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Harvey School

By Roger Machmeier

Today in the year 2000, when I drive along U.S. Highway 10 just west of Mondovi, Wisconsin, memories come flooding into my mind of happy days some sixty years ago. I can see in my mind's eye the big white schoolhouse on the south side of the road. Now another house stands there but my mind sees the schoolhouse with the white board fence, the flagpole, the hand pump and the two outhouses standing guard in opposite corners.

The Harvey School was named for the Harvey family, early settlers in the area. The schoolhouse was a wood frame building about 40 feet wide and 60 feet long. There were four large windows on each side and two large windows in the back. The purpose of the large windows was to let the outside light shine in since there was no electricity. There were pull-down shades on the windows if the sunlight was too bright and could shine into the students' eyes.

A porch with a roof was located on the roadside of the school. Just inside the entry door was a room about 8 feet by 8 feet. This room was used to hang up coats, for boots and overshoes in the winter, for the water container, for lunches, and the wood box for fuel for the stove.

The school had a big bell in a tower above the roof. A strong wire extended down inside to the school entry room where we hung our coats. The bell was rung at 8:00 o'clock when the school started. It was also rung to call the students in from recess and the noon hour. Students were authorized to ring the bell at the direction of the teacher. It was one of the honor jobs, to get to ring the school bell.

As one entered the school room, a large stove was on the right side of the front of the room. The stove had a metal shroud so no one could come into contact with the hot stove. The teacher’s desk was on the left side as one entered. In front of the teacher’s desk was a bench where the class that was being taught would sit. The teacher faced to the south and the students faced to the north. This was the front of the school room.

There were blackboards on the wall behind the teacher’s desk. There were also two blackboards on the east wall of the school. Cleaning the blackboards and dusting the erasers was a job that was done by some of the students.

On the wall behind the teacher were large framed pictures of two presidents; George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both of their birthdays were special days each year, with stories and poems about them presented by some of the students.

A pendulum wall clock was on the east wall. It was a Regulator brand and needed to be wound by the teacher once a week. The clock was quite high on the wall so that the teacher had to stand on a chair to wind the clock. Perhaps it was purposely placed high so that the students wouldn't be tempted to change the time.

Rows of desks were lined up from the front to the back of the room. The largest desks were on the right side of the teacher, or the west side of the school house. There were various sized desks since the students ranged from first graders to eighth graders.

Each student had their own desk. The desk had a seat, which was hinged and could be folded up for sweeping the floor. The top of the desk was a slanted writing surface. The writing surface was hinged at the top and could be lifted up. Inside the desk one could store books, paper and pencils.

Each desk had an inkwell on the top of the desk in the upper right hand corner. They were used in the days of dip pens. A dip pen had a handle and a pen point. The point was dipped into a hole in the ink well to put some ink in the pen point. Then one could write in ink. The pen points were scratchy and difficult to write with. They were also quite messy and extra ink was often a problem. The ink wells were not used when I went to school. We had fountain pens and a bottle of ink. We would fill the fountain pen with ink from the bottle. There was a cap on the pen which protected the pen point and kept the ink from leaking onto papers when it was laid down.

The desks were in rows from front to back. A student would usually get a different desk each year. The students were growing and so would need a little bigger desk each year. The student would keep the same desk all year unless there were discipline problems. Then the student would be given a desk near the front of the room where the teacher could keep a better eye on the trouble maker. A desk in the back of the room was the most desirable.

The school bought white paste for the students to use in various art projects. The paste came in a large jar and was put in smaller jars for the students to have in their desks and use. The paste smelled very good and to some it seemed appetizing. Some of the students ate the paste and said that it tasted pretty good. I never did try to eat any of the paste, but I did like the smell of it.

School started each day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. “I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the country for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The words “under God” were added to the pledge by President Eisenhower many years later.

I started to attend Harvey School when I was five years old. The next year I would have been the only one in first grade. My mother was a school teacher and thought that I would do better with that year's class than to be alone. The Harvey School teacher was Miss Loretta Potzner. They agreed that if I could not keep up in the studies, I would wait to start the next year. I was able to keep up and I graduated in eight years at the age of 12.

