Skip to content

Memories of a Rural Grade School in the 1950s (Part I)

May 27, 2015


More Memories of Jacksonville Grade School (Part I)




by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



In September of 1914, the school bell of Jacksonville Grade School rang for the first time to welcome children from the area of Blanford, Indiana, into classes for grades one through eight. Made of brick, the two-story structure was located in the center of one rural block of this small community of Vermillion County. The double main doors of the school, which is still so dear to my heart, faced south. While only a janitor’s door was on the north side of the building, entrances for students and teachers, as well as visitors, were also on the east and west sides of this noteworthy building. Despite having huge windows, the rooms on the lower level were partially below ground level; however, I have no recollection of being cold in these lower-level classrooms–I remember only the warmth of a small town’s school and its people of all ages.


My mother, who was born in the year the school opened its doors, was graduated from this rural school; and her sisters Zita and Lydia, along with their brother Pete, attended Jacksonville Grade School. I believe my Aunt Zita, who was born in 1908, may have been in the first first-grade class at Jacksonville Grade School.


Since my older sister, Mary Elizabeth, began first grade in 1953, I had three years to become acquainted with the school before I was enrolled. Even before I was an official student, I, dressed in a new flannel nightgown, performed “Wee Willie Winkie” (a Scottish nursery rhyme)–for a production on the stage in the auditorium. Although I had a spotlighted introduction to Jacksonville Grade School, my sister was a perfect student; nevertheless, I never thought much about following in her footsteps–I just nonchalantly made my own path in school life. In 1956, I began the first grade at this beloved grade school. On the southeast corner of the lower level was the classroom for the first and second grade. I thoroughly enjoyed being in a classroom with two grades because I could learn what was being taught to the other class as well as my own. The tiny, but strong and commanding Miss Ralston was my first teacher. In the large room with a very high ceiling, I learned to read with Dick, Jane, and Spot. My cousin Carole, thankfully, was nearly my same age; and we went all through grade school, high school, and college together.


At Jacksonville Grade School, in the second grade, our teacher was the beautiful Miss Jones (who later married an older cousin of mine, Jimmy Bogetto). In second grade, I wrote my first poem—the topic of which was poodles. If I began to love reading in first grade, the seed for my love of writing certainly was carefully and creatively planted in this second-grade classroom at Jacksonville Grade School.


Across from the first-and-second-grade room was the nurse’s room. On a rare occasion, a school nurse or even a doctor came to occupy this small room. When I was six years of age, I was not too happy about being in this room to receive an injection.


In the fifth grade, we went to the nurse’s room to receive the first TB tests of our lives. I remember that the nurse (Mrs. Lagle, I believe) wore a navy uniform with a white collar and white cuffs. After my cousin Carole, friend Kathy Gill, and I had our TB tests, we walked up two flights of stairs to our fifth-grade classroom. When I arrived very near my wooden desk (of the old-fashioned “row” variety), I, for the first time in my ten years of life, fainted. Since I had no idea what was happening, I did not prepare for fainting. I was completely “out.” Unfortunately, I have no recollection of what happened next. Robert J., One of my classmates of these five grade-school years, shouted, “She’s dead!” Well, thankfully, after scaring my classmates and even , perhaps, the stalwart Mrs. Bennett, I was not dead. Throughout many years, I must admit that I have laughed at this incident although I realize that, at the time, no one was laughing–we were learning in an unusual way.


One extra and surprising note about this small nurse’s room is that it acquired an electric machine for cleaning felt erasers which we used for wiping the chalk off the blackboards. While I remember the delight in being selected by the teacher for taking the erasers outside to “clean” them by clapping together two of the charcoal-gray erasers, being chosen to clean the erasers by using the electric machine in the nurse’s room was quite an experience. Nevertheless, winning the honor of washing the chalkboards in our classroom was the best of school chores.


Next to the nurse’s room was the janitor’s room (also the furnace room) which was in the middle of the rooms on the north side of the lower level. To the west of the janitor’s room was a large kitchen, where carry-in dinners for the PTA were held. For one of these dinners, our neighbor Mrs. Clotene Toppas brought an enamel, large, oblong dishpan full of graham crackers sandwiched together with bluish-purple icing. I had never seen so many graham-cracker treats in my life; for whatever reason, this photograph of enough graham-cracker cookies for the entire gathering has stuck in my mind–just like the bluish-purple icing stuck together each set of two graham crackers.


