Dingesville #7 Country school memories

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Janette "Jan" Hansel attended the Dingesville country school that her great-great-grandfather Aaron Hyde Sr. built. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

In 1850, Aaron Hyde Sr. came to Iowa and purchased his homestead farm, which included 280 acres in Mallory Township. He was a skilled carpenter and built many residences and schoolhouses in Clayton County, including Dingesville School, where his great-great-granddaughter, Janette "Jan" Hansel of Guttenberg, would be educated. He was also instrumental in the construction of Bethel Church. 

"My sister, Eunice (Barry), was responsible for my name and the spelling. My parents asked her to name me and originally she wanted "Gloria," but my cousin Gloria was born 3 months earlier. Eunice finally confessed to the spelling not too long ago. The different spelling has caused a lot of confusion through the years," Hansel shared.  

Rural schools were operated by the county and built two miles apart in every direction to give each family an equal educational opportunity. Most country schools were one-room buildings with a door on one end, windows for light, two outside toilets and a wood stove for heating. The students who attended the institution carried drinking water from the farm or home in closest proximity to the school.

The Dingesville School, named after the Dinges family, was built high on a hill among the trees. It was noted that the "Fuel House" was greatly in need of repair according to every report the teachers gave at the close of the term. Apparently with no door or window, snow fell and drifted easily on the school's wood supply. "I attended school at Dingesville #7 through the third grade. My schoolmates were Larry Meisner, Helene Kottke (Lammers), Kathryn Meisner (Borcherding) and Alberta Meisner (Sargent)," Hansel listed. "We were the only remaining students when the school closed in 1950. I then went to the Colesburg school for two years." 

Hansel attended what was referred to as "Little Primary School" held in the spring for six weeks. "When I turned five the following fall I went to first grade and Eunice went to high school. They wanted me in school when Eunice, my sister, was there so I could adjust. My walk to school was about 1½ miles. The neighbor kids (Kottke girls and Beuford Barnhart) stopped and picked me up."

Students used the James Hyde/Oscar Hyde farm bottom — which was dotted with "cow pies" and meandering cattle — for a ball field since the playground area closest to the school was not suitable. "Larry Meisner always picked me to be on his team, because he didn't want to play with his sisters. The two of us played against the rest of them," she chuckled.  

A school program presented by the students was held every year to raise funds for construction paper, library books and other small items. "Alberta, Kathryn and I were dressed up as the 'Three Little Kittens.' Our costumes were made out of paper," she smiled.  

The original Dingesville School burned down in the spring of 1921. A new school was built and ready for students at the beginning of the next school year in September. The estimated cost to build a school at that time was $300 dollars.  

The new Dingesville School was approximately 25 by 40 feet with six windows in groups of three on either side. There was one entrance door with a large rock slab serving as a step. 

Hansel was grateful for her country school education. "It was like having a private tutor. We listened in when the older ones were being taught and worked on our own. It probably helped me to have that one-on-one experience, as I later learned I have a form of dyslexia. They said I couldn't spell because we didn't have phonics, but that wasn't the case," she commented. 

A pot-bellied wood stove near the school's entrance provided heat in the winter months for the drafty classroom.  The school district's men were responsible for supplying the firewood, and the teacher built the fire each morning. On cold winter days the students and teacher would begin class huddled around the stove until warmth filled the classroom. 

There was a slate chalkboard at the head of the classroom that ran the length of the building. Erasers and chalk were kept in the wooden shelf that ran the length of the board. New chalk came in black and gold metal boxes and was considered a treat to use a new stick. Pounding them together or on the side of the school building cleaned the erasers. "My first teacher was April Walters (Finnegan) she was paid $125 a month," Hansel noted. 

Area country schools first opened in the 1800's. Hansel's mother and father were both students at one time. "My mother's schoolmates were often older then the teacher, especially the boys, because they had to miss school to help with the chores. The teacher used a stick to control the older boys and one time chased after one, swung at him and missed, but sliced right through a calendar and cut it in half!" she exclaimed.  

An old Edison phonograph and equally old records were used for music class. The county issued red and black songbooks. 

Each student was expected to furnish his or her own textbooks. Workbooks were purchased separately and ordered through the county. 

The recitation bench, where students sat in groups during their class time, while other students worked independently on their assignments, and teacher's desk, were in the front of the room.

Lunches were packed in pails, and each student had their own drinking glass. In warmer weather students ate outside. Students' hands were washed in a granite basin using tiny bars of soap supplied by the county. "A typical lunch consisted of whatever fruit was in season a peanut butter sandwich made with homemade bread and homemade cookies," recalled Hansel. 

A yearly meeting was held at the school to elect a director. It was the director’s duties to hire a teacher, stock up the fuel supply, cut the grass, clean the building and make any necessary repairs at the beginning of the school year.

Hansel received her comeuppance for an after-school incident. "I invited myself to my teacher's house for supper," she explained. "They lived right below us. She said it was okay as long as my parents knew. I lied and told her they said it was okay. My sister came and found me because the family dog had followed me to her house. Eunice spanked me all the way home per my father’s orders,” she said. “Growing up, we each received only one spanking and it for the same thing. We always said we were not running away, we were only visiting. Eunice went to her grandmother’s.”

Hansel was a mischievous child. “I lost my boots in the mud on the hill coming home one day. They got pulled right off my feet. I had to walk home in my stocking feet and my dad ran back and pulled them out. He was not a happy camper,” she laughed. 

In 1952, the remaining country schools would be shut down and new consolidated districts were formed. Hansel and other rural students would attend the Guttenberg Public School. “All of us transferred at the same time so it easier to adapt,” she said. “Country school was fun! There were never more than about ten students per class and most of them were family members.”

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