Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
May 21, 1997, Page 25
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
The month of May and graduation – a time of excitement and activity through out our county as each city’s high school honors the Senior Class members leaving their midst.
It is time that we can reflect on our high school days and the experiences we had as students. The other day, as I thought of my graduation, I realized next year will be the 50th year, and a reunion with former teachers and students will soon be in the planning stage.
Besides the high school class room studies, there were other things to learn – a beginning of independence, making new friends in a small town setting, balancing a budget on one dollar a week, etc.
Living on a dairy farm, hidden in the woods, off the main roads, bus service wasn’t available in our area. Then, all children were required to complete the eight years of elementary school but not required to attend high school. However, I wanted to attend high school and my parents were in favor of granting my wishes.
Another girl in our neighborhood also wanted to attend high school so together; we looked for housing in our district’s small town. We were able to rent an upstairs room in a large house occupied by the owners, a young couple and their four-year-old son. Each of us paid $5 per month rent.
On the first ride to town, ready for school and the new venture, my dad said, “Now, you are going to school to study and make full use of the opportunities provided. You will do no running around in the evenings other than school activities. There is a lot of work to be done on the farm, so we won’t put up with any nonsense – You goof-off once, and its back to the farm you go, to help your mother and I.” I knew he meant what he said, and I knew he was right.
Sunday evenings I went to town to stay through Friday, returning for the weekend at home. Mom would prepare a “care package” including food items such as home-baked bread, cookies and a couple jars of canned foods. Our room had a two burner Perfection kerosene portable stove for cooking. There wasn’t a refrigerator in the room so when the outdoors temperatures were suitable, containers of food were place between the window and screen on the shaded side of the house, a substitute refrigerator. The couple living downstairs offered the use of their refrigerator but we politely refused, thinking we would have been infringing on their privacy. The beginning of the week was “feast of plenty” while Thursday and Friday were “days of fasting.”
An allowance of one dollar had to last the week. It’s amazing how it could be stretched for those five days, eked out for selective spending. The temptation to stop at Dan’s Café with friends after school to order and enjoy a 15 cent butterscotch or strawberry sundae often had to be suppressed due to lack of funds. When the “care package” became empty or the “refrigeration” system failed, food items would be purchased such as a loaf of bread for 11 cents and a can of evaporated milk was eight cents. Sometimes on Thursday noon I ate hot lunch at school for ten cents per day. When, seeing porcupine meatballs listed as main course on the menu, I wondered if our cooks had pioneered that recipe. Bread and peanut butter sandwiches was a mainstay. The “one dollar a week” experience introduced me to the financial world by “thinking before spending.”
The high school building was located on the west side of the little Minnesota town, up on a rise with a baseball diamond and football field behind it. Of typical construction for its era, there was a basement, main floor and second floor with class rooms. The second floor was shared by two elementary grade rooms.
There was no parking lot near the school - but there was no need for one, everyone living in town walked to and from school. Two school buses went out of town, one on the west side, the other on the east side, transporting rural students. The street in front of the school sufficed when someone did occasionally drive up to the school. Only one student, Dale, drove his Model A to school, when the weather was temperate.
That Model A was the cleanest and shiniest car in the town, if it ever got dusty or muddy, we never saw it. It was a challenge to see how many boys could get crammed into the car at noon hour when Dale would drive three blocks to the main street. Also, someone would be standing on the running boards, clinging to the door posts. At an all class’s school reunion a few years ago, I asked Dale if he could remember the largest number of kids the car held. He said, “The most we got inside was 14, including myself.” He also said, “I sure liked that old Model A, kept it for a number of years.”
The four high schools classes; ranged in number from 29 to 38 students. Having attended a rural school previously, I knew only one student on opening day of classes. Four years may seem minimal in a lifetime; however some lasting friendships developed in those years.
Basic courses were offered; history, business, geography, science, math, English, literature, physics and chemistry. And extra curriculum’s included band, chorus, drama and boy’s sports of baseball, football and basketball.
Mr. “B” was the superintendent and sports coach. Later in the afternoons when he changed his attire from a business suit to the grey sweatshirt, khaki trousers, blue baseball cap and shoe lace with whistle around his neck, he was “Gus”. A sports enthusiast, he seemed to enjoy both roles, the sports program was a diversion from the desk job.
Mrs. “W” was the principal, English teacher, drama and chorus director, as well as prom supervisor. She capably fulfilled each task she took on. English – grammar seemed uninteresting until I entered her class room, her emphasis on speech were lessons to be remembered. Study hall in the large assembly room was often overseen by Mrs. “W” from her desk at the back of the room, which was also her open office. She saw more “goings-on” just by looking at kid’s backs than could be imagined. My biggest fear and dread was to be called up to her desk -- I had overheard some conversations between her and students. There were no walls, so no privacy in the discussions. She never raised her voice; she talked very calmly reminding each why they were there which seemed to be very effective, the toughest returning to their seats looking remorseful. Never having children of her own, she has many surrogate kids through her 40 plus years in the classrooms, a respected person by those who know her.
