The ball field was over there. Over here is where we jumped rope. There was another outhouse next to that one for the girls.
More than 70 years have passed since some of the guests at the North Morenci school first took their seat in the one-room schoolhouse at the corner of M-156 and Ridgeville Road.
Former students were encouraged to share their memories of the school during an open house Saturday afternoon. Their stories were recorded and will be made into a DVD to play when contemporary students visit the school.
The former students talked about the subjects taught at the school and explained that a final test was taken in Adrian.
Spelling bees were always scheduled, much to the chagrin of Jay Gould.
“I wasn’t any good at it, and I haven’t improved, either,” he said.
That wasn’t the case for Zella Sallows. She remembers winning the contest.
The annual Christmas program was always a big event.
“We practiced for about a month,” Twila Knoblauch said. “One of the mothers came and played the organ.”
There were plays and recitations and songs—always scheduled in the evening to encourage a large attendance.
“Standing room only,” Jay said.
Elizabeth Barron remembered a poem she had to recite:
“I am a little curly head
My father is a teacher
I like to go to Sunday School
And sit beside the preacher.”
She really was a little curly head when she recited the poem, Elizabeth said later, and she remembers speaking the words very quickly because she couldn’t wait to get back to her seat.
Latham Coffin was mentioned as a favorite teacher. Jay remembered him ice skating to school from his home near Clayton.
“He used his own car and taught us to drive in the eighth grade,” Twila said. “He taught us to drive after school. He taught us how to park and how to change a tire. He was a wonderful teacher.”
Recess is remembered fondly. Games included jump rope, pom-pom pull away, Red Rover, inny eye over and baseball.
“If you hit it over the road you got a home run,” Zella said. “I got it once.”
Twila contrasted efforts today to prevent the spread of germs with the school’s drinking water system of the past.
“We had a pump on the other side of the school,” she said. “We would pump a pail full of water and bring it in. There was one dipper and if you wanted a drink of water, you would take that dipper and we all used the same dipper.”
There was also a small hole in the mouth of the pump, Jay recalled. If you held your hand over the mouth, a stream of water would shoot out like a drinking fountain.
There were eight grades at the school—usually about 30 children—and the teacher called up one class at a time to sit on a bench in front of the teacher for lessons.
The remainder of the class behaved, especially those who were taught by the strict Mr. Ramshire.
“He could take after you and catch you, too,” Jay said.
“That sounds like the voice of experience,“ joked Morenci Education Foundation president Bill VanValkenburg, who led the discussion.
“He chased one guy and caught him, didn’t he?” Zella remembered.
“That guy could run fast and thought he could out-run him,” Jay said, “but he got him down the road.”
Bill said later that the Morenci Education Foundation—now the owners of the property—intend to make a few adjustments at the school in an effort to create a functioning one-room schoolhouse for students to visit.
“We want to maintain what John and Peggy Zachel did, but take it one step further,” he said. “We want to let kids experience what a day at school was like.”
For example, there are only nine desks in the school and another 20 or so will be needed. Bill hears from former students that the teacher’s desk was at the west end of the school, so the desks should be turned around and another blackboard will be needed to replace the missing one.
“It’s going to be challenging to find that,” he said.
• To order a copy of the DVD that will be produced, contact Rev. Bill VanValkenburg at the Seneca Community Church.
To make a donation to the schoolhouse maintenance fund, make sure the foundation knows that your gift should be given for that purpose.
Donors can specify how they want their gift to the foundation used—scholarships, mini-grants for teachers, schoolhouse restoration—whenever a donation is made, VanValkenburg said. Otherwise the money will be placed in the general fund.