Two Waynesville R-VI School teachers carried a secret around with them for nearly 25 years – hoping that no one would accidentally stumble upon their hidden treasure, and banking on the fact that at least one of them would remember where it was buried and make it to the day Sept. 17, 2012.

“We didn’t want too many people to know where it was buried,” says Mary Beth Breshears, a civics teacher at Wood Middle School a quarter of a century ago, “but we also didn’t want it to be completely forgotten, so we kept three copies – one copy at Wood, one with Doug (McCouch) and one with me.”

The “copy” was simple:  A single black-and-white page that stated: “A bicentennial time capsule was buried June 8, 1988, to be opened Sept. 17, 2012.  Location: At base of flag pole, on the east side. Do not remove this notice.”

“Every time I moved, I carried that piece of paper with me,” says Doug McCouch, the industrial arts teacher at Wood at the time.

Like spies on a mission, they would run into each other from time-to-time and with a knowing nod be reminded of the buried time capsule. 

Reflecting back, it all started with the 1987-88 school year and the celebration of the U.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial. Wood Middle’s entire student body watched a nationally televised presidential ceremony honoring the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Next, Breshears’s civic class hosted a mock Constitutional Convention – complete with quill pens and desks decorated to resemble the original convention tables. With each student playing the role of a state delegate, they debated states’ rights vs. federal rights vs. the executive branch’s power. At their mock convention’s end, they ratified the constitution, and were determined to bury a time capsule reflective of their year, their life and their dreams.

The Student Council, sponsored by McCouch and Breshears, gathered and packed into an old ammo box turned time capsule:

n  A bicentennial U.S. Constitution flag donated by then Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft

n  newspaper clippings

n  a copy of student newspaper

n   the 1987-88 yearbook

n  a roster of students

n  a 15-foot banner, titled “We The People” with the signatures of Wood’s students, staff and faculty along with hearts, flowers and a few fake autographs of popular artists at the time such as  Bon Jovi and Metallica

Twenty-five years later Breshears and McCouch had no idea what they would find, but they met with Dr. Sonya Campbell, principal of what is today Wood Elementary School on Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to discuss engaging current students in the unveiling process.

First, they would have to actually locate the ammo box.  Fortunately for everyone, Breshear’s memory proved to be superior to modern technology.  After digging for some time in the location indicated by the metal detector’s beeps, Breshears suggested digging where she remembered burying the capsule.  A couple of shovels of dirt later, and the box was located.

“Despite the fact that we had wrapped the ammo box in plastic and all the contents in plastic, we were afraid that there would be nothing left and that everything would have disintegrated.” McCouch says.

They prepared for the worst.  McCouch brought a saw and other tools to pry open the box, but quickly realized they weren’t needed.  As he removed the plastic from around the metal ammo box, the fifth graders at Wood Elementary began encouraging him with “open it, open it, open it.”

“The kids were as excited as we were,” Breshears says.

A heavily rusted exterior opened to reveal an interior with about an inch of water in the bottom. With heavy hearts, they opened up the plastic and discovered that nearly everything was perfectly intact.

“We couldn’t believe it at first,” McCouch says. “Everything was in remarkably good condition.”

Their favorite item is the banner with all the signatures, but perhaps the greatest treasure of all are the words of wisdom written by Breshears herself on June 7, 1988, “Greetings from 1988! … It is our wish that the past 25 years have been peaceful and our Constitution has continued to be the greatest document of freedom in the world.”

So impressed, fifth graders at Wood will embark on their own year of collecting items to bury in a new time capsule that they plan to open when they are 36 years old.

Breshears and McCouch advise today’s students to include a cell phone, a DVD player and “definitely do something like this with all the signatures on it,” McCouch says pointing to the banner that bears then Principal Jack King’s signature. “This is the neatest thing of all to see all of these names and remember the people.”

Items from the time capsule will be on display for some time at Wood Elementary.