund: No
Public conveyance: Yes
No. of wagons: 1
Transportation cost: $722
Longest time on road: 1:10
Years of high school course: 2
Months in year: 8.5
The following questions posed for the 1920 journal were answered by Principal Walter M. Stacey:
Q – In what way do adults of the community profit by the school?
A – Without question the school is the social center of the community. Regular club meetings are held monthly; the women hold the Home Bureau meetings here; socials, etc., are held frequently.
Q – In what particular does the school meet the needs of the children and young people in the community in a superior way?
A – Patrons take a greater interest in the school because of the better building, better equipment, and better educational advantages, together with the better social condition mentioned above.
Q – What complaints are made?
A – The school wagon is too slow. It will be replaced by a truck next term if the proposed road improvements are made (Note: Today’s Old Route 66).
Q – What features give the most universal satisfaction?
A – Mention is most often made of the advantages derived from the teacherage. It is the home for the teachers and janitor, a refuge for students living at a distance and are not served by the school wagon, a meeting place of committees, school board, farmers’ business meetings, the center of social gatherings of the older students and the young people of the community, etc.
(Shirley) Ben Funk High School Quick Facts
Year opened: 1914
Year closed: 1948
Consolidated or annexed to: Heyworth School District
Ben Funk HS team nickname: the “Cornhuskers”
BFHS team colors: Blue & White
School Fight Song: “The Royal Blue and The White”
(author unknown–taken from the 1945-46 Ben Funk HS yearbook)
In the peaceful grove of Funks
Our alma mater true
In her colors so triumphant
Looks down on me and you,
In the song which we now render;
With our honor shining bright
Always we will stand defenders
Of the Royal Blue and the White.
Through the three long years of high school,
Midst the scenes we love so well,
Where the mystic charms of knowledge
We vainly seek to spell,
And we win athletic victories
As all children do with might,
Still we’ll work for dear old Ben Funk
And the Royal Blue and the White.
When the cares of life o’ertake us,
Mingling fast our looks with gray,
Should our dearest hopes betray us,
False fortunes fade away,
Still we banish care and sadness
Throughout the day and the night
And recall those days of gladness
‘Neath the Royal Blue and the White