Ron Howell researches

Ron Howell of Winterset has been honored with the Country School Association of America’s (CSAA) 2020 Scholarship and Artistry Award for his book “The Rural Schools of Madison County, Iowa – A Vanishing Heritage.” The CSAA is a non-profit national organization dedicated to preserving memories of country schools and promoting scholarship about the early American educational experience. 

Howell’s book is a thorough look at early education in Iowa, and particularly Madison County.

The 260-page over-sized hardback book is divided into three parts. Part 1 discusses various topics that apply to all of Madison County’s rural schools such as: getting organized, unusual school names, building types, fires, and life of a teacher. Part 2 is a township by township list of Ron’s meticulous research of each rural school known to exist. Part 3 is a detailed list of every known teacher by each school house. Over 250 illustrations add life to his words.

Howell was asked what inspired him to take on this large research project. 

“I listened to my family talk about going to a rural school: my siblings as students and my mother as a teacher. My parents, paternal grandparents, and paternal great-grandfather were all directors of the Stringtown school in Douglas Township. I missed the opportunity to be a student myself, as the school had closed.”

He went on to explain the process of researching and publishing the book. 

“When I began volunteering at the Madison County Historical Museum to help preserve Madison county history, it quickly became apparent that the museum files were full of rural school history. Since there was no one working to preserve this topic, I set out in 2010 to collect the information and pictures on hand and start the detailed research of Madison County newspapers for information. 

“The research lasted eight years until I had a full compilation of Madison County rural school history. After six months of working on the rough draft and another six months of proofreading and searching for a publisher, the book was printed in November, 2019.” 

In addition, Howell crowd-sourced his research by reaching out to others for their memories, photos, and information through his Facebook page, The Rural Schools of Madison County Iowa.

The formal presentation of the 2020 Scholarship and Artistry Award was to take place at the CSAA’s annual meeting in June. This year’s conference is virtual and the presentation will take place online. So, Howell’s award will be presented as he watches via his computer screen. 

If you are interested in a copy of Ron Howell’s book, “The Rural Schools of Madison County, Iowa – A Vanishing Heritage,” he can be contacted by email at Or you may write to him at 307 W. North St., Winterset IA 50273. You must include an email address. The book price is $44. If you need to receive it by mail, please include an additional $5 to cover postage. The book will be delivered for free to any address within Winterset.