Commentary - Remembrance of country schoolWe were born during the Depression and became country school children during WWII while attending Riverview School, two miles west of Marshfield, Wisconsin. About the age of 80 years now, we have many memories of those days just the same.
By James Roehrborn, Alexandria, MN
We were born during the Depression and became country school children during WWII while attending Riverview School, two miles west of Marshfield, Wisconsin. About the age of 80 years now, we have many memories of those days just the same.
Some of the older classmates enlisted to serve their country after Pearl Harbor was attacked. One who enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor was Otto Huebscher, who gave his life for his country. After basic training, Otto was assigned to a destroyer, the USS Johnson. It was a scrappy little ship and sank many Japanese ships but finally it got hit and sank. Thanks, Otto, for your sacrifice for your country’s liberty and freedom.
But, we who were younger decided to do something also to help win the war. We decided to collect some of the material needed in the war. Many junk piles existed on farms as the old horse-drawn machinery was being replaced by tractor-drawn equipment, as well as old car parts, etc. A wagon was used to go to farms and collect the scrap, which we then placed on a pile in the school’s front yard. Some farmers brought their scrap iron themselves to place on our huge pile. Some of us would also collect milk-weed pods, used to make parachutes, also rags and cardboard.
Some of the money from the scrap metal was used to purchase a radio for our school. Our teacher would tune in to certain radio programs on the Wisconsin School of the Air (WLBL) at Stevens Point, Wisconsin. One program was called the Secretary Hawkins Club, which invited listeners to write essays and send them in the Secretary Hawkins to evaluate and respond to.
The teachers in the country school never knew what a day would bring. A few of the boys were troublemakers and would pull all kinds of tricks on their teacher. The girls were most often helpers for their teacher. I remember Florence Nelson Boehning as a strict but loving teacher and she loved to travel. With her husband Reinhold driving, we once drove to Rib Mountain near Wausau, Wisconsin, but had a flat tire halfway up the mountain. She also took us to the Marshfield News Herald and we saw how the type was set. We toured Parkin’s Ice Cream factory in Marshfield and were each given an ice cream bar. Florence also took us to Stevens Point to visit radio station WLBL, which we listened to at school. She also took us on science fields trips along the river near our school.
Another wonderful teacher was Miss Martha Wendt, who had a different method of correction. On warm fall days, grass snakes were often out and once I caught one by the tail end and was chasing the screaming girls around the school yard. Martha came up to me and gave me a hard hug for the longest time and she didn’t say a word, but I understood her message.
Martha Wendt got our school involved in the 4-H Club with the help of parents. Many of us had projects we worked on throughout the year and then took our things to the Central Wisconsin State Fair at Marshfield: clothing, canned goods, baked goods, vegetables, fruit, flowers, field crops, cattle, chickens, pigs and many others. School really didn’t get started until after the fair was over.
In the winter, we sometimes would bring a potato to school for our lunch. At recess-time we carved our initials on our potato and placed it on the ledge inside the furnace door. By noon-time it was baked and we added butter. It was simply delicious, especially on a cold winter day.
We also put on Christmas plays, like the Christmas Carol, for our parents and then Santa would show up at the end of the program with a big bag of presents and candy, always with a loud “Ho, Ho, Ho” and he passed out the presents and candy.
In winter, we also built snow-forts and we boys chose sides and had snowball fights.
Many of us walked a mile or more to and from school. Sometimes we’d get a ride from a neighbor returning from town, especially when it was really cold. I remember one neighbor had a St. Christopher metal in his car, who I thank for the ride on those bitter cold days.
We boys would sometimes play “cops and robbers” and one day my dad was going to town, driving past the school at recess time. He saw us boys holding sticks like guns, playing cops and robbers and it bothered him, probably because he lost a cop friend during a robbery at the Marshfield Brewery years earlier. So he bought a bat and softball in town and gave it to us and said, “Here, boys, play ball;” and we did. We even played against other country schools.
I once heard it said by an educator that, “The day the one-room country schools were closed, education began declining in America.” So, hats off to all of you dedicated country school teachers. We owe each of you a huge debt of gratitude. Were those the good old Days? Yes, they were.
I was a public school teacher for 31 years, but never had the opportunity to teach in a one-room country school.