Dick and Jane, tipped outhouses, dried-cowchip softball bases, sledding at recess and a lot of wonderful teachers were among the memories shared at “Country Bells” Saturday afternoon.
The celebration of the former 132 one-room schools dotting Jefferson County through the early 1960s drew 314 people, mostly alumni, but a good number of “city kids” likely attending to learn what they had missed.
And judging from the reminiscing before, during and after a formal program on the history of rural schoolhouses, they missed a lot.
Violet Foemmel Korth of Cambridge attended Franklin School in Clark County in the 1930s, but from 1952-54, taught at Town Line School on Hope Lake Road in the Town of Lake Mills. Her son, Darrell, attended Ripley School on Perry Road in the Town of Oakland.
And her late sister, Alvina Foemmel Korth, (yes, the two sisters married two brothers) taught in a one-room school, too.
Violet recalls having had 21-22 students in her class at Town Line School. A highlight was a fieldtrip to Prairie du Chien and Governor Dodge State Park with students from a neighboring school at which the late Dolly Martin of Lake Mills taught.
Karen Abendroth Roekle of Madison attended Flanagan School along County Highway G between U.S. Highways 12 and 18 in the Town of Jefferson. Joining her Saturday were her husband, Bill; younger sister, Kathy Abendroth Rueth of Johnson Creek; and brother, Lee Abendroth, who resides just a mile from their former school’s site.
Kathy attended Flanagan until fifth grade, when the school was closed circa 1961; then she went to Jefferson for school.
The siblings’ father, Wally Abendroth, was on the Flanagan School Board.
“We had a little milk can that we used to take water to school,” Karen recalled. “My mom would take us to school … and we would dump the water into this crock that had a spigot on it.”
Christmas programs always were special, she said, recalling one particular re-enactment of “A Christmas Carol” when she was in seventh- or eighth grade.
“One of the ghosts needed a chain, and my dad had this real heavy chain. I don’t remember who played the part, but they dragged it all the way from the basement up two flights of stairs onto the stage. That was the drama of it all.”
She also remembered a school park project in spring.
“Every May Day, we used to make May baskets,” Karen said. “And we would go across the road to (Miller’s or Pruefer’s) woods. They had buttercups over there, those little yellow flowers, and we used to pick them and put them in our May basket. We could give them to a neighbor, but I usually took it home and gave it to my mother.”
Her sister, Kathy, remembered that behind the school was a big hill “and in the winter, the kids took their sleds to school and went sliding at recess. Everybody, whether young or old, did it.
“And in the summer, everybody played baseball,” she continued. “And no matter if you were little or big, everybody got included in the same game for the noon hour. On Arbor Day, everybody brought rakes and we all raked the school lawn and then we roasted hotdogs.”
Karen, too, recalled the sledding hill … for a particularly good reason.
“We would always slide down on our sled,” she said. “The fence was down at the bottom of the hill and went past the swing — old swings with chains and wooden seats. I was going so fast (that) I went up over the fence post that was laying down, and I have a false tooth (in front) yet today.”
Norene Rindfleish said she taught at Barkwoods and Town Line schools. The former was along Lower Hebron Road in the Town of Hebron.
“I think the experience of teaching at a one-room school was one of the most momentous times of my life,” she said. “If the children learned one-third of what I learned, then I did my job.”
In total agreement was Mildred Alexander Lemke of Fort Atkinson, who attended Town Line School and, in the early 1940s, taught at Faville Grove, at Manske Road and County Highway G in the Town of Waterloo.
Bob Ehrke of Fort Atkinson went to four different country schools — Joeville, Ives, Rockdale and Smithback (just over the Dane County line) … “and I finally made it through,” he said to laughter.
“I think that in the country, you had to learn about more than in the city schools,” he said, noting that he was one of four boys. “When we got into high school, there were a couple of ‘smarter’ (city) ones that called us ‘dumb farmers,’ but my brothers straightened them out.”