I started high school in the fall of 1944. It was wartime, World War II, and finding teachers was difficult. Some school boards had to search, worrying if they could find enough personnel to fill the teaching positions, there were changes each year.
In our freshman year, Mr. Nat, a native of India, came to be our history teacher. He arrived in the States prior to the war to attend a university by sponsorship of an older brother. Relating his life experiences in his native land added to the history lessons.
Thinking of Mr. Nat brings to mind a memorable incident. The winter flu season brought illness to his household when his wife (an Iowa native), caught the flu bug. They had a two-month-old baby daughter and his wife was too ill to do the baby’s laundry. Nat, the youngest in his family, hadn’t previously cared for an infant or laundered infant’s clothing. Knowing I had two little brothers at home he asked if I could help him wash the baby’s clothes. That day, after school, I accompanied him to their home where I washed diapers and clothing on a scrub board in a pair of galvanized tubs set up in their second floor apartment. Nat rinsed the clothing in the second tub, wrung each article out by hand, hanging it on a clothes line rope stung across the dining room, ready to dry. Before the project was over, beads of perspiration covered his face and he exclaimed “My golly, this is hard work.” He offered to pay me at the end of the month when he received his paycheck. I assured him that wasn’t necessary; my parents taught me such assistance was done as a neighborly gesture with no acceptance of pay. After his wife recuperated from the flu, they invited three other students and me to their house one evening. They had prepared home-made fudge, which was a treat as it was during sugar rationing when most families sugar allotment didn’t allow for making fudge. The six of us ate fudge and played a rummy card game, having a fun evening.
Other teachers were Miss Jean, Miss “V”, Mr. P. J. and Mr. Glenn, some stayed there all four years while we were students.
The first football and basketball games I saw were in my freshman year. The ’44-’45 six man football team ranked first in State that year, earning the title by total points made possible with scores such as 56 to 6, 40 to 0, etc. There were no play-offs, no fanfare at the end of the season. Few fans attended games other than fellow students. Most parents were busy working, not able to attend the games and many didn’t understand the game so there wasn’t the interest.
The students learned the game by watching, running up and down the sidelines, following the plays. There was not admission charge to view the fames, but the bus ride for out-of-town games was ten cents per person, which I managed to save as priority expenditure.
Our town had no theatre and it was pre-TV times so our class was encouraged to present two plays in our junior and senior years to provide entertainment for the community.
The junior and seniors were the only two classes attending junior prom each year, held at a church hall as our school building didn’t have an auditorium or gym. Before prom, a couple of dance classes were held so everyone knew the waltz and fox trot steps. We took dancing very seriously.
We ordered our class rings the fall of our senior year, after a discussion over the style to be chosen. Everyone would have the same design of ring; a majority vote finalized the decision. The rings would be paid for when the shipment arrived. Of all days, the rings came on a Monday and none would be issued to students until everyone had their money for payment. There was great anticipation over receiving class rings as it would be the first ring or jewelry many of them could call their own. My friend and I wouldn’t have our money, $18 each for girl’s rings, until the following Monday, after getting home on the weekend. Our parents didn’t have telephones and we probably wouldn’t have called if it were possible. Another friend, Florence, offered to borrow us the money which would be a total of $36, a great sum, to be paid back.
So after school, on Monday, we accompanied Florence to her dad’s shoe repair shop on Main Street. After entering the front door, she told us to wait by the counter while she walked to the back of the shop where her dad was bent over the cobbler’s table working at his trade.
After a short conversation, they walked to the center of the shop behind the counter to the cash register, and her dad opened the till door counting out the amount of cash we needed. I could hardly believe his generosity in helping us with that amount of loan. The first business the next Monday morning was to stop at his shop with our loan payments.
The class ring lies in my jewelry box and when I see it, while going through the box, I think of the man who so willing loaned me money for its purchase. To me, the well-worn ring is a symbol of various other school events and memories.
Great advancements have been made in curriculums offered to students in the present school systems, out-dating the 40’s. The facilities, too, are beyond comparison.
However, as I look back, at being a student during the 40s, I have never felt “short changed.” I am grateful for the education, no matter how humble it may have been. Blessings to the memory of my parents who sacrificed so that I could fulfill my dream of being a high school graduate, an accomplishment never to be taken for granted.
A circa 1940 view of the Neillsville High School building on the east 200 block of Fourth Street, between State and Court Streets which was demolished and removed in the early 1970’s. Most area school buildings were built of similar architectural design in the early 1900s.
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