One-room Schoolhouses–the Link Among Generations

Stories, tall tales, memories, embellishments, laughs, and tears—all things you will hear when reminiscing with my Grandma Jeanine. She knows how to add in that extra spice to make a story intriguing, but she also leaves you wondering what’s true and what’s embellishment. Her stories of the one-room school house have had a deep impact on me. They highlight the connection between my ancestors and link me to my Great-Grandma Cookie.
Grandma Jeanine (left)–with siblings–and the one-room school.
“It was like we were one big happy family,” my 80-year-old grandmother states. She recalls having six teachers during her time as a student—grades 1-8—all women. Grandma Jeanine explained her favorite games to play at recess, and only a few match my elementary days. “We played Annie-I-Over—where we threw a ball over the schoolhouse and had to run around to the other side to catch it—fox and geese, red rover, and ring-around-the-rosie.” She smiles as she recalls fun times up on the school hill.
Grandma filled our conversation with her memories of those days sitting in a one-room schoolhouse with other students, ages ranging from 5 to 13. She also spoke of the time her father caught her smoking cigarettes and the time she fell through a hole in the barn haymow. But at school, she grew up fast and became responsible—even helping teach the younger students. The education she received was one like no other, she told me, and it prepared her for what was to come in the future.
My grandma graduated from Elgin High School and moved to Rochester, Minnesota, for nursing school where she started a trend of her own. My aunts, cousins, and mother all followed my grandmother into the nursing field. It’s safe to say if any of us grandchildren are sick we are in good hands.
But I decided to take another path—education—one that would link me back to the generation of my Great-Grandmother Marie Cook. My cousins all called her Grandma Cookie because every time we came to visit she would have some sort of treat waiting for us. Great-Grandma Cookie was once the one-room schoolhouse teacher, and Grandma Jeanine tells the story of how Marie came to be the schoolteacher—but also how she came to be my great-grandmother.
Great-Grandma Cookie and Merlin.
It was custom that the schoolteacher would stay with families that lived closest to the schoolhouse. That family would spare a room, prepare meals, and do laundry for the schoolteacher through the duration of the school year. The Cook farm was one of the closest homesteads to the schoolhouse. Each year the families would rotate hosting the schoolteacher—my favorite bedroom in the 6-bedroom Cook farmhouse was the room we called the teacher bedroom. It was yellow—my favorite color—and located at the top of the stairs.
The Cook Farm has been in the family for more than 150 years—a heritage farm that has been passed down through five generations. Back when she started teaching, Marie Burke (soon to be “Great-Grandma Cookie”) was staying with a couple who had no children down the road from the Cook Farm. The man who would become my great-grandfather, Merlin Cook, had just taken over the farm at the age of 21, and he loved to tease the schoolteachers.
Marie Burke was the first schoolteacher to catch my great grandfather’s eye. Since the Cook Farm was the closest to the schoolhouse, Marie would have to walk to the Cook Farm to secure a pail of water for the water cooler. When Merlin knew she was coming he would play tricks on her. He would wire the handle to something so she would have to unravel it, or he put grease on the handle so when she was pumping she would get grease all over her hands.
Eventually my great-grandfather’s tricks paid off, and Marie allowed him to take her on a first date. It was around Christmas time when the two decided to be married. My great-grandmother would have had to give up her job as the one-room schoolhouse teacher—once a women married she was not able to have a teaching job. Merlin and Marie got married secretly and kept it a secret until the end of the school year so Marie could continue teaching. When people asked my great-grandfather what he’s been up to, it was his favorite thing to say he’s been sleeping with the schoolteacher—little did they know he was telling the truth.
The link among the generations is one that I will always cherish. I am proud of my aunts, cousins, mother, and grandmother who have entered into the nursing field, but I am also excited to bring back the generation of teaching. Even though I won’t be teaching all subjects in a one-room schoolhouse, I’ll be teaching about agriculture, and that is where my passion lies. We won’t be playing “Annie-I-Over” in my classroom, but I hope we do create a learning family like my great-grandmother did.
By Hannah Pagel (ISU junior and CAST admin. asst.)

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