At first when I was learning to read, I wasn't progressing very fast. At that time the practice of phonics was going out. Mother, however, had phonics cards from her teaching days and she practiced with me at home on those. It wasn't long before I could read as well as anyone in class. Over the years the practice of using phonics has been in and out of the curriculum several times.

Harvey School was located along U.S. Highway 10 about two miles west of Mondovi and about two miles east of our farm. The first day Mother and Dad took me to school with the car. I walked home with the neighbor kids and after that I walked to and from school each day.

There were no hot lunches in those days. Mother packed me a lunch and I entered an entirely new world. I had not gone to any day care or pre-school. I had not played with many kids since there weren't many that lived close by our farm. Most of my exposure to other kids was when we visited with my cousins on Sunday visits.

As lunch time came the first day, I opened my Karo syrup pail (which was my lunch bucket) and took out a sandwich. I sat in the back of the room, the south end of the school, and was watching all that was going on. I was so interested that I forgot to eat. When the end of the noon hour came, I had not nearly finished my lunch. But it was time for the school to begin again and the teacher made me put away my lunch. The next day I ate lunch a little faster

Many of the students had dinner pails which contained a thermos bottle. The bottom of the dinner pail held the sandwiches and other food. The thermos bottle was placed in the top of the lunch pail. With a thermos, one could have some hot or cold liquid with their lunch. Sometimes it was hot chocolate in the winter or hot soup. On warmer days we had cool milk or kool aid.

At lunch time there was often some trading of food. If one of the kids wasn't real fond of what their mother had put in the lunch bucket, they would see if someone else might like it and for what other food it could be traded. When my mother made lefse and put that in the dinner pail, I could trade pieces of lefse for all kinds of goodies. I always asked Mom for lots of lefse, not because I was so fond of it, but it was good trading fare.

There were some big kids in school when I was a first grader. In those days the bigger boys would help on the farm in the fall. After the fall work was done, they would come to school. At Harvey School there were several boys in the eighth grade who didn't want to be in school and learn anything, but their folks wanted them to be there. They were very disruptive in school. They were the bosses of the school. The previous year the teacher had left in despair in the middle of the year because the boys literally drove her away. She couldn't keep them under control.

Miss Potzner was quite a husky lady and according to reports, had a number of brothers. So she knew how to take care of herself with boys. She was not one bit afraid of the big boys and if one of them misbehaved, she took him outside of the school house. We never knew what went on out there, but the boy would come back looking like he had been thoroughly chastened. Some of the problem boys quit going to school and the ones that stayed didn't necessarily become model students, but at least they did not disrupt the school.

I can remember Miss Potzner walking up and down the aisles between the desks with a 15-inch wooden ruler. If anything improper was going on, whack!, down came the ruler. It wasn't long before Harvey School had good discipline. This was quite a beginning in the education of a 5-year old first grader. But she was a very kind lady and was never mean to the students who behaved. She simply insisted on discipline and took measures to ensure that the school operated properly and that she was the boss.

No whispering or passing of notes were allowed between students. All students were expected to be studying and working on their assignments. There were eight grades in Harvey School and about 30 children. If you were finished with your school work you could listen to the upper grades recite their lessons as they sat on the recitation bench in the front of the room. In that way you pretty well knew what was coming as you advanced to the next grade.

I remember the names of some of the other teachers at Harvey School. There was Marie Fimian, Arnold Borquardt, and Allen Hilliard. Each of the teachers taught two years, so I had four teachers in eight grades. Miss Potzner was my first teacher and perhaps the most memorable because I was just starting school. Allen Hilliard was my seventh and eighth grade teacher and was a very good teacher. He kept challenging us to do better and we likely learned more than the average eighth grade students.

Each month each student got a report card. We were graded A, B, C, D, and F on our performance in the academic studies as well as in other things such as attentiveness, discipline, study habits, etc. The report card was carried home by the student each month to be viewed and signed by the parents. As I recall, there were some days or parts of days that the teacher would meet with the parents. Most of the communication between teacher and parents was because of problems that the student may be having. These meetings would be held whenever they were needed.

