Some of us search for pieces of our past. Maybe you’ve taken a DNA ancestral test or worked on filling in your genealogical tree.
Recently, I’ve been on a quest to find information on the rural schoolhouse I attended. What was it called, what did it look like, and is it still standing? Finally, with some luck and assistance, I struck gold.
Some of us boomers are the last American generation that experienced a one-room, one-teacher country schoolhouse. If you attended one, I imagine you have remarkable memories of it.
My experience was in Douglas County, Kan., in 1963. I lived with my maternal grandparents for the year. At 10 years old, this period in my life generated extraordinary memories that I recall to this day.
A couple of years ago, Raymond Stone started a Facebook group called "Douglas County, Kansas Rural and One-Room Schools (prior to 1966) and more." He has deep roots in the county. He understood and believed that this heritage needs to be preserved. The group has over 2,000 members. On the site, stories are told, teachers and classmates remembered.
I made a few posts, asked some questions, and answers started to come my way. I found the story of my country school, and a photo of it. Recollections and names began to ring a bell, in a sense. A few classmates from 57 years ago responded on Facebook with, “Hi, Loren — I remember you.” It was remarkable.
In the 1960s, one-room schoolhouses started to shut down throughout the country. School districts consolidated into larger and more modern school buildings. The schoolhouse I attended was built in 1888, and was called Excelsior school. The building no longer stands.
The front of Excelsior had two doors, and Mr. Stone told me that one was for boys, the other for girls. Of course, along with that, typically, there were two outhouses.
The year I attended the school, it was for fifth- and sixth-grade students, but one educator had grades 1-8 there years prior. All grades together for one teacher to manage, teach and supervise. Can you imagine?
Gary Rappard, who grew up in the area, posted on the site that he remembered me. I just had to call him. He answered questions, and we discovered our families had connections.
Gary told me about my teacher, Mrs. Mabel Turner, who just happened to be his aunt. He also told me that my grandfather was his bus driver, describing him as calm, cool and kind.
I remember competing in spelling bees, playing softball, and running in circles during games of "duck, duck, gray duck." I will not forget being seated in the schoolhouse when Mrs. Turner, fighting to keep her composure, informed us that President John F. Kennedy had been killed.
Three months after the school year started in 1963, six country schools in Douglas County, including mine, closed, and all the students moved to a new school.
The shiny building named Marion Springs had a kitchen for hot lunches, a gymnasium, and indoor bathrooms! Elementary school students were living the dream. When the new school opened, there were around 87 students from the six country schools.
My grandfather bought two of the country schoolhouses that closed. He tore down one and remodeled another, named Central, built in the 1880s, into a home. My grandparents would live in that historic schoolhouse for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Stone told me that of the 80 country schoolhouses that were once in Douglas County, 40 are still standing. Thank you to everyone who works to preserve these buildings and their stories.
Our generation has unique memories. If you have a remarkable story unique to the boomer generation, let me know. I’d love to hear it.
Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at firstname.lastname@example.org.