Rural School Days

Source: Clinton County Historical Society school binder. Written by Mildred Rusch Schnack

In 1880-1890, schooldays took the Rusch children to Welton District #8, a one room school about two miles north of the family farm (Grand Mound address). They spoke English and learned to read English in the schoolroom but, at recess, more German than English could be heard. The German boys far outnumbered the English boys at recess time, but English speaking boys excelled in the classroom.

Women teachers were often as young as the oldest boys who continued their education in the winter months. Uncle Louis Rusch, the mischievious one, stuff the chimney full of wet leaves one day while my Great Aunt, Teine Meints, was their teacher, so they could have a day of forced vacation. My father, Will Rusch, attended this school for all his eight years. I remember his fine Spencerian penmanship and marvelled at his ability in mathematics.

My mother, Augusta Meints, and her sisters and brother attended the Hahn school in Orange Township just south of Grand Mound in the 1890s and early 1900s. She remembered moving into the new schoolhouse, on of the largest in the county, high on a hill with a bell in the steeple that could be heard all over the district.

Many big families attended this school and an enrollment of thirty was not unusual. It was also a time of hardship. Calico and eggs sold for 10 cents a yard and 10 cents a dozen. Girls owned only two homemade dresses, one for everyday and one for school. Children went barefoot until the ground was frozen. Some even stayed home in cold weather until a new pair of shoes could be bought or handed down. Mother often told of her old tin pail containing a constant diet of corn bread and sorghum. Except for the staples, all food was homegrown or homemade.

After a weekend vacation, Miss Quinn could not make all the notes play on the school organ. Also, a "dead" smell seemed to come from that corner. The big boys opened the organ and found the entrails of a dead chicken, feather and all. A tramp had spend the weekend in the schoolroom.

Mother had to take over her motherless family in her teens and did not graduate from eighth grade. Yet, she must have learned her lessons well. She read every book and magazine that came her way. In my high school years, I called her my walking dictionary. Her reading vocabulary was endless.

In the 1920s I attended the same school my father did, Welton #8, now called "Sunnybrook School". My sister and I were the only girls in a school of ten boys or so. We were always delighted when another girl moved into the district. It seems we girls were always "it" in our recess games, and all the boys could out run us. Teacher never came out to play. She only made her appearance when she heard screams or tears.

When a new director was elected we were almost sure of a new teacher. In my eighth year, I had at least four teachers as the family feuds among cousins had grown worse. Law and order was at a premium. If Mom and Dad hadn't been so good at helping us with our homework, I would not have been a top county graduate.

As for hardships of those days, I remember the two-mile walk in zero weather or a blinding blizzard. I remember the "heavy" feet we carried home on muddy days, often loosing a rubber or four buckle overshoe in a deep hole. I remember our buggy and Dad's Model T Ford sinking to the hub in a spring thaw, and the team of heavy horses straining to pull us out. I remember eating frozen lunches from our fancy tin buckets, or finding them full of ants on a hot day.

Water was brought by the bigger boys from the farm across the road. It was always a warm drink in spring and fall. By that time the County Health Nurse had us bring individual cups and crash towels from home which hung on hooks the rest of the year. We even "cooked" hot lunches on a wickless oil stove that smoked up the room. A real specialty was fresh rabbit caught by the boys, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. Our dishes were enamelware and tin cups. How a teacher managed to teach and watch our cooking is more than I know!

Happy events were the annual box supper which followed the fall school program. I remember a girl of ten playing "The Prisoner's Song" for a skit, on the old unpredictable pump organ. Santa's first visit at our school program made me a six-year-old unbeliever -- I saw an older brother under the mask.

The last day of school was the best event. There was a picnic feast displayed on the fresh grass on checkered "thresher" tablecloths. Families sat in groups on the ground around the food and shared the "goodies". Afterwards we had a program, art display, and the races. Teacher treated us to a five-gallon container of ice cream packed in real ice. This was the biggest treat of all in the days of no freezers and refrigerators.

Thinking back over my rural school days as a pupil, I feel we learned much, and teachers knew us as the precious little people we were. My only regret is that I did not have enough to read and do. Our library had such few books, and I got tired of reading a 1900 encyclopedia, but I really enjoyed the "Teenie Weenie" books.

Of course, I can't forget Superintendent Bowersox and his visits. We always saw him go past the windows first so we had a little time to calm down. We welcomed his speech and his words of encouragement. Little did we realize that he and his staff really set up our program for learning.

My happy rural school days helped me to become a rural school teacher during the depression. I had taken a one-year rural course at State Teacher's College in 1934. I borrowed money to do so and often lived on 25 cents a day for meals. We could get a complete luncheon for 15 cents.

For the next seven years, I taught the Turner School in DeWitt Township on Highway 30 between DeWitt and Malone. DeWitt Township paid the highest salary, comparable to city schools, at $50 a month. My room and board was $4 per week, and I managed to save a little to get another year of college during the summers.

Enrollment at Turner School was as little as five pupils and as many as fifteen and all nine grades. By this time we were required to give beginners a kindergarten course. They could go home earlier, but usually had to sit it out for the older children to take them home along the busy highway. We were one big happy family, sharing and loving, caring and giving, and most of all working up to capacity. I brought books by the bushell from the DeWitt library, and what good readers and students I had! College opportunities came to many after World War II was over.

Now that I've reached my middle years, what a joy it is to be still a member of that old neighborhood, and to be able to recall so many happy memories at our reunions.