We memorized the multiplication tables through 12 times 12. I can still see that chart of numbers in my mind's eye. Learning the multiplication table is something that I have never forgotten. And that knowledge has been used many times. I don’t need a computer or a hand calculator to do simple arithmetic like I see so many people have to do today.

We learned handwriting by the Palmer Penmanship method. We had hand writing sessions several times a week. We had to hold the pencil just right, move our entire arm and not just the fingers, and make the figures of the lesson. We would make circles in a continuous spiral across the page. There were other figures to practice and there were exercises for moving your hand and arm correctly. There were specific ways to make the letters, both lower and upper case. It would be a benefit today if many students could write more legibly. We learned both printing the letters and cursive writing at the same time.

We always started school in the morning with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Then we would have a music session. There was a piano in the school and the teacher would play the tune of the song so we could learn it. The teacher would ask what song we wanted to sing and the boys always wanted to sing, "My Home's in Montana." I can still remember the tune and the words to that song. The girls didn't like that song and on their day to choose they would pick another song which we would all have to sing.

At the end of the year we would be given our last report card and on it the teacher would write whether we passed, or didn't pass, to the next grade. In those days not all of the students passed. It was performance that counted and there was no such thing as social passing a student. I remember one of the neighbor boys who did not pass on to the next grade. He was heart broken and cried as he walked home on the last day of school. I think that he studied harder the next year.

We would have an Arbor Day at school in the spring. All of the grounds would be raked by the students to remove the dead grass and leaves. Dead tree branches would be placed in the pile and the entire pile ignited. Then we would have a wiener and marshmallow roast. It was a fun day.

There would also be a school picnic at the end of the school year. The picnic was for all the families and it was pot luck. Games were played and the picnic was a social event for the parents. It made for good relations in the neighborhood. The families of the school kids and their folks shared the day. Since all were farmers, there weren’t any time clocks to punch or meetings to attend. The last day of school was an important event for the entire family.

At Christmas time the entire school performed a Christmas program. We rehearsed a little each day during the month of December. There was singing of Christmas carols by the students. Some Christmas songs were sung by all who attended. We sang Christmas carols like Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Up on the Housetop, etc.

We presented a number of Christmas plays and all the actors had memorized their lines--no tele-prompters in those days. A stage of 2 by 6 planks was set up on some large sawhorses which were about two feet high. The stage was necessary so the student actors would be high enough so that the audience could see the program. We had a curtain on a wire in the front of the stage which was closed after each act.

At the end of the program, Santa Claus showed up with a bag which held goodies for all. Santa would distribute the presents under the tree. After I found out about Santa Claus, we always tried to figure out who he was. But he had a complete outfit with whiskers and beard. The school board usually got someone from outside of the school district, so he wouldn’t be recognized. Paper sacks with peanuts, candy and an apple were handed out to each student, and also those children in the audience. The school Christmas programs always played to a standing-room-only audience.

The school, of course, had a Christmas tree. We didn’t have any lights on it because the school did not have electricity. We did not dare to use candles because of the safety hazard. During December we made decorations for the tree. We made garlands of colored paper rings glued together with paste. We also strung popcorn and cranberries on string and put those on the tree. There were colored bulbs and other decorations that were saved and used each year. It was a fun time to decorate the Christmas tree. We would do this during the noon hour and recess. We had plenty of learning to do during regular school hours.

During school in December we made gifts for our parents. The girls would do some sewing or embroidery and the boys would usually make something out of wood. We used a coping saw to cut out a figure from the wood and then we stained and varnished it. I made a corner shelf, which Jetty found on the farm and we still have it in our bedroom at Lindstrom. I don't know how the teacher accomplished all of the activity in preparation for Christmas and still had some semblance of learning going on. I think that the learning was a little more relaxed in the weeks before Christmas. After the Christmas program we would have several weeks of vacation.

