VERDE HERITAGE: JEROME SCHOOLS and J. O. MULLEN
In 1918 when Mr. and Mrs. John O. Mullin "came to Jerome the school plant consisted of the old Main Street elementary school, the old Jerome High School uptown below the United Verde Hospital on the grounds now  used for the city yard, and the old wooden grammar school that used to be on the cement platform across from the Tony and Julia Lozano home on 89A. In 1918, the total enrollment was 791, but under the guidance of Mr. Mullen and the generosity of a boom town growth, the peak enrollment in Jerome schools rose in 1930 to 1,919 pupils and a force of 68 faculty and staff members."
"In 1948, the 'Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine' published on February 8th a story about Mullen and his Jerome achievements, from which the following paragraphs are copied:"
"'It is startling to find in this dying town a school system more intelligently operated, a school plant more magnificently equipped and staffed, than many a big city can boast. Lewis McDonald, mayor of Jerome, is also school principal. His good friend, J. O. Mullen, is superintendent.'"
"'The 600 grade and high school pupils of Jerome have a school plant valued at $225,000 and probably worth a great deal more in the present inflated market. The story of how Jerome achieved such a fine school is largely the story of its superintendent.'"
John Oscar Mullen, "'born in California, [on January 7, 1879,] came to Arizona in 1886.' He went to college 2 years in Tempe, obtained appointment as postmaster, completed his college work and became a school principal in Tempe. His work was outstanding and when Jerome needed a well-trained and experienced school administrator, Mr. Mullen was asked to come" to Jerome. He and his wife, Milber, and their 2 sons "came to Jerome in 1918. 'He was appointed superintendent and has held the post ever since, the longest record in the state. He arrived in Jerome when it was in the middle of prosperity and its citizens asked him what he would recommend to make the school as good as any in Arizona.'"
"'He said he could create such a school if the town raised $400,000. Jerome issued bonds in 1920 and gave Mullen what he asked for. That a community that size could finance such an undertaking was of course due to the enormous taxes paid by the copper firms.'"
"'The main school building has lecture rooms with sloping, tiered seats for demonstration purposes; large physics and chemistry laboratories excellently equipped; a home economics department with the newest refrigerators, stoves, and work counters. The machine shop has the latest in power tools.'"
"'Although all the above equipment is startling enough in juxtaposition with the rest of Jerome, the auditorium and gymnasium are almost incredible. The auditorium, which seats 700, is fitted with a projection room comparable to that of a good movie house, where the latest in visual aid, lectures, and educational movies are presented. The sound equipment is used for music classes. No modern technique of instruction has been neglected. The gymnasium, a separate building, which cost $80,000, when it was built in 1937, would do credit to a university. It has beside the enormous gym, showers, locker rooms, equipment and massage rooms. Out of this plant Jerome has sent champion basketball and football teams, the majority of whose members are Spanish-American.'"
"'In 1947, 50 percent of Jerome's graduates entered college. The records of previous graduates indicate that these youngsters will stand well in the top half of their classes.'"
"'Not only are Jerome's children well-taught in their school subjects, they are imbued with a social tolerance remarkable in a community that potentially is a hotbed of conflict. The population of Jerome is 60 percent Spanish-American, and yet racial incidents are few --- largely due to the principles taught by Mullen and McDonald.'"
"'What the future of Jerome holds for its youngest citizens is hard to predict. But if anything new and better will rise on the sinking foundations of this old copper camp, it will probably be traceable to the one institution of Jerome that is progressing, not slipping.'"
"(This was written by Jane True in an article titled, 'Jerome is Slipping.')"
"On April 10, 1952, the 'Arizona Republic' printed the following news item under the headline 'Schools Have Come and Gone for J. O. Mullen' which is here copied verbatim:"
"'High on the side of Mingus Mountain, in a trim vine-covered house, is a tall, pipe-smoking man with white hair, living in serene contemplation of the bustle around and below him, reminded that somewhere in the past he has seen it all before.'"
"'His name is J. O. Mullen. He was born in a mountain shack in Butte County, California, and he was to hang up, before retirement in 1949, the longest record as a superintendent of schools in all Arizona.'"
"'He came to Jerome in 1918. Before he had been there a year he wrote an article for the 'Verde Copper News.' You have a fine group of students, he told the people, a fine faculty and a fine town. But you have the worst schools this side of Arkansas. They didn't run him out; they asked him what he needed. He told them --- $400,000. And they gave it to him. He built the best school plant in northern Arizona.'"
"'"Jerome isn't my home," he told the people, "the whole valley's my home."'"
"'He saw what was coming. With the superintendent of Clarkdale schools he tried 4 times in the 1920's to get consolidation.'"
"'"Local pride was the stumbling block," he says now, "and money. Jerome was scared it would have to move and Clarkdale was scared it would have to. We couldn't do it till times got tight," Mr. Mullen said.'"
"'He wrote a masters thesis called "Proposed Educational Reorganization of Yavapai County." Divide the county into 4 districts, he said. Let one be the railroad district, including Perkinsville, Drake, Ash Fork, and Seligman. Let another include Prescott and the county south and west. Let a third take in the Mayer areas. Make the Verde Valley the fourth.'"
