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More Memories of Jacksonville Grade School (Part 3)

June 11, 2015


More Memories of Jacksonville Grade School (Part III)




by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



What brought a community together in the 1950s and early 1960s? In the case of the rural town of Blanford, Indiana, the answer is easy: Jacksonville Grade School. For this town of approximately 400 residents, an event at the grade school (with its four teachers and enrollment of 88 students)was an event for the entire community.


Meetings of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) drew a crowd to this rural school. Young teachers today would be quite surprised to learn of the high percentage of parents who attended a PTA meeting in the 1950s and early 1960s. These meetings were held in the auditorium, which comprised the entire north side of the upper level of the two-story building. One could enter the spacious auditorium from one of two doors. Like the classrooms, the height of the ceiling was approximately twelve feet and included a few wide and especially tall windows. At the far right or east side was a stage with a heavy green curtain. (Of course, the curtain was green because the colors of the Jacksonville Grade School Golden Bears were green and gold.) An upright piano was to the left of the stage while a podium and a United States flag were nearer the right side of the stage. The president of the PTA conducted the meetings from behind this podium or in front of the stage; rows of movable wooden benches flanked both sides of a center aisle. During the PTA discussions, some of us students played outside the school as we waited for our parents. Since my cousin Carole, our friend Kathleen (Kathy) Gill (Staats), and I enjoyed singing together, we, at times, sang a song, such as the Jimmie Rodgers’ hit “Honeycomb,” for the entertainment at a PTA meeting. Once, our trio started to giggle and could not stop giggling to finish our song. When we gave up on trying to conclude our musical number, our teacher Mrs. Lenderman had a different idea: not our parents, but Mrs. Lenderman insisted that we return to the front of the auditorium and sing our number–without laughter. Somewhat shyly at first, our trio did perform all of the song. Although we learned many lessons from our third- and fourth-grade teacher, I never will forget this “The show must go on” lesson.


On the agenda of some of the PTA meetings was the planning of chili dinners, bean (soup) dinners, and the annual fall festival. These events brought to Jacksonville Grade School an even larger crowd. The dinners took place in the lower level’s kitchen and hallway. Although I have never been a fan of bean soup, I remember that as a fourth-grader, I was very excited about this community event.


Nevertheless, my favorite school event was the fall festival. Besides a dinner, the auditorium was the place for a variety of fun activities on the evening of the JGS fall festival. At the west end of the auditorium were two small storage rooms. During some of these years, my mother was in charge of the “fishing pond” which was set up in the southwest corner of the auditorium. Someone who paid a very small amount to try one’s luck at the “fishing pond” held a fishing pole. One parent was on the front side of the partition; my mother and sometimes I were inside the storage room. After the fishing line with a snap clothespin on the end of the line came our way from over the partition, my mother heard a few words from the other adult so that my mother and/or I could select an appropriate trinket-type gift for the young fisher. After clipping the trinket onto the clothespin, my mother gave a tug on the fishing line so that the parent on the other side of the storage room could tell the child to reel in the “fish,” or trinket.


To the right of the “fishing pond” was the dart game. When my cousin Carole and I were in the fifth grade, we “worked” the dart game. Placing the balloons on the large peg board was just one of our duties.


Nearer the middle of the auditorium was a ring toss and a penny-pitch board–nothing high-tech. The east half of the auditorium was sectioned off for the very popular Cake Walk. When a pianist was not available to play the upright piano, a PTA member controlled the tone arm of a Victrola (record player) during the Cake Walk. As soon as the music stopped abruptly, the participants in the Cake Walk stopped on a square; however, only one participant was lucky enough to stop on the special square to win a cake. I recall that an angel food cake was the most coveted cake. Oh, yes, these were much simpler times; but how we did look forward to and enjoy these events at Jacksonville Grade School!


Throughout the school year, the auditorium was used in a variety of ways. In a previous blog, I mentioned that only a few times, neighbor Johnny Torasso (who had a barber shop in Clinton, Indiana, and who also did some television repair) set up a black-and-white television in the auditorium so that students from all grades and the four teachers could watch a World Series baseball game. What an amazing treat for students in the 1950s! Most students were in favor of the Yankees winning.


Of course, our Christmas programs were set on the auditorium stage. One year, my friend Kathy and I were selected to portray twins and sing a song; some of the lyrics were: “Matilda and Ferilda, the merry twins are we; and just before Christmas, we are good as good can be!” Once when the Nativity was re-enacted on this stage, according to the recollection of my sister, she played the part of Mary while Paul Lewis was Joseph. Many debuts took place on that JGS stage.


At the rear of the auditorium, on a long table which was pushed against the west wall of the auditorium, was our treasured library–just one row of books. Especially when we were in the lower grades, going upstairs to select books from our library was such a treat! Approximately once a month, the books would be rotated: our school library received different books from the Clinton Public Library. Although the JGS library was meager, it was very important to us.