Sometimes during the winter there would be no school after a blizzard. There was no way to announce this, like today’s radio programs. So, if you could go, you would walk to school. I remember walking down Highway 10 to school one morning after a blizzard. I had on a heavy coat, scarf, long underwear, mittens and boots so I was warm as I walked. This was U.S. Highway 10 but it wasn't plowed yet and the drifts were so hard that I could walk over the top of them. Along the way one of the neighbor ladies was concerned and called to me and asked if I was warm enough. I assured her that I was and I continued on my way.

When I got to school the teacher was there and only five or six other students that lived fairly close to the school. The teacher roomed and boarded at a nearby farm so she could also walk to school. Many of the students lived in valleys and the snow of the blizzard had drifted their roads shut. Their roads might not be plowed for a day or two. Those of us who did get to school had a fun day of coloring and pasting and playing games. Regular classes couldn't be held because of the lack of pupils.

The teacher in the rural school had to also be the janitor. In the winter the teacher had to get to the school house early enough to start the fire to warm the school. The teacher would also sweep the floors of the school. A sweeping compound was used to clean the floors. The sweeping compound looked like red sawdust and had a pleasant odor. Those students who got to school a little early often helped the teacher sweep.

One of the duties of the students was to carry wood from the wood shed into the wood box in the hallway of the school. There were always plenty of volunteers for carrying in wood. Farm kids knew how to work and also knew that the wood was needed to keep warm during the day. It didn’t take long to fill the wood box because there were lots of willing hands.

Drinking water had to be carried from a well located on the school grounds and put into a ceramic container. The water container had a spigot on the bottom. Each student had their own drinking cup for water. The water container was in the hallway entrance to the school.

The well had a hand pump and the students were assigned turns on getting the water for the school. The big pump handle was as cold as the outside temperature. It usually happened that some student of questionable intelligence would put their tongue on the cold pump handle when the outside temperature was well below freezing. Their tongue, being wet, would immediately freeze to the pump handle. Either the student would tear loose with lots of damage to the surface of the tongue or the teacher would need to come out with hot water from the stove and warm up the pump handle. Either way the result was a mighty sore tongue. That particular student had learned their lesson, but there would always be someone else to give it a try later on to see if they could get by with it.

Another student job was to raise the U.S. flag on the tall flag pole in the yard. This job took two students. One attached the flag to the snaps and the other made sure that the flag did not touch the ground. The same two students took down the flag at night and brought it back into the school house properly folded. It was an honor to raise and take down the flag and different students were assigned that job each week. If it was raining the flag was not put up. And if a rain storm came during school, the flag was quickly taken down.

The school grounds had two outside wooden buildings about 12 by 20 feet. One was a wood shed and the other was a stable for horses. Wood had to be carried into the school house during the heating months and students also did this. The teacher put the wood in the stove. Students were not allowed to fire the stove or to put anything into the stove.

At one time some of the students came from distances far enough away to need horses. The horses would be in the stable during the day and the students would ride them home at night. This did not happen when I attended Harvey School but the stable was still there with its remnants of hay and horse manure.

There were two outdoor toilets, one for the boys and one for the girls. The toilets were on opposite corners of the school grounds. We had two recesses of about a half hour; one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon. We also had an hour for lunch. The students were expected to go to the toilet during the recesses or noon hour. Sometimes we had so much fun at recess or noon hour that we forgot to go.

Those who had to meet nature's call during school time would raise their hand with one finger for number one and two fingers for number two. You were expected to do your business promptly and return to the school house. If not, the teacher would come looking for you. Only one student was allowed out of the school house at a time.

Noon hour was a full 60 minutes and a fun time. It took 15 minutes or less to eat and then we would play games such as pum-pum-pullaway, Red Rover, tag, Andy-I-over (throwing a ball over the school roof), and kitten ball. All the games were action games to get rid of some of the accumulated energy.

Andy-I-over was played by two teams of players; each team took a side of the school house. The ball was thrown over the roof and if it went over the thrower would shout “Andy-I-over.” If the ball didn’t make it over the roof, which was quite high, we would call “pigtail.” Someone would have to try and throw the ball again. If the ball wasn’t caught on the fly on the other side, it would have to be thrown back with an “Andy-I-over” call.