"'"If you could get all the money on this side of the mountain into one district," he reasons now, "you'd have quite a batch of money. You'd have one strong high school instead of 3 small ones. And spirit; you can't develop much school spirit among children in a high school of 40 or 50," he says. "To consolidate where they want, they'll probably have to have more buildings. That's where the shoe will pinch, won't it? But anything is possible. It didn't look like Jerome and Clarkdale could consolidate, but they did."'"
"'That had its somber side. It was very interesting building up a school system. Maybe more interesting building it down. The problems were as fierce --- and they were sad. Which teacher to let go; which building to abandon.'"
"'"Today? The mining is dying," said the man on the mountainside, "but the valley is great."'"
"'And one other thing. He said it in his report to the Jerome School Board in 1947. He said, "Our efforts are concerned with the child. We want children healthy mentally, spiritually, socially, and emotionally."'"
"In a Jerome supplement of 'The Verde Independent in July 1952, there was an article by Mr. Francis H. Lyons, stock broker and insurance man, who wrote of his boyhood in Jerome. Quoting:"
"'I was born in Jerome on August 9, 1897. Jerome was the only town in the Verde Valley of any importance when I was growing up. Cottonwood was a store and a few houses. Camp Verde was only a village. Clarkdale did not exist.'" [He died in his Jerome home on Second Street on December 27, 1952.]
"'We had great fun as kids in old Jerome. There were trips by wagon to Oak Creek and Sycamore Canyon where we would fish for trout and go swimming in the pools and hiking in the hills. ... During vacations we would take a rig to the Verde River or to Mescal Canyon where we would use burlap bags filled with earth and sand to make impromptu swimming pools.'"
"'Most of the larger boys had ponies or burros, or knew where they could borrow one. My father Alex H. Lyons, had a fruit and grocery business and we would load the orders in large wicker baskets, delivering them on horseback to homes where wagons could not go.'"
"'Hallowe'en seemed made for Jerome kids. ... I remember that some boys put a small wagon on top of the school. Two of the boys were Fred Jones and Henry Sutter. ... During the winter months there was always sledding and snowball fights. We made bobsleds by laying a plank across two sleds. About 15 kids would ride the bobsled from the hill north of town through the streets all the way to the Gulch.'"
"'For recreation there were hose races among the town's three fire companies and drilling contests in the square. The miners would take a drill and an 18-pound hammer and see how deep they could drill into a piece of Bradshaw granite in the square. I saw men drill 36 inches into the granite in 20 or 25 minutes.'"
"'I first became acquainted with the Jerome school system about 1903 when I entered Miss Conray's room in the first grade. A Mr. McNeff was the principal of the school which had then grown to an 8-room frame building and a basement. We started in the basement. But we were soon forced to leave school because of an epidemic of scarlet fever in 1904. There were various epidemics of smallpox, scarlet fever, and diphtheria, which kept the school closed about 30 percent of the time.'"
"'Eventually a two-story high school building was built on the site now occupied by the Jerome town yard. It was from this building I graduated in 1914 --- the only boy in the class.'"
"'In 1908 Jerome had been cleaned up by Dr. A. J. Murrietta, chief surgeon of the United Verde hospital, who made minimum sanitation compulsory and forced the health orders on the residents of Jerome. In this connection I remember a boy, Tony Vicente, who was isolated with scarlet fever at the pest house near Josephine Tunnel. The doctors said Tony was going to die, so his father made a coffin. But Tony did not die. He got well and put wheels on his coffin to make a wagon. For at least two or three years it was common to see Tony steering around town in his coffin.'"
"The 'Arizona Republic' published an article by Blanche E. Royle under dateline Jerome, May 24, with the heading 'Graduation to End Life of Schools' and illustrated with a photo of Mingus Union High School from which we quote:"
"'On May 30, 1952, when the last student has left, and the last teacher has gathered his effects, "Finis" will be written upon the Jerome school system which had its beginning in a one-room school.'" ... [To be continued ...]
John Oscar Mullen "was Superintendent of Schools in Jerome for 31 years, holding the longest tenure as superintendent in the state at that time. He retired in July 1949 but he and Milber continued to live in Jerome, contributing much to the culture and progress of the town. He passed away on February 28, 1954. His beloved wife is still active in Jerome (1971)."
"The Jerome High School staff memorialized him saying in part: 'No account of the life of J. O. Mullen, no matter how briefly it was recorded, would be complete without a statement of some of his beliefs. He believed that in order to have the best schools and the best homes, the best in religion, and the best community for everybody's children, cooperation needed to be vital, positive, enthusiastic, and harmonious.'"
(The Verde Independent; Cottonwood; Wednesday, May 5, 1971; page 14.)
John Oscar Mullen is the son of Joseph Burr Mullen (born in Iowa) and Nancy Elizabeth Langford (born in California). His military service was during the Spanish-American War. He married Milber Caroline Pavell (born in Louisiana) and they became the parents of 4 known children: born at Tempe; Joe Burr Mullen (Sept. 14, 1915) and John Oscar Mullen, Jr. (May 8, 1917), and born at Jerome; Richard Charles Mullen (March 16, 1923) and Carol Elizabeth Mullen (July 28, 1929). (Certificates of Birth and Death.)
Click Below to: