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Final Graduates of Jacksonville Grade School: The Class of 1961

June 3, 2021

Final Graduates of Jacksonville Grade School:  Class of 1961

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                For the fourth week, WORDWALK continues to honor Jacksonville Grade School on the 60th anniversary of the closing of its doors for the final time in 1961.  The two-story, brick building was the only major structure on the “country” block, in Blanford, Indiana–my hometown.  Before sharing information concerning the final graduating class, I will describe the remaining rooms on the lower level of our school, which had first opened its doors in 1914, the year my mother was born.

                On the north side of the lower level were three rooms.  Across from the first- and second-grade classroom was the nurse’s office.  Of course, the nurse made visits to our school only periodically–probably less than once a month.  I recall the name of only one nurse–Mrs. Lagle, who wore a royal blue nurse’s uniform which had white trim.  I was never especially fond of that northeast corner room–probably because I had once received a vaccine from Dr. Loving while in that room and most likely before entering first grade.  A more pleasant memory associated with the nurse’s room was going there to use an electric cleaner for blackboard erasers.  Being selected by the teacher for this duty was a treat.  The modern invention was much more fun to use than the alternative of manually beating together two erasers and watching the cloud of chalk dust appear.  The teacher always picked two students for the job of cleaning the erasers at the nurse’s office, and we completed the task admirably. 

                Of course, some people would insist that I tell the following anecdote about the nurse’s office!  When I was in the fifth grade, all students were given a tuberculosis test for the first time.  That particular test was only an adhesive patch placed by the nurse onto the back of each student.  After a few girlfriends and I left the nurse’s office, we walked up the two flights of stairs back to our fifth-grade classroom.  As I went to my desk on the far side of the room, I, for the first time in my life, fainted–passed out completely.  While I have no recollection of what happened next, I later was told that Robert J., one of my classmates, shouted, “She’s dead!”  Well, as you can tell from this writing, I did live to tell the tale! 

                Next to the nurse’s room was the furnace room/janitor’s room.  This room included the only exit door on the north side of the building.  Mr. Joe Skorich was the janitor whose name I recall.  Coal was used to heat  the school.

                To the west of the furnace room and across the hall from the third- and fourth-grade classroom was the kitchen–the largest room on the lower level.  The bright and inviting room had long tables spread across the room.  During my school days, this kitchen was only used for fall festivals and other special PTA events.  At one such dinner, I clearly remember our neighbor Clotene Toppas’ arriving into the kitchen with a large pan–about sixteen inches by twenty-four by eight inches–filled with what we called graham-cracker cookies.  Instead of placing two graham crackers together with vanilla or chocolate icing, Mrs. Toppas filled all of the graham-cracker duos with purple icing!  Never before had I seen purple icing!  For whatever reason, the picture of those graham crackers has stuck in my mind’s eye all of these years.

                Besides all of the tables and chairs, the room had a large sink near the northeast corner.  During the years of 1956-61, we had no hot lunches:  students either went home for lunch or took a sack lunch to school.  For two cents, a student could buy either regular milk or chocolate milk.  The milk came in delightful little glass bottles at the top of which was a red-and-white cardboard piece with a tiny pull, under which was a small hole for a paper straw.  The empty glass bottles would eventually be replaced into the wire case for return to the milk company.  Fortunately, before the wire cases were picked up by the milkman, the teacher selected two students to go to the kitchen to wash out the bottles.  I recall doing this chore with my cousin Carole and thoroughly enjoying the task.  What simple pleasures we relished at Jacksonville Grade School!

                Despite this kitchen and the stage described in an earlier May post, the school did not hold a graduation ceremony for the final graduates of Jacksonville Grade School.  Although my class (born in 1950) was always the largest class, my sister’s class (born in 1947) was the smallest, numbering only ten graduates (amidst the total enrollment of eighty-eight).  The JGS Class of 1961 included (in alphabetical order):  Richard Alekna (our down-the-road neighbor), Vickie Allen (my sister’s best friend), Gloria Bapp, Hilda Doran, John Gambaiani, Robert Gibbons, Linda Hudson, Bill Kingery, Mary Elizabeth Massa (Fanyo), and Joyce Paddock.  According to my sister, the eighth-grade graduates–along with their teacher/principal, Mr. William Payton, as well as the three other teachers of our school–went to Clinton, Indiana, (seven miles away) to enjoy a graduation dinner at the Roma Restaurant.  My sister still has the photograph taken of all attendees at the graduation celebration.

                Very sadly, after 1961, our beloved school building which had meant so much to our small rural community rapidly deteriorated and was eventually condemned and torn down.  Once when I walked to the school block, my heart was broken to see the building in such a state of half gone and half still there.  The upright piano slanted precariously in what was the auditorium.  Why had not someone save the old upright piano which had stood alongside the stage with its green curtain?  Why had not the wooden row desks been saved for antiques and memory pieces?  Why had not a little red chair from the reading circle of the first grade been saved as a keepsake?  How grateful I was that my dad did get a brick from Jacksonville Grade School for me, and I saved the brick for almost sixty years.  Wherever I moved, the brick came with me.  Unfortunately, during my move last year, the professional movers lost my brick from Jacksonville Grade School.  I do miss having that brick, but am thankful to still have the commemorative plate of Jacksonville Grade School on my kitchen wall and to have so many fond memories of those wonderful years of learning and sharing with our remarkable teachers and fellow students of our beloved Jacksonville Grade School.

POST-SCRIPT:  This year of 2021, our family is celebrating two eighth-grade graduates–Brando of Oregon and Jayla of Indiana–as well as one college graduate–Emily of Indiana.  Happy Graduation to all three!

Happy June to all of my WORDWALK readers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

June 2, 2021, Wednesday


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  1. I really enjoyed reading this today, Alice. It reminded me of my own grade school. Mine was North Star School – and we attended fromfirst through eighth grade. I graduated from high school in 1961 and that was in Ellwood City which was about 3 miles away. Like your school, Norh Star is also no longer standing at the edge of the farmer’s fields – and in fact, the farmer’s fields became land for building homes in the early 60s. I love the way you puit people into the various places in your memories – and yes, wouldn’t it have been nice for local people to own a chair or desk, or even the piano from the school? I have no idea what ever happened to the furnishings at North Star School either. It is just one mile from my home. These early places of education formed us into the lif-long learners that we were trained to be, Alice. I am forever grateful for my early years in such a place.

    • Good afternoon, Lynda–How wonderful to hear from you today! Many thanks for sharing your recollections of your grade school in a small village of Pennsylvania.  Yes, indeed, those outstanding rural schools did happily make us lifelong learners.  Like you, I am enormously grateful for those first precious five years of my formal education.

      My very best to you and Bob–Alice and Willow

  2. mfanyo permalink

    Hello, Alice,
    Thank you for an early morning laugh with your story about Robert’s response to your fainting! We are indeed very grateful that you lived to tell this tale and so many others that touch our hearts and bring tears to our eyes and smiles to our faces. What a blessing that you continue to share these special memories with your readers!
    Love to you and Willow,

    • Good afternoon, Mary–Although I realize that my fainting must have terribly frightened Mrs. Bennet, my fifth-grade teacher, and my fellow classmates, as with much humor, the incident later did turn into a humorous one.  I am glad to know that you enjoyed a little laughter after reading the anecdote.

      Enjoy the nicer weather and your gardening–Alice and Willow

  3. Carole permalink

    Your memory has again served you very well, Alice! The JGS tribute brought back many memories, but also offered some new details that I don’t recall. Yes, I witnessed the fainting and shouted remark, which were quite memorable for the all of us! Fortunately you weren’t hurt, but I think you were sent home anyway, if I remember correctly.

    I’m sure that some of our neighbors and friends have enjoyed your school day stories, as have I!

    • Good evening, Carole–Thank you for the two “likes” and your comment on this fourth JGS post.  Thinking and writing about those JGS days were enjoyable.

      Talk with you soon! (Our temperatures have been warmver than yours in florida!)

      Take care–Alice and Willow

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