Stanton #4 grads look back on school days, county-style

Thursday, December 17, 2009
(Photo contributed) Rudy Adler and Theodore Hoffman graduated together from Plymouth County's Stanton Township #4 country school and have plenty of memories to share.

Editor's Note: This story is the third in a weekly series looking back at life decades ago and remembering a time when people's lifestyle was very different than today.

And you think it's been cold the past week?

Imagine running backwards in 20-below-zero weather a mile and a quarter to get to school.

Or perhaps after getting up early to milk the cows, you hurry to the country schoolhouse to fire up the wood-burning stove before the teacher arrived.

This is the story of two boys' school days before calendars turned to 1930.

"We walked backwards the whole way so the wind wouldn't get us," Rudy Adler, Le Mars, recalled this week as the recent temperatures dipped downward. "It was the worst thing in the world."

Ted Hoffman, Le Mars, meanwhile, remembers going across the field from his family's farmhouse with his younger brother, Lewis, to damper up the stove.

"It did warm things up but we all liked to sit as close to it as we could once school started," he said.

Ninety-four-year-old Hoffman and Adler, who will celebrate his 94th birthday Feb. 6, were classmates at the old Stanton Township #4 county school east of Le Mars and graduated together on June 20, 1930.

They were the only two from Stanton #4 to graduate that year.

Their recollections of country school days create a patchwork of memories.

They recall decorating the school tree and making individual nativity scenes as a means of observing the holiday, of the exchange of presents, "bought things like handkerchiefs" or in the case of Adler an "unbelievable" Christmas surprise.

"There was most often a big stocking," he said. "Inside was an orange, usually some nuts as well."

Then there was the Christmas program that meant going to the front of the school room to recite their respective memorized holiday "pieces" and sing Christmas carols.

"I really enjoyed that," Hoffman said. "We had an organ at the school, and I liked the Christmas music."

Hoffman smiled as he told of running home for lunch.

"My mother made pretty good bread," he said. "I'd run home and get a big slice and put home-made butter and jelly on it and then hurry back to school. I didn't want to miss any recess."

Arithmetic, his favorite subject he said, meant going to the blackboard up front rather than a computer, he said.

"And, I was pretty good at it," he added.

And for Adler?

"Geography was what I liked most of all," he said. "I wanted to know everything about the world. That's why I later joined the Navy. I wanted to see the world and in my 12 to 14 years in the Navy, I did.

"Reading, too, was important to me. I read every book the school had in its library. I enjoyed reading," he added. "It was all we had to do at nights and some books, like cowboy stories, I'd read several times."

Both Adler and Hoffman remembered with smiles the hurried winter-time trips to the school's outside "outhouses" when, so to speak, nature called.

Growing up as "farm neighbors" on farms much smaller than those of today, the boys were needed by their fathers to assist with farming operations.

Thus, ended their formal education at the eighth grade level in order to help out at home or to "work out" at nearby farms.

Adler recalled that one of his jobs was helping a neighbor whose off-farm efforts were those he described as "a bootlegger."

Adler assisted him in deliveries, which were left in culverts up and down the roadway, and the collection of the $3 and $4 payment for the product.

The liquid was transported in a two-gallon "Dr. Hess Hog Tonic" jug, he explained.

Was he worried about getting paid? Adler said no.

"He told me those picking it up were honest and that he'd never lost a penny," he said. "I liked him. He was a funny old guy."

After subsequent raids, the neighbor eventually served some time in jail for his effort in enterprise, Adler said.

The close proximity of neighbors in the days of the country school both Adler and Hoffman said mean close friendships between students and their families and offered opportunity, before the days of television and other interests, to join one another in the evenings as their parents shared get-togethers to play cards or just visit.

One of Hoffman's Stanton #4 teachers, the late Helen (Marbach) Hoffman, also eventually become a member of the family.

Having boarded for a time with his parents while teaching at the school, she married his older brother, Elmer, and became his sister-in-law.

Hoffman's daughter, Mary Roder, of Merrill, listened as her father recounted these memories. She's hopeful there are other living members of the pair's graduating class from other schools in the county who could share more accounts of what it was like back then.

She welcomes hearing from any of these individuals or their families in the hopes of a possible 80-year reunion of these eighth grade students next year if possible.

Roder can be contacted at: 712-938-2059.

The significance to Adler and Hoffman of a country school education is not to be overlooked, they agree.

"I never got a better education in my life than I got from my country school teachers," Adler said. "They made us work, to learn everything we could, and we were all close in those days."

Hoffman readily agrees.

"And we were all friends as well," he said. "Those times were sometimes hard work, but they were good times with good people and lots of memories. It was a good way to grow up."

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