Mary Kreglow Wolfgram of Fort Atkinson was a student at Ripley School in Oakland. She remembered Christmas programs with brown curtains hanging on a wire, a pack-jammed room of proud parents and family members and Santa Claus coming in the door at the back.
“We had a woodshed behind the school and we had to bring wood in for the stove,” she noted. “Every day, the flag was raised by someone different and taken down at night.
“It was very interesting how we could all learn together,” she added.
Josie Williams of Waterloo attended Koshkonong School, located along State Highway 26 in the townof the same name, during all eight grades.
“I had three brothers, and I wished school (also) was on Saturdays and Sundays,” she recalled. “They certainly thought I was crazy, but I really liked my education.”
Richard Ralph was a student at Curtis Mill School, at the corner of Curtis Mill Road and County Highway N in the Town of Jefferson, from 1955-62.
“I remember, in 1956, we had the Farm Progress show at the (William and Ted) Ward and (Craig) Beane farms (west of Fort Atkinson). It was the first time, and in Jefferson County, so they gave us the day off of school because the farm show was educational. ... We all went and enjoyed it.”
Maxine Mosher Crotteau and her twin sister, Marilyn Mosher Hinrichs, both of Fort Atkinson, attended Tamarack View School, along State Highway 106 in the Town of Hebron, about four miles east of Fort Atkinson.
“The two of us usually were the only ones of our grade,” Maxine said. “There were only 10 kids in the whole school and a lot only had one child in a grade. We listened to Professor (Edgar) Gordon (who in 1921 started a program, ‘Music Appreciation,’ on WHA Radio), and we learned the song ‘Beautiful Wisconsin.’”
Maxine’s cousin, Janet Smith Strasburg, Fort Atkinson, said Maxine and Marilyn’s family lived upstairs from their grandparents, Austin and Helene Mosher, along County Highway C (now Willing Road), and she herself grew up in a house built across the driveway. Janet spent grades K-4 at Tamarack View School with Mrs. Ted Blodgett as her teacher.
“She was a great teacher and by the time you finished up with her, you could read. She made sure you knew how to read,” Janet shared. “She was a wonderful teacher and I am very thankful for the four years I spent at Tamarack View before we were consolidated into the Hebron School.”
(Mrs. Blodgett’s son, Jack Blodgett of Fort Atkinson, and granddaughter were in attendance Saturday.)
Bob Links, who attended Milford State Graded School from the late 1940s to early 1950s, recalled the school’s Mothers Club.
“The nice thing about the Mothers Club was that we got to get out of school early that day,” he said. “At 1 o’clock, we all went back in our classrooms, the lower grades came upstairs to the upper grades and the lights would go out, the dark shades would go down and we would have some kind of a movie until all the mothers got there.”
Bob continued: “On this one particular day, the lights went down, the shades went down, the projector came on, the mothers were filing in quietly and we had a National Geographic film. The movie we were watching was of natives of Africa breaking their camp and moving on to the next camp.
“Here we were watching them come through the woods single file down the trail and, lo and behold,, here came the ladies bare-breasted. The lights went off, the projector went off and we got to go home extra early that day.”
Shirley Borchardt Brown attended Joeville School, located In the Town of Oakland along County Highway C.
“Mom and Dad were going to build a new house, so we got off of school the day they were going to be moving the house from one location to another,” she said, referring to all of the pupils. “We all got to ride our bikes to watch them move the house and then we had to bike back to school.”
Shirley Barnes Jelinek attended Sanborn Hill School, located along County Highway J and Kiesling Road, Jefferson.
“We bought the farm right across from the school, so our job was to bring water twice a day. We’d take the pail home at lunch,” she said, noting that pupils used a dipper to pour themselves a glass of water.
“My father was paid $15 a year to bring water twice a day,” she added.
Judy Lemke Wollin of Jefferson shared that she went to Norman Horton School, located along County Highway K in the Town of Koshkonong. She was the only girl in her class until the fourth grade.