Additionally, in this kitchen (with its several long tables and numerous chairs), each school day, selected students washed out the small glass milk bottles and placed them into specially-sectioned wire containers for return to the milk company. My recollection is that one of these milk bottles–either regular or chocolate milk–cost two pennies. Just as I have always wished I had one of those old row desks, I wish I had one of those little glass milk bottles; nevertheless, these antique items stay in the photo album of my memories. Also, I remember that being chosen to rinse out the milk bottles was a special treat—high on the priority list with washing blackboards and cleaning erasers.


Across the hall from the kitchen was the classroom for the third and fourth grades. Each classroom was joined to a cloak room, where hooks lined the long walls for our coats and hats. Against the short wall of the cloak room was a table or counter on which was an enamel wash basin for washing our hands. I truly loved third grade when I received a textbook on which was beautifully typeset the word “Language.” With such a book, I thought I had really advanced in the world. Due to some unusual circumstances, the sweet and gentle Mrs. Keown began the year as our teacher; but then, Mrs. Lenderman finished the year as my third-grade teacher. The artistic and attractive Mrs. Lenderman, who periodically ate at my Aunt Zita’s Italian restaurant with her husband (Max Lenderman, a farmer), became friends of our family. Mrs. Lenderman was also my fourth-grade teacher and was my first teacher who showered us wit stars and interesting seals for well-done assignments. She, like the other teachers at Jacksonville Grade School, set a wonderful example of good teaching. Eventually, my sister, my cousin Carole, and I chose to follow in the career footsteps of these extraordinary teachers.


For more memories of my rural grade school, please return to my Wordwalk blog next Wednesday, June 3. Additionally, you can read more about Jacksonville Grade School by visiting the 2013 archives of my blog: May 31, 2013, is the date of another posting about Jacksonville Grade School. This archived posting includes both memoir and a poem.


Hoping that you are fondly remembering your school days

as this school year draws to a close,

Alice and Zoe


May 27, 2015, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Alice, you have every detail of JGS precisely and accurately described in your wonderful essay! What fond memories of this special place in our childhood! How well I remember my dear first-grade teacher, Lelia Pickard, and the little red chairs we sat in for our reading circle time! With her gentle manner and beautiful smile, Mrs. Pickard inspired me to be a teacher at the very young age of six. In the summer after first grade, Mrs. Pickard invited me and a few other children to her home in Clinton where she served us milkshakes after taking us to the Clinton Public Library to get our first library cards. I was fortunate to visit Mr. and Mrs. Pickard many more times through my school years and even into the beginning of my own teaching career. At times, Mr. Pickard would recall the visit from so long ago and talk about my reading pages with big words from my library book to him while swinging together on the front porch. After moving to Colorado, I still communicated with Mrs. Pickard through notes and cards. Her handwriting was textbook-perfect well into her nineties!

    I am already looking forward to reading next week’s post.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–Thanks for sharing your remembrances of Mrs. Pickard. Readers can learn a little more about Mrs. Pickard by checking out “Mrs. Pickard’s Pineapple Squares” in the archives of my WORDWALK blog–November 13, 2013. I am certain that Mrs. Pickard is proud of the teacher you became and still are. See you soon–A & Z

  2. Alice. Oh how I can remember those days at Little Falls Elementary. From 1965 to 1972, the halls of that small Gorham Maine school rang out with the sounds of my youth. Thanks for another walk through your gift of the written word. Great post! dp

  3. Fran Rayce permalink

    Alice, the sights and sounds of Jacksonville mirror those of at least one of the other township schools, that being the one at Universal. Although there were a few more students, many of the happenings and materials were the same, and the teachers at times transferred between the buildings and also shared professional and personal friendships as well as resources. And like you and your family members, I was inspired by these dedicated folks to be a teacher myself. You have captured well the sense of community that was created by these wonderful centers of our areas.

    I look forward to your continued remembrances and your wonderful gift of recall of details that bring your pieces to life.

  4. Fran said it all, Alice. You have a “wonderful gift of recall of details!” I was there with you, but could not share all that you have so completely recalled. However, I do remember well of the fainting incident, which I had never witnessed anyone do until then. I became a fainter myself around that time in the doctor’s office. I also appreciated the beautiful penmanship on the chalkboard of the elementary teachers, especially Mrs. Lenderman’s and Mr. Peyton’s.
    Looking forward to the memories in Part II.

    • Carole–Without knowing, you have previewed a point which I have planned for next week’s blog post. Thanks for commenting–Alice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: