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Sarlsland’s one-room school house memories

Lois Sarsland of New London has fantastic memories that span her 25 years of teaching in various one room school houses. Sarsland, 93, began her career at a country school southeast of Hawick, where she taught for one year. Next came the little school house at Windy Hall where she spent several years.  “I was back to Windy Hill three different times. That was a special school because the parents all cooperated so well there. We had our PTAs and had our programs and it was just a happy place to be.” Next the superintendent sent her to District 56 in Arctander Township where she spent six years. “I was there when my youngest was born and I was there when my husband died,” she said. Next she taught at District 10 for two years, then District 97 at Hawick for a year where she began her career. From 1966 to 1976 she taught special education at the school that once sat in downtown New London and was referred to as Old Gray. “It very different then what special ed is today,” she said. Sarsland had 18 children in special education ranging from five years old up to 18 years old so it was just like her country school. She taught country school with her two-year degree but needed more for special ed so she returned to school. “I did my two years and the special ed mostly by night school.” She said she spent two summers in St. Cloud where she was appointed house mother for the sorority girls so it didn’t cost her anything for living expenses. “And the blessing of all that was, here I had all those friends when I come back to special ed. I was the first one that taught student teachers and I had all these girls that I’d been friends with, they came up and they were my student teachers. That was really neat.” And most of them even stayed with her. As for her experiences over her teaching career. “I wouldn’t know where to begin,” she said, then quickly recalled the first year she taught school. There was a boy named Palmer Everson in first grade. When she went back to that district for a year in 1965, Palmer’s son was in second grade. “He looked just like when Palmer was going to school.” Sarsland said it was almost haunting how much he looked like his dad had at about the same age. She also recalled how when she first started teaching at the age of 19, a few of her students were close to her own age. There were five students, all in their mid teens who hadn’t passed their state boards and wanted to come to school at Windy Hall for half days that year so they could study and hopefully pass those boards. “Here these big, long-legged boys came in and their legs would be wrapped around the desk and they hardly had a place to sit. I still see them trying to sit in those desks. We had to haul in some old desks from the storeroom so they could sit better.” They all passed their state boards that year, she said. “I was so proud of that, and they still come to visit me today.” Another story she’ll never forget happened at District 67, which still sits on the old Oliver Larson farm. Every Halloween the boys would always tip over the girls’ outdoor toilet. They couldn’t tip the boys’ one because it was so well staked down. “Before Halloween I told one of the older boys to stay after school for a little bit because I had a job for him. We went and moved the toilet ahead so the hole was open.” Sarsland said she came to school the next day and the young boy who helped her came early and they ran down to the toilet, which hadn’t been tipped, and it was easy to see someone had been there and probably had a little mishap with that open hole. Sarsland also had a trap line between the Windy Hill school and her home which of course she checked daily, both on her way to school and home again. She picked up a student on the way to school and that morning she had caught a raccoon, which she killed and put in the back seat of her car. “When we got almost to school the little guy I picked up began to holler ‘teacher, teacher,’ and it (the coon) was coming up over the back seat to us.” That was quite the day, she said. Another memory she’ll cherish forever is loading the kids up in her car and taking them to play ball on Friday afternoons. There were 18 or 19 kids, she said, and she’d get them all into her car. “The big boys would sit on the front of the car, we’d pile the very little ones in the front with me, and pile the rest in the back, and I had one standing between me and the door. We’d go to district 25 on County Road 5 and play ball.” The parents were okay with it, she said, they were happy she took them to play ball. And of course there was the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. Sarsland was living on the north side of Lake Monongalia and on her way to school she was walking by her neighbor’s farm and saw his young stock standing there upright. “I was told they were froze to death but I couldn’t believe it. I crawled under there and touched them and sure enough they were standing froze to death from the snow getting in their nose.” She continued walking to the Windy Hill School house and when she got there it was to find the stove packed full of snow. Some of the students came, she said, and they started to clean the snow out. “We got so cold we ran over to the neighbor’s to get warm. It took us all day to get the snow cleared out it was so bad in there.” It was even up into the stove pipe, she said, and they had to take all the stove pipes down to get all the snow out. “The wind from the blizzard blew the snow right down the chimney.” The door to the school house was on the south side, she said, and the snow hadn’t gathered there so they had no problem getting into the school, and the blizzard had packed the snow so hard you could walk on top of it. When she moved to District 56 her challenges were a little different. It was about a 30 mile drive and the roads weren’t too good. “We’re talking back in 1955, and in the spring of the year it was one big mud puddle.” There were no tarred roads, she said, and many a times there was one curve where she would usually get stuck. “The neighbor would be watching and come and get me going. I didn’t always get to school on time but then Norma Henjum, who was a teacher too, would have it going for me.” After Sarsland’s little girl, Connie, was born, she took six