The doors of the St. Ansgar School at 202 South Washington Street opened for the first time in 1928. For nearly 40 years the building served as the sole school for the community of St. Ansgar. As the school district grew, so too did the need for space. The St. Ansgar Community School District built a separate high school building in the 1960s and the Oren Thomas-designed building on Washington Street became the elementary school for decades of St. Ansgar residents.
In 2016, the St. Ansgar School District opened a new elementary school wing at the middle/high school complex, leaving the fate of the former building in the air. The St. Ansgar Historic School Project (HSP) was founded to retain ownership of the building and took possession on April 1, 2017. This 501(c)3 nonprofit reopened the building as South Square.
Why South Square?
The original land plat of St. Ansgar, Iowa included two blocks - or squares - devoted to community space: North Square and South Square. North Square has been home to Clausen Park for decades and is a integral part of life for many St. Ansgar residents.
And what about South Square? It's the land on which the former elementary school sits today. We chose to christen the building South Square to pay homage to the idea that St. Ansgar's founders meant for this land to be a special, community-focused space.
Today, South Square is an all-volunteer run hub for community entertainment, engagement, and learning. It is governed by a non-profit board of directors that operates the building through rental fees, foundation grants, and support from generous community donors.
Board of Directors
Ashley's love of old buildings started at an early age and she quickly fell in love with South Square when she moved to St. Ansgar in 2004. Ashley became the driving force to stop demolition of South Square when the building was decommissioned as a school in 2016, and her tenacious drive now propels the daily activities of the building.
When not working on South Square activities, Ashley is the owner-operator of Salon 318 in the St. Ansgar business district. Ashley is also an active member of the St. Ansgar Community Chamber, providing support to many of the Chamber-sponsored activities in town. Ashley and her husband, Wes DeMaris, are parents to Olivia and Stella, and the girls are often found accompanying mom and dad on their civic activities!
Tyler's St. Ansgar roots run deep. He is the sixth generation of McKinleys to call St. Ansgar home and maintains deep connections to the community.
Tyler's presence on the board is a two-fer, as his wife, Thea Porisch, is an active member of the South Square leadership team. Although the Porisch-McKinley household holds only one seat on the board, both members contribute greatly to the overall leadership of South Square.
When not working on South Square activities, Tyler and Thea spend their time chasing after their children, August and Miriam, while residing in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tyler is a strategy director at Thompson Reuters and Thea is an attorney. They enjoy frequent commutes to St. Ansgar to visit Tyler's parents, Bryan and Linda McKinley, and to worship at the First Lutheran Church, where Thea's father, Bob, ministered for many years.
Amanda spent the first 18 years of her life living two blocks away from South Square - these childhood years are littered with fond memories of times spent in and around the building. She is driven by a passion to keep the doors of South Square open so that others may create memories of roaming the halls of this inviting space.
When not working on South Square activities, Amanda works remotely for a Washington, D.C.-based membership association for health care providers. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and enjoys frequent trips to St. Ansgar to visit her parents, Laurie and Duane Kimber, and to take on renovation projects at South Square.