If the ball was caught on the fly, the team catching the ball could come around the corner and touch players on the other team with the ball. The ball could also be thrown to touch a player. The touched player would then be a member of the team that touched him or her. There were feints with some players coming around one end first but they didn't have the ball. The other team would all run the other way and then some would get touched by the ball being carried around that end. The game was over when all the players ended up on one team or the bell rang.

Kitten ball was a popular game. The kitten ball is a little larger than today's softball and a little softer. We used fast pitch and played workup. There were three batters and if we got one out, everyone moved up one base. First fielder moved to third base, third base moved to second base and so on. The player who got out became last fielder and had to work their way back up to bat. If someone caught a fly hit by a batter, the two players exchanged places. For example, if the second baseman caught the fly ball, he or she became the batter and the batter became second baseman. When the bell rang for school to start, we would remember our positions and start in the same place at the next recess or noon hour.

Everybody who could throw and bat played kitten ball. We had a kitten ball team that represented Harvey School and we had good players. Our teacher, Allen Hilliard, liked sports and he arranged for us to play other rural schools. We usually won our games because we played a lot of kitten ball at school and because we had some good players, both boys and girls.

There were a lot of trees along the west side of the school grounds. The trees were box elder and close enough together so that one could easily climb from one tree to the other. The trees were quite large and had a lot of large limbs. They were perfect for the game of tree tag. One had to be part monkey to play tree tag. There were a few falls out of the trees, but no serious injuries as I remember.

The entire school yard was fenced in. The fence was topped with a 4-inch by 4-inch square wooden railing set on edge. The sharp point of the railing pointed up so that no one was supposed to be able to walk along the top rail. This of course was a challenge to the students. We hooked our heels over the sharp edge of the 4 by 4 and walked sideways. The same foot would always be ahead as we moved along. The challenge was to see how far we could walk (or shuffle) along the top rail before falling off. It was difficult walking this way as the feet were in an unnatural position. The muscles in your legs would get tired before going very far. It was a contest to see who could go the farthest along the top rail. The top rail was strong enough so it could hold the biggest student.

In the spring we always played marbles. There was a taw line and we would throw our shooter marble at the taw line to see who would end up the closest. That person would shoot first. The marbles were placed in a ring drawn on the bare ground where we played. It is difficult to remember all the rules, but if you knocked a marble out of the ring with your shooter, that marble was yours to keep. That is, if the game was “keepers.” Sometimes we just played for the fun of it and returned the marbles to their owners at the end of the game.

You could also “kiss,” that is, hit another shooter and take a marble out of the ring. The shooter marbles were placed in the curve of the first finger and then snapped out with the thumb. With practice one could become quite accurate with the shooter. The shooter marbles were also a little bigger than those in the ring. There was a common sense limit on how large the shooter could be. If a player had too large a shooter, they weren’t allowed to play.

There were also “steelies” that were used as shooters by some. A steelie was a ball bearing and was quite a bit heavier that marble shooter. Steelies could break a marble if it was hit square. Steelies were generally outlawed from the marble game.

Most of the farm boys carried a pocket knife because a knife was so handy for many things. It was almost an essential piece of equipment for a farm boy. And we didn’t get expelled for carrying knives to school. The knives were never used for any bad purposes or to try and hurt someone. We might have carved an initial or two on the wooden fence, but that would be the extent of our bad activities.

We played a game called mumblety-peg with our pocket knives. I don’t exactly remember all the details of mumblety-peg, but we would try to stick the knife in the ground by rolling it off parts of our body. We would roll the knife off the back of a hand, off an elbow, off a shoulder, off a knee, off our head, etc. The one who could stick the point of the knife in the ground the most times was the winner.

During the winter months we played “Fox and Goose” after a snowfall. We walked a large circle in the fresh snow and then walked six or eight trails across the middle of the circle. The middle where all the trails met was the safe goal. The object was for the fox to chase the geese and tag one of them. The one that was tagged then became the fox and had to try and tag somebody else. We had to stay on the trails and couldn’t cut across in the snow. If there were enough “geese,” we would have two foxes chasing them. The object was to run the trails and try and stay away from the fox. If the fox got too close, one would try to get to the goal.