weeks off then went back to teach. This one day, she said, she had no one to take care of the baby and had to take her along to school. “I said, ‘I kind of hope the superintendent doesn’t come.’” The baby was really good, she said, she kept her in her basket, they took her along outside for recess, then went back in for classes. Sarsland said they had just started school again and Sherman Henjum, who was a third grader at the time, jumped out of his seat and grabbed the basket with the baby in it and went to the basement. He’d seen the superintendent coming. They continued with the class, and the superintendent walked in. The superintendent seemed to think something wasn’t quite right, Sarsland said, but didn’t say anything. “She had no more than gone and the kids and I all tore down into the basement. We couldn’t find Henjum in the front part, so we went in the furnace part and there was a space behind the furnace and here Sherwin was way behind the stove by the wall with the basket with Connie feeding her the bottle as good as can be.” She chuckles about that every time she thinks about it. And she did tell the superintendent about it later. “She really scolded me for that.” Sarsland said she never applied for a school in her life except for the very first time. “I applied for a school east of town and another lady had applied who was a great singer and they thought she would be better with music than I would be so I didn’t get that.” But, she said, neighbors to District 97 at Hawick heard she had applied and came out to her farm and hired her for their school. “I signed my contract on top of a load of hay. Me and my brother were coming home with a big load of hay and I was on top of it. They crawled up on top of the load of hay and we signed the contract right on top.” When Sarsland was teaching at the Windy Hill School she walked to school a lot, but sometimes she’d drive and sometimes she’d ride her horse, Fanny. When the Gundersons lived there she could put Fanny in their barn, but when they moved she had no place to put the Fanny. “When I couldn’t put the horse in the barn anymore I would ride my horse to school and she would go home, which was okay, and she used to make it home. But then it got to where I’d get home and she wasn’t home yet, she’d gone to the neighbors and then I couldn’t do it anymore. Then I had to walk.” When Sarsland taught in District 10 she did leave the horse tied up in a corner out of the wind. “I would take a cart and pull it behind with a little hay in. She would have her hay and I’d have her to come home with again.” Another winter she skied to school. “I had the old style skis and I would go across the river and right up to Windy Hill. The roads never were open half the time in those days.” Sarsland said she loved her teaching but gave it up because she was tired. “Ten years of special ed was pretty draining. I really had planned to take a year off but I never went back. Instead I started driving the bookmobile – and that was fun.” The librarian wanted her to drive the bookmobile and Sarsland took it to schools, to towns, and two or three summers stopped at homes around Green Lake. “When families were interested you’d stop there. I enjoyed that.” Sarsland also worked nights at rest homes to make money to go to school. “You didn’t have wages all summer in those days. You had the three summer months when you didn’t get paid. I remember the first year I got $100 a month was in 1944, the year Mabel was born.” The very first year she taught school she was paid $50 a month. And not only was she the teacher, she was also the janitor and had to sweep the floors, start the stoves and anything else that needed to be done. She said pay ranged from the $50 when she first started teaching in 1937 to $889 a month when she gave up teaching in 1976. They also had a unique hot lunch program in those country schools. It consisted of a big round furnace where the kids would heat up or cook anything they brought from home like soup, beans or potatoes. “They’ve have their warm dinners and we baked a lot of potatoes.” Sarsland also provided her students with incentive programs. She recalls one student who had trouble learning to write his name. She promised him a candy bar and sure enough one day he came to school and was able to write his own name. “That meant a special trip to town to get it. We didn’t go to town that often.” Sarsland said there were a lot of kids who were having some problems in school and they would come home with her and get some extra help. “There was hardly ever a summer I didn’t have someone there I was tutoring all summer.” A lot of the students who needed help would go home with her right from school, have supper, then do some extra work, spend the night and go back to school with her the next day. “The first year I thought school I had to not pass a boy because he didn’t pass the state boards and that bothered me that he had to be a 7th grader again. From then on if they couldn’t make their grade level I would help them in the summer so they could go on to the next grade the next year.” Sarsland’s son, Carrol, said his mom never had to apply for a job because school boards would hear what a good teacher she was and she’d get hired at a school where they couldn’t keep a teacher. “The kids had kind of taken over the school and it was her job to go out and straighten that school out and get it on the right track again,” he said. Sarsland said the blessing of a country school is that the kids could help each other. “Almost always some of the older ones were helping the younger ones…certain ones could do it and others couldn’t, and if older students were having problems with the same subject, then they would both learn. Sarsland is also pretty proud of the fact that a number of students that ended up on the National Honor Society because of her teaching. “I don’t think you’d find another teacher anyplace, town or country, that had more students end up there,” said Carrol. Sarsland said she loved her teaching and has made lots of friends that she still has today because of her teaching. “There isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t have kids coming to see me that I used to teach. Its not uncommon to have someone knock on my door and its some of my students coming back to visit.”

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