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REMEMBERING CRYSTAL SPRINGS SCHOOL by Gay KollathRecently Gay Kollath contacted SCHS Board member Ellen Piehl and shared her experiences at Crystal Springs School. With her permission it is reproduced here.

My older brothers, Lynn & Nolan, and I have the distinction of having attended a one-room country school from grades one through eight, something very few people alive can say today. Crystal Springs School was located near Seymour, Wisconsin, and we attended this school during the 1940’s-50’s. There were about 25 students in our school, with three of them in my grade who stayed with me throughout my eight years. My younger sister, Lana, also attended the school through grade six, when the school was closed and the kids were bused into the nearby town of Seymour.

We began first grade at age six. There were no preschools or kindergartens back then. I remember loving school a lot. I loved learning and I loved having other kids to play with besides my siblings. I had several teachers during my first four grades, but my favorite teacher was Miss Colleen Marsh. Miss Marsh was an excellent teacher and fortunately she taught my class from fifth through eighth grades. She had been a student of my mother’s (Violet Kollath) who also taught at one-room schools, so Miss Marsh was like part of our family.

She encouraged my love of learning by allowing me to rush through my required work, and then letting me help the younger kids with their reading, spelling, or math. With eight grades to teach, she could use all the help she could get, and often called on the older kids to assist with the younger. This mentoring system was common in country schools. Of course, when an older student had to explain something to a younger student, the older student generally learned the material more deeply as well. I often tell people that I learned to be a teacher in elementary school.

Miss Marsh made special trips to the Appleton Public Library and brought back boxes full of books to supplement our own meager library. Sometimes if I finished my work early, she allowed me to just sit and read, which is one of my passions still to this day.

Here is how a typical school day unfolded. My brothers and I would have breakfast, get dressed, brush our teeth, comb our hair, grab our lunch pails, and either walk or ride our bikes the quarter mile to our school. School would begin with early morning duties. The teacher and many of the students would arrive early to carry out various tasks to keep the school building running. There were no custodians, so the teacher and students were entirely responsible for the upkeep of the school.

Students were assigned duties such as putting coal in the furnace, taking out the “clinkers”, erasing and washing the chalkboards, cleaning the erasers, sweeping the floor, putting up the flag, and bringing in the mail. Some of these tasks were performed in the morning and some at the end of the school day. It was an honor to be selected to perform these tasks. Some tasks required that a student be older to perform them, such as burning the trash. I remember erasing the chalkboards, cleaning the erasers, putting up the flag, and sweeping the floor. My favorite assignment was to pass out the chocolate flavored goiter pills (iodine to combat thyroid problems), and I often snuck a few extra for myself because I loved their chocolate taste.

The final school bell would ring at 9:00 am, and in good weather we would gather around the flag pole and watch two older students raise the flag. One was in charge of the rope, and one made sure that the flag didn’t touch the ground. We would then say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “America.” On bitter cold mornings, we would say the pledge and sing “America” inside the school building, while two older students braved the cold and put the flag up outside. I remember as an older student being in charge of the flag, and running out to lower it during rain and wind storms. I also learned the correct way to fold a flag.

After these opening exercises, classes would begin. Classes were called one by one to the front of the room to sit with the teacher and recite. The number of classes depended on the number of students in the school, and whether there were students in each grade. Most of the time the classes were small, with one to four students per grade. My class had four students including myself, Carol Werner, Marlene Ziebell, and Carl Prellip. If students were doing exceptionally well in a subject, they might be allowed to sit in with the next highest class. Likewise, if a student was having difficulty with a subject, he or she might sit with a lower class. I was usually with my class, and I noticed as I reviewed my report cards that my grades improved from first grade onward, until by sixth, seventh and eighth grade I was earning almost all A’s.

Usually the day began with first grade reading, followed by second grade reading, etc. Classes in arithmetic, spelling, language, geography, history, art, music, science and social studies followed. There was a fifteen minute recess in mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and a full hour at noon for lunch and outdoor activities.

When not in class at the front of the room, we sat at our desks and did assigned work. Of course, everyone in the room could overhear what was happening as each class was conducted at the front of the room. Sometimes this was distracting, but often I found that if I listened in on the older kids’ classes I learned a lot of material beyond my grade. We had the advantage of reviewing what we had learned in previous grades, and being introduced to what we were going to learn next.

Lunch time was special. We carried our lunches in pails, and a typical lunch consisted of a sandwich, a cookie, perhaps an apple (oranges and bananas were rare in the Midwest at this time) and a thermos of milk. In the winter we might have a thermos of warm soup or chili. Some children had very little in their lunch pails and some sharing took place. Of course, children often traded for food items that looked more tempting than their own. We often ate quickly so we had time to play before the noon hour was up.

During noon hour and recess we played outside. This was true even on the coldest winter days, when we bundled up and went out anyway. We only stayed indoors during blizzard conditions, when often school would be dismissed early, and children who usually walked to and from school were picked up by their parents. Not all parents were this accommodating, however, and I have memories of my dad, Kenneth Kollath, waiting outside of school on cold, stormy days, and of our little red Studebaker being packed with kids to whom he would give rides home.

On our playground we had a wooden teeter-totter, a merry-go-round, swings, and a softball field. We also played games such as dodge ball, drop the handkerchief, farmer in the dell, London bridge, hide and seek, pom-pom pull away, red light/green light, and Annie Annie over. Miss Marsh would sometimes join in our games, and I have memories of her playing softball with us in her suit and high heels. I enjoyed all of the games with the exception of softball, at which I was terrible. I remember how humiliating it was to always be the last name called when we were forming teams, and how my team members would yell and duck when I threw the bat in my excitement at finally getting a hit. Usually I struck out, and when playing in the outfield would miss catching any ball that came my way.

I have vivid memories of my eighth grade graduation in May of 1957, because it was the first time I ate in a “fancy” restaurant. Miss Marsh took our class of four to a restaurant in Appleton and treated us to dinner as a graduation present. What a great teacher she was!

Seymour Union High School

I began high school in the fall of 1957. I remember feeling very intimidated by the “big city” school with an enrollment of approximately 600 students, 143 of whom were in my class. After our country school of 25, this seemed overwhelming to me. There was a definite feeling that we “country kids” were looked down upon by the kids who lived in the big city of Seymour (population 2,000!) and I felt I had to prove myself in order to be accepted.

I was convinced that I would be way behind the other students academically, and this motivated me to study and work hard. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that not only could I keep up with the other students, but I was excelling in all of my classes. My one-room country school education had prepared me better than I realized. Thank you Miss Marsh for preparing me so well for school and for life. It’s because of your influence that I became a college professor, and had a successful teaching career for over 30 years.

Crystal Springs Grade School 1952 - Back row left to right: Nolan Kollath, Shirley Diedrick, Lamont Limberg. Ralph Zibell, Merlin Diedrick, Marjorie Zibell, Donna Mueller, Donna Wadel, Roger Zibell, Terry Limberg, Mildred Werner Middle row: Charlene Foate, Marlene Zibell, Carl Prelipp, Byron Wendt, Dennis Muehl, Jane Brick, Judy Werner, Carol Miller, Joyce Brick. Front row: Norma Miller, David Werner, Charlotte Foate, Carol Prelipp, Carol Werner, Tommy Diedrick, Teacher Betty Bryce.

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