“When I started in first grade in 1956, all 12 grades were taught there,” she said. “In the spring of fifth grade, we moved to Bark River Road and then I had to go to town school, and that was one hell of an experience ...”
She said that the school first had a wood or coal stove and eventually got an oil-burner to warm up the school in wintertime.
“But to get it warm in the schoolhouse in the morning, we’d push the desks to the wall and we’d square-dance until the school warmed up,” she recalled. “We had a lot of fun.”
Lois Larson attended Finches Corner and Joeville schools, the former being along State Highway 26 in the Town of Koshkonong. Being the only girl in the school meant she was on the receiving end of a lot of teasing, she said.
“On Halloween, all of our dads had to go and guard the outhouses,” Lois remembered. “They had to take turns because they often got tipped over.”
Judy Melcher Reu of Hebron attended High Lawn School near Pipersville.
“I remember my mother telling me that in 1924, she took a teaching job in Ixonia. The school nearer to Pipersville asked her if she would teach there. But when they found out that she had bobbed hair, they said ‘no, we won’t hire anybody with bobbed hair,’” Judy shared.
“About two years later, they were looking for a teacher and they contacted her,” she added. “She said, ‘No, I’m sorry, but I still have bobbed hair.’”
Later on, Mrs. Melcher was one of Bob Ehrke’s teachers, at Joeville School.
“Radio Ron” Stelse said he was in seventh grade when he and three friends from South West Oakland School, — Dave, Dave and Larry — were looking for something to do and decided to walk over to the nudist camp, Valley View, only a mile away from the school, which was located along County Highway C in the Town of Oakland.
“It kind of had been on our minds for a while, so we walked down the road,” Ron recalled.
“It’s way up in the woods, so we made our way slowly and silently. We got close and some dogs started barking and then more dogs started barking, and we could hear a guy yelling at the top of his voice,” he continued.
“And there was an electric fence, and when we turned around to run away, I remember getting caught in it in where guys shouldn’t be caught. The other guys came back to help me and they used great big sticks so they wouldn’t be electrocuted.”
But Ron’s experience didn’t end there.
“Unbeknowst to me, I had carried in my pocked a version of the New Testament and I dropped it … fairly close to Valley View. And I wondered if that ever would get back to my parents,” he said.
“But I noticed the next Sunday, the preacher in his sermon talked about something in Psalms 25:7 that read: ‘Remember not mistakes in thy youth nor thy rebellious of acts.’ So I am thinking that my parents knew and never said anything, or else I’d spend an awful lot of time in a youngster’s purgatory.”
Serving as the teacher, “Miss Draeger,” during the program was Andrea Draeger Louis-Visser, who went to Ives School at County Highways C and A in the Town of Oakland. Saying that it was a honor to represent the one-room teachers Saturday, she offered a tearful thank you for her own teacher of eight years, Ethel Tellefson.
“She was a teacher who was never going to have anybody say her kids were less educated than the city schools’ kids,” Andrea said. “She went to summer school every single summer to learn something to increase our learning.”
She said that in addition to the Mothers Club, Ives School had a Good Times Club.
“Through this club, she taught us Robert’s Rules of Order, so we knew how to conduct meetings. And part of that was planning activities through the year, which we coordinated with the mothers.”
Andrea said that one-room schools were very democratic.
“In order to do anything, we all had to cooperate, regardless of our ages,” she said.
“I’ll never forget playing baseball, and Joe Ehrke was an eighth-grader about that time, and he taught one of the little first-graders to bunt. I was so mad at him because I was on the other team and he has this kid bunt, and then he picks him up and runs him to first base instead of letting him run himself. Not fair.”
She continued: “So every time we started a game, we had to make up the rules to fit the situation because we didn’t have enough players for all the positions and we had to make exceptions for the little guys.”
Ron Kutz and his brother went to Cushman Mill School, located in Hebron on Cushman Road, until it closed down in the early 1960s.
“I was the only student in my grade, so I would like to say I was the smartest kid in my class, and sometimes I get reminded that I also was the dumbest kid in my class,” he said, to laughter.