Reminiscing about country school

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The late Ron Meyer chronicled his country school memories in a fun-spirited memoir to share with family and friends. (Photo submitted)

Written by the late 

Ron Meyer

Submitted by Gertie Meyer

On this particular day my life was due for great change. I was 5-1/2 years old and I started country school. Our teacher was Alva Anderegg. She was the teacher of all eight grades. She was also the janitor, school counselor, disciplinarian and director of the theatrical production, known in country school days as the "Christmas Pageant."

Jolly Ridge School was one of the few schools that had an eight-stall pony and horse barn. The district was so strung out so almost every family had a horse, pony or mule to ride or pull a buggy to school. 

The old mule was the smartest if we had a bad day or somebody was slow in handing in papers. School was supposed to be out at 3:30.  If it was over 10 minutes longer, the old mule would start with his hee-hawing and kicking the side of the horse shed. That mule saved us many a time from an extra half hour of school. 

The Longman family had the mule and two-seated buggy. In winter they used a one-seat sled know as a cutter. Jolly Ridge in them days was a dirt road – no gravel – no electricity – no T.V. – no school buses, and a phone system with about 15 people sharing the same line.

The school bell rang at 9 a.m. We had one 15-minute recess in the morning and a half hour at noon. There was a 10-minute recess in the afternoon. Recess and the half-hour lunch break were a privilege. If you got caught pulling a "kaper" or your work was not done, there was no recess or no half-hour noon break until you shaped up. You ate your dinner out of your dinner bucket in your seat; then it was time to get out your book and paper and get to it. 

Most teachers used a blackboard pointer shaped like a small pool cue and they had a real talent for using it. Them days it was wise to not have much trouble in school, because it would get home (thanks to younger brothers and sisters) and you had double trouble there. 

Subjects included reading, arithmetic (math now), and  penmanship. In the afternoon was English, geography and history. Each grade would have to come to the front of the room and sit at a large desk where the teacher went through each subject with you. You also had work at the blackboard if she suspected someone was cheating.

The rest of the class had to be busy in your books, or you had to come to the front and join the class in session. How degrading if you were in sixth, seventh and eighth grades and you had to join the first and second graders — then go through your own grade also.

Recess and noon hour was spent playing softball. In bad weather you played checkers, cat and mouse on the black board or talked about what we were going to do when we got out of school and got bigger.

Remember now – no electric lights in them days – if it got too dull in the schoolroom the teacher or seventh and eighth grade boys would light lamps with reflectors. They had four on each side of schoolhouse. 

The seventh and eighth grade boys would also carry wood in to feed the big pot belly stove. Wood was cut by local school board members, or the local school director, who also hired the teacher and helped the teacher with outside problems pertaining to the local school. The teacher stayed in the local country or close to school as possible.

World War II 

December 1941 was a big bang. The jets hit Peal Harbor. This really put the grips on everything. You had to have ration books and stamps for gas, shoes, boots, clothing, flour, and butter. There were no new autos or farm machinery from 1942 to 1946. Also, any young guy not needed on the farm was in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. They would allow one young man per 250 acres, or if the dad in the family was in poor health. 

Anyway, on nice autumn afternoons we would gather milkweed pods. They used the fuzzy stuff for life jackets for our pilots and several people who traveled the high seas. All our troops went by troop transport on the ocean. 

Christmas pageants

I mentioned earlier about the school  Christmas pageant. We usually started rehearsing part-time in the afternoons after Thanksgiving. For about a week we really stayed at it to learn our parts.  It was mini- plays pertaining to Christmas and lifestyle in those years. It would last an hour-and-a-half. Everybody in school was in it, and the teacher was in charge of all of it with some help from the seventh and eighth grade students.

We sold tickets for a drawing, which we also sold at the door. The money we made went to something for school like a phonograph, new clock, water fountain or bats and balls for softball. Santa would show up and pass out gifts to all the kids present usually hard stick candy. 

We went back to school for a week after, to clean up the school house and take down the stage, which was bed sheets strung on wires for draw curtains. 

We had a week off for Christmas and New Year then back to school and semester tests. We had a great fear to get a passing grade or it was take the same grade next year, or the county superintendent of schools would take you to reform school for two years. 

H.F. Oelberg was the County Superintendent. He would show up unannounced during school. He would sit in the back with a stern look, causing everyone to freeze in their seat.

I rather doubt if any old country boys took the two-year trip to reform school. Just another scare to put you in line. 

School vacation

Valentine's day, birthdays, Easter and finally spring, then school was out, usually around the 15th of May. If we had bad weather, snow or cold and missed school, we had school on Saturday to make it up so as to not lose out on any warm weather and to be outside. 

During the war years we all wrote letters to our servicemen. When they answered – sometime we only got part of a letter. The Army censors put the rest away.School started every day at 9 a.m. with the pledge to the flag. On Veterans Day, a prayer was said in the schoolhouse which was days before the Supreme Court and their chicken rulings. 

In 1943, I had a partner for school from my family when my brother started in the fall at Jolly Ridge. In December the folks moved to the farm west of Osterdock, so we went to Osterdock School until April 1st. Then they started Mound School, so we finished the year out there. Three schools in one year – met a lot of different kids and tricks.

I finished my eighth grade in Mound School. By this time my second brother started school, and the war was over in August 945. Electric lights and some gravel roads come into being, and the Mound School was closed about five years after I left there. A very heated discussion was in the community prior to the closing. People then were like now —some wanted to stay the old way and some wanted the new consolidated schools. 

As of this writing, I sometimes wonder if we are so well off for education, figuring the cost per student per year – but time marches on and waits for none. I hope the preceding lines will give some of you a little bit of an idea on lifestyles in a one-room country schools in the late 1930s and 1940s — especially everyone from 50 years of age on down. I thank you for your time of reading these lines. 

Teacher list

The following is a list of the teachers employed by the country schools Meyer attended.      1. Elva Anderegg, (later Jodar) 

2. Wallace Finnegan - the following year he was drafted in the Army 

3. Betty Troester, (later McFarland) 

4. Becky Ingman  

5. Gayle Moser, (later Kahle) 

6. Ione Meyer, (later Reinitz) 

7. Leo Holthaus 

8. Janice Amling (later Lewin)

9. Mary Walter (later Bockenstedt).

Meyer noted: Some teachers did not teach a full year because of marriage, family, illness or other unknown circumstances. Clayton County Superintendent for all the years was H.F. Oelberg of Elkader. 

Ron Meyer passed away on July 14, 2016.

 
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