These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Looking Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted in its entirety here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Available recordings are also linked to the Wild 102 “Looking Back in Time” page.
April 2, 2023
Today’s story is written by a former Roseau County resident, Joyce Rugland Morken.
Country schools hold a very important place in the history of education in our country. The teachers who taught in them were real heroes. The pay was low, the schools located in sparsely settled areas to accommodate children living on farms miles away. The teachers were usually women who had been to some teacher training, but men also were teachers. Many were young women, since this was a job that was respectable for young women away from home. But there were many older, married women who were highly regarded as teachers in the community. I was lucky to have had good teachers, both young and older. My education was very good through the 8 grades. We learned to study independently, to be responsible, to help each other, to be good citizens. I was ready for high school, then college. I went to Bemidji State, taught in Bemidji and Crookston. Then I married and moved to Salinas, CA. I taught there, finished my degree at San Jose U, and eventually moved to Stockton, CA and have taught here. After some 44 years teaching and 15 more substituting I finally retired! I loved teaching!
Presently I am a docent at our San Joaquin County Historical Museum between Stockton and Lodi. We have a popular school program during the school year in which schools may choose between two programs. One is an all day Pioneer School in which the children go back in time to 1879 and come dressed in that period and carry lunches. They spend the day in lessons appropriate to that time. The other program is Valley Days, also in that time period. I was lucky to have been one of the 8 teachers who started this program in 1985 and watched it grow. The class will spend 1 hour in the school, and then rotate through a variety of centers run by parents. These may be the blacksmith shop, printing, cookhouse, leather work, tin punch, gardening, etc.
I often teach during Valley Days in the 100 year old Calaveras Schoolhouse. It was moved in from the country and served 1st through 8th grade. The children came from ranches and farms that raised cattle, wheat, grapes, walnuts, peaches, etc. We talk about chores they did, such as carrying wood and water, gathering eggs, taking care of the animals, and ask them why these tasks were important. We compare life today to yesterday and hope they develop an appreciation for what they have today. Spending time in this old schoolhouse has brought back many fond memories of my days in country schools, and I would love to share –and relive them.
My parents, Sam and Anna Rugland had a farm between my uncle, Ole Dokken’s farm and the Kompeliens on the road to Pinecreek. My grandparents, Lars and Julia Rugland, lived a few miles farther down the road. The road that continued past Pinecreek led a few miles to the Canadian border, so this was almost in Canada. The school I went to was District ll or as I recently learned, called Brookside, although I don’t remember it being called that when I went there. But the Pine Creek was just across the road so the name fits. The school was between our farm and the Kompeliens, just across the field, so I didn’t have far to walk. My grandfather, Lars Rugland, was an active community member, and participated in the formation of the school, and was its first clerk.
Most of the families were Scandinavian like my grandparents, who had settled in the Pinecreek area in 1889 and still spoke Norwegian often. My two older brothers, Gordon and Wilmer spoke Norwegian as their first language. Wilmer once told me how embarrassed he was at times in school with his Norwegian accent. I can sympathize with him, since I often had children in my classes from many cultures learning English—Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, Cuba, Iran, etc. I have always regretted that I never learned much Norwegian since our families had concentrated on English by the time I was born. So I always told my students to be sure to learn their family’s language and customs.
I went to this school from 1st through 3rd grade and loved it. I think my 1st grade teacher was Edna Kvien. My 3rd grade teacher was Thelma Ellenson, according to my old autograph book. There were about 20 students, but not all grades had a student. It depended on what age the students were. I was often the only one in my grade, so I really got individual attention. My sister, Inez, was older by 5 years, and Shirley, younger by 5 years, so I was not the only family member there some years. We could keep our parents up to date with happenings—or behavior. My cousin, Jerome Dokken, also was a student, but most of the students were from the Kompelien families, most speaking Norwegian and some English. Ole was a grade ahead of me, I think. He always had a smile.
It was a typical country school with wood desks, blackboards, a stove in the back, and the teacher’s desk up front. There were roll down maps, a globe, a bench in the back with a jar of water and a community dipper. (Horrors! When I think of the germs we passed around with that dipper, I wonder how we all survived and stayed reasonably healthy!) There was also a small library of books to enjoy. The stove was very popular in winter, and you were lucky if your desk was near it. Of course, we had the flag in front and said the flag pledge every morning—just as I have done in my classes. We would sing “America” to start the day. Then there would be assignments for each class. The teacher would take turns meeting each class, so the rest of us were expected to get busy and do our work. Actually, it was a real advantage to listen to others when we could. It would either reinforce what you had learned, or would introduce you to what was ahead. You might suddenly understand something you hadn’t gotten during a lesson. Or you could read a book for fun. The time was not wasted.
Of course, people got in trouble for the same reasons as today. Homework may not have been done,
Kids misbehaved, sometimes boys got into fights at recess, or they teased someone. The usual punishment was to miss recess. An unwritten rule for us was that if you got into trouble at school, you were in bigger trouble at home. The teacher was the authority! I confess that I had to stay in at recess once with Ole! I was petrified that my mother would find out! I don’t think she did, since neither of my sisters were at school at that time, Recess was on our own, unsupervised of course. That was prep time for the teacher. We went outside, played, went to the outhouse, and enjoyed the break.
Next week, I’ll read more of Joyce’s memories from her childhood Memories of a Country School in Pinecreek.
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