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The Hunt for One Room Country Schoolhouses ~ Chapter 3

Lanesdale School

We left New Richmond and headed up Highway 65 to St. Croix Falls to our motel, the Dalles House Motel which boasts the beginning of the Gandydancers State Bicycle trail. It is both a hiking and biking trail and needs a state bike pass to use it (not for hiking, though). We understand it is part of the Ice Age Trail. Next morning we had the usual motel continental breakfast which barely holds body and soul together until lunch time. Because of a misunderstanding of directions to the Lanesdale School, we found ourselves ten miles away from the school where a gas station operator sent us to the office of the Amery Free Press across the street where he said, "They know everything over there".

He was right. None other than the editor was on hand to give us background on the Lanesdale School and the two teachers whom he said were excellent at their work. He also told us of an Amish School in the adjoining county which is taught by an eighteen-year-old girl, a graduate of the school, who had her students "well in hand despite her youth". When we asked about the possibility of visiting that school, he told us that he is a good friend of the Amish and implied that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can expect to drop in on the school. Since the school year had ended and the students would be working on their family farms, it is likely the school was not in session anyway. He gave us directions to the Lanesdale School which, it turns out, was not in Amery but in Balsam Lake, another small, pretty town. It was built in 1880, purchased by the Polk County Historical Society, and moved to its present location in 1965.
We had made arrangement beforehand to visit the school and the two teachers, Ruth Mugerauer and Marlene Gustafson who welcomed us warmly and told us they have been holding enrichment classes in the school for fourteen summers. They wore calico type dresses, as did most of their students. The two boys were in denims. There were sixteen children from Grades 1 through 6 in attendance. This school was partitioned off so that an observation room at the entrance allowed visitors to watch the classes in session. However, we were allowed and encouraged to take pictures in the actual classroom and were invited to share with the pupils our experience in our rural schoolhouses.
One girl asked us if we had best friends in our school as kids do now; another wanted to know how we were disciplined if we did something wrong. Neither of us could remember any type of discipline there might have been. Anyway, since we had brothers and sisters in the same room, they might snitch on us. Parents always were always on the side of the teacher in those days anyway. Teachers were held in the highest regard in our rural schools.

The school looked like most any other rural school including Druecker's where this writer attended: Portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on the wall. a school clock on another wall, a "reciting bench" in the front of the room, and a crockery water jug in the back. The stove was a jacketed variety -- a furnace with an attractive, embossed metal jacket surrounding it inside of which were metal shelves. The students could place their tin lunch pails (often old honey or syrup pails) inside on the shelves and, by lunchtime, they had a warm meal. The desks were of the double variety with the proper inkwells. This school also had an organ and a piano which placed it a cut above most country schools. It must be remembered that country schools often served as community meeting rooms for a variety of events: box socials, literary society gatherings, dances, singing groups, etc. Ruth told us that the first week of the two-week session is a generic one that teaches the children about life in a rural school and the second week has a theme such as farming, ethnic study of the immigrants who settled the area, etc. There is a waiting list of children for the classes.

Ruth and Marlene conducted the class just as the writer experienced in her rural school: the students were called by grade to stand (rise and stand next to the desk), turn, and pass to the reciting bench. There the lesson took place while the rest of the pupils worked independently.

Mrs. Carlson, an older lady who attended a rural school and later taught in one, told of her experience both as student and teacher, of "ciphering" on slates, and walking home from school fearful of bears on the trail through the woods.

After a recess break where all 16 students, including one child in a wheelchair, played old-time games outside, there were a few short lessons at the reciting bench, some old folk songs led by Marlene at the piano, and then they all headed for the park for lunch with their pails and baskets in hand. When we last saw them, they were seated in small groups with their teachers and they all waved good-bye to us. This was the highlight of all our school visits. A school is a building but not until there are teachers teaching and children learning is it a real school.

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