In the southeast corner of the upper level of Jacksonville Grade School was the seventh- and eighth-grade classroom; the teacher of these two grades was also the principal. directly outside this classroom, in the hallway, was a desk on which was the only telephone in the school. Mr. William E. Payton was principal during the last year of the school’s operation, 1960-1961. My sister, Mary Elizabeth Massa Fanyo, was in the final class to be graduated from Jacksonville Grade School. In May of 1961, the eighth-grade graduates included Richard Alekna, Vickie Allen, Gloria Bapp, Hilda Doran, John Gambaiani, Linda Hutson, Bill Kingery, Mary Massa, and Peggy Paddock–yes, only nine graduates. Surprisingly, the auditorium’s stage was not used for any kind of a graduation ceremony for this final graduating class; however, the nine students and Mr. Payton did celebrate with an Italian dinner at the Roma Restaurant, in Clinton, Indiana.


On the last day of school in 1961, as had been customary, most of us students dressed up in our Sunday clothes or Easter outfits. Despite wearing our best attire and looking forward to summer vacation, undoubtedly, the 17 other students and I from the final fifth-grade class at Jacksonville Grade School felt some sadness about the final ringing of the JGS bell and closing of our precious school. I remember that I could not understand why the Jacksonville students had to be transferred to Universal Grade School for only one year before the newly consolidated Van Duyn Elementary School would open its doors. Being the daughter of a firefighter, I wondered how a three-story building with many more students would be safer than our less- crowded, two-story school. In retrospect, I imagine that, first and foremost, the township trustee determined that closing one school would save the township money. Secondly, I assume the trustee thought that blending the two student populations would help to achieve a cohesive student group at the new, soon-to-be-completed, consolidated school. Nevertheless, at Universal Grade School, in my sixth-grade class, throughout most of the school year, all of the Jacksonville students sat on one side of the room while all the Universal students sat on the other side of the room. There were no fights, and we did make new friends; but that school in another town was never our home school. My heart was still at Jacksonville Grade School.


Much too soon after the closing of Jacksonville Grade School, the building was demolished. What a terribly sad sight! In the midst of the demolition, I remember the upright piano barely standing high midst the rubble. The stage, wooden desks, blackboards, little library, and all that I loved about Jacksonville Grade School were destroyed–except my memories. A town loses something when it loses its school.


In my blog post last week, I told you that I still have a brick from my beloved Jacksonville Grade School. I have one additional keepsake. In my kitchen, I have displayed a commemorative plate which was one of many sold after the closing of the school. A cream-colored plate with a burgundy drawing of the school helps me to hold dear all my memories of Jacksonville Grade School.


POST-SCRIPT: Many thanks to all who added comments to my previous posts about Jacksonville Grade School! Hearing from some of you directly by e-mail or phone concerning these JGS posts has also been appreciated. Since my memories are never as extensive as I would like and since the research I can do on this topic is limited, I would be delighted if you would share more of your memories about Jacksonville Grade School or another rural grade school in the comment section of this Wordwalk blog.


During this coming autumn, I plan to write a series about Clinton High School (Vermillion County, Indiana) for posting on my Wordwalk blog. Meanwhile, please continue to visit, each week, my blog where I post (most frequently on Wednesdays) a variety of writing pieces.


Happy Flag Day!

Alice and Leader Dog Zoe


SECOND POST-SCRIPT: Happy Second Birthday to my great-niece Lanie, on Flag Day!


June 11, 2015, Thursday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice,
    Once again you have captured life in a township school and in a small mining town. One could easily substitute Universal Grade School, (and I still have my bracelet with that name on it), and the experiences would be the same. Our fall festival was a similar exciting event, including the very popular fishing pond. Your memory and gift of detail has once again evoked times almost forgotten. How fortunate we were to have parents and community folk who supported our schools so well.

    Did you know that Rick Alekna recently posted a picture of Mary’s graduation class dinner at the Roma Restaurant on Facebook? What a coincidence!

    • Hi, Fran–Thanks for your comment. I do not believe Jacksonville ever had a bracelet as you described. No, I did not know that Rick Alekna posted a photo of the 1961 eighth-grade graduates at the Roma Restaurant on his Facebook site. Thanks for sharing all of your information. Hearing from Indiana friends has been so nice! Alice

  2. Dear Alice,
    I also have the JGS commemorative plate, which I treasure. Your detailed descriptions and delightful memories have brought to life the special times that took place within the building represented on the plate. Under your guidance we are fortunate to reminisce about our valuable learning experiences and lifelong friends. Thank you for your time, expertise, and dedication!
    Love, Mary

  3. Hi Alice,

    I love all of the descriptions. I remember a lot of those games, and cake walks. It was great catching up today.

  4. Carole permalink

    Unbelievable, Alice! You are truly amazing! I do not have the excellent memory as you do, but I do have the commemorative plate. Maybe if I were hypnotized . . . just kidding! Thanks for the great storytelling, Alice!

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