There was a cow pasture outside of the school grounds. The grass was always grazed short and it was an easy walk to the Harvey Creek about a 1,000 feet away to the south. In the spring we would bring fish line and worms to school for fishing during the noon hour. We would cut a slim willow tree down by the creek to use as a fish pole. The fish line with hook was tied to the end of the willow pole and we were in business. The creek held suckers and creek chubs. There was a big hole near the school and we caught lots of fish. We would bring them back to school and put them in a pail of water pumped from the well. We would add cool water during recess and take the fish home at night.

In the fishing hole there were always some better places where more fish could be caught. Each one of us wanted to get the best spot to fish. One day one of the boys climbed out on the willow tree that leaned over the hole in order to get a better fishing spot. He was doing well catching fish and bringing them back to shore. On one of the trips out on the tree he missed his footing and fell into the water. He didn't drown but he was completely wet. That was the end of our noon hour fishing expeditions!

The school yard was about two acres in size. Occasionally striped gophers (we called them streaked gophers, or streakies) would set up housekeeping by digging holes in the yard. They came from the nearby pasture. We would see them and attempt to drown them out by pouring water down their holes. There was a bounty of a dime on a streaked gopher, and that was pretty big money in those days.

As we filled the gopher’s hole with water, we would watch for the gopher to pop out. Then we would try to hit it with a kitten ball bat or some other stick. Gophers usually have two holes, one for an escape route, and sometimes the gopher would come out where not expected. There would be screaming by the girls and flailing of sticks and bats by the boys. But no one ever got seriously injured and we usually got the wet gopher.

After school each day, there was a two-mile walk home. As I grew older, I wanted to listen to radio programs before supper at 6 o’clock. There were programs like Terry and the Pirates, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and Tom Mix. Before I could listen to the radio I also had the farm duties of feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, and filling the wood box. So my trip home from school was as quick as possible. I would walk and run those two miles in less than half an hour.

Each year Buffalo County gave an eighth grade examination for all students. Then there would be a County commencement for all eighth graders. The examination had to be passed to graduate. Just before the day of the examination I came down with measles or chicken pox. I could not take the examination at the scheduled time. I took the exam later at a place where the folks had to take me. The exam was three or four hours long. The questions didn't seem to be that difficult and I thought that I did fairly well.

On the day of the commencement, three of us were told to go to the speaker's platform. One was me, another was Berval Duetscher, a classmate from Harvey School, and one was Buddy Odegaard, my cousin who went to another school. Berval had the third highest score in all of Buffalo County, Buddy had the second highest and I had the highest examination score. Mom and Dad were mighty proud of me that day. I still have the medal that I received that day.

Our teacher in seventh and eighth grade was Allen Hilliard. He was qualified to teach in a high school, but was unable to find a teaching job at that level. We were good students and I think that he kept challenging us and probably taught us more things than the average rural school student. For two of us from the same school to be in the top three of the eighth grade graduates in Buffalo County was quite unusual.

Harvey School isn't there anymore. Today the students are bussed into the elementary school in Mondovi. My mother taught in Harvey School a couple of years when I was in High School. I estimate that the school district was integrated with Mondovi in the 1940's. The building and all its fixtures were bought at an auction by Otto Wittie, a farmer in the district.

Going to Harvey School was a great experience in growing up. It was a good basic education. You were taught how to study and to think. There were no computers then, but I would put our basic education and what we learned well above the level of most of the basic education that students are receiving now. Today there are lots of frills but not a really good basic education. I have seen some tests given to students in the early 1900’s and the tests given to students today. I doubt if today’s students could pass the early test.

The country school teacher had eight grades, taught all the subjects and was the building custodian! I do wonder how today's eighth grade students would fare on a test like Buffalo County gave us to find out if we were qualified to graduate from the 8th grade.

Today there may be a few country schools still being used in remote parts of our country. Some of the ethnic groups like the Amish are using one-room country schools. But for most of us the country school is but a memory; of good days and good times long gone by.