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Classroom Memories: Country school recollections

TenMile Lake Country School.

TenMile Lake Country School.

I attended District No. 139 for eight years in south Ottertail County. It was known as the “Ten Mile Lake School” since it was situated only a few hundred feet from a steep bank of the south lake. The years were fall of 1951 through spring 1959. It was called a “one room school” since all grades were in the same room. Yearly attendance averaged eight to 10. During my eight years we had only one teacher, Mrs. Minge, a most remarkable lady. She was nearing 68 when I started so around 75 when I left for Fergus Falls Jr. High. I don’t recall ever having a test during all eight years but we may have. I forget how she graded us. Mrs. Minge sat at a table up front and taught each grade for about an hour while the other classes did their assignments.

Each day started with the Pledge of Allegiance. Prior to lunch we all stood up and sang the table prayer doxology. We were all Lutherans with the exception of Camille, a Catholic. She and her parents had no objections. At Christmas we put on pageants. My sister, Mary Lou still has a program from 1957 when I would have been in 6th grade, she in 4th. A few of the songs we sang were “Silent Night” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” and one song in Norwegian since most of our fore fathers came from there. We also had Bible readings telling the story of Christmas with the birth of Jesus. Curtains were strung to project a stage and the school was filled with parents, friends and relatives. We also did short plays. I remember one where my classmates and I were at a table eating soup with crackers. Something struck me funny and I started to laugh, spewing soup all over a class mate across the table. The audience may have enjoyed it, but it sure was embarrassing. I believe Mrs. Minge directed all our plays with a parent, Margaret Rund playing the piano.

Mike Rund and Paul Rund were my classmates. They were cousins to each other and all three of us lived on adjoining farms, so in winter parents car pooled us along with sister Mary Lou. During the spring and fall we usually rode bicycles. We lived less than a mile from the school. June, July and August were vacation months.

Mrs. Minge was very much respected and we didn’t cut up much when school was in session. However, kids are kids! She allowed us pretty much free rein during recess and lunch hour. The big draw was the lake along with the play ground which had a teeter totter and a hand pump well. The field next to the school had a rock pile. Sometimes we rolled medium sized boulders across the play ground, over a gravel road that hugged the bank and watched them roll down the steep bank into the water. During spring, fish spawned there and we may have also disrupted them with rocks. Striped gophers were common. If one appeared we grabbed a pail, pumped water, and poured it down the hole. The gopher would pop out and make a run for it. I’ll leave it at that. They also had holes near the school house. Once I set up a string snare from a gopher hole and up through a bathroom window. My efforts were futile, he never popped up again that afternoon. The lake shore yielded many things. We gathered drift wood and made a ground level tree house anchored by four small trees. Mrs. Minge had to inspect it by crawling in so we ended up making the door smaller. One time we made a pontoon boat out of a couple of barrels that had drifted up on shore. We did other things as well.

In winters we went out on the lake, looking at fish houses and at times we’d go ice-skating. As spring arrived, big slabs of ice would buckle and stand up vertically. Kicking them and watching them splash into the water was exciting. One time I slipped, getting my pants wet. A trip home was in order since they were frozen stiff. The steep bank was also enticing in winter. A big snow fall meant leaping off the cliff into the air, landing on the drifts below. This was great fun. We also built snow caves after the drive way was plowed.

We had gun issues several times. A student once brought a loaded pistol to school. No malice intended. We were all friends. Older male students were curious and we went down by the lake to watch him fire off a few rounds into the water. Mrs. Minge and our parents were never told. I’m sure they would have been upset. One other time two boys wondered off to a nearby slough during lunch hour to look for hunters’ expended shot gun shells. Murphy’s Law set in. They were late getting back after the bell had rung and wouldn’t you know it, the County Schools Superintendant; Ms. Stonedahl arrived about that time to evaluate Mrs. Minge’s teaching. Here she was with two students missing. They had no choice but to arrive late. It was a disappointment for Mrs. Minge but the superintendant had to realize it was out of her control. I don’t recall the end result but the two likely got a good talking to.

As far as a lunch program goes, eventually we got a refrigerator and once a week the local milk man came and stocked it with pint cartons of white and chocolate. I don’t remember who paid for the milk.

There was no sex education in those days, surely not in a one room school with all grades present. Since most farms had livestock, the older of us kind of knew how farm animals reproduced, but we were stumped about how human babies came about. The stork I guess! We were baffled how an unmarried woman could have a baby; a rare occurrence back then. One time we innocently asked Mrs. Minge how that could be. She looked kind of ruffled and replied: “they run around with men too much.” We left it at that but were still confused. We figured it out after leaving for Jr. High, if not sooner.

Mrs. Minge and students from the one room school of District 139. Photo contributed

Mrs. Minge and students from the one room school of District 139. Photo contributed

Other things we did included competing with other nearby schools. We would have spelling bee competitions and field days. One thing we did on field day was to high jump into a sand pit. The pole consisted of bamboo strung between two posts and suspended at various heights with nails. Other games ensued as well. We also often played soft ball in the school yard. We had other activities too numerous to mention.

Once we went on a field trip to class mate Mike Rund’s home to watch the Eisenhower inauguration on television and another time we took the train from Fergus Falls to Fargo to tour a bakery. A picture of us boarding the train is included (next page). That’s me standing below Mrs. Minge with my head cocked to the left. Pay attention Allen! We are taking a picture. Others are Ansil Wangsness next to Mrs. Minge, with respective class mates Paul Rund and Mike Rund standing below me. Michael Holte is to my right and my sister Mary Lou Thunselle is almost hidden. Carl Wangsness is peeking out behind Christy Myron, with Ted Myron in front. Another picture shows us in better light on the same day.

To sum it up, these were exciting times at the Ten Mile Lake School, having a remarkable teacher in Mrs. Minge. My only regret is not being as appreciative as I should have been. Later, I realized what a jewel we had with her as a teacher. That may be something many of us are guilty of. Taking people for granted and suddenly it’s too late to give them a hug and say “thank you for all you’ve done for me over the years.”

Mrs. Minge passed away the following August in 1960 from a stroke at 76 years of age. God Bless her soul!

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