Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2012, 2:54 pm

Teacher remembers one-room schoolhouse

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By Marlene Gantt

In 1932 Evelyn Kuehl was assigned to teach at Cook School, a one-room school located about two miles east of Hampton in the former coal mining area. When she started she had 20 pupils and taught all eight grades. By 1947, the enrollment was 57 and she still taught all eight grades. In 1947, she left to teach at a one-room school at Joslin.

"Ms. Kuehl told "The Daily Dispatch" in June 1973 that she had many early memories of her years of teaching. "The boots to be put on, the noses to be wiped, tears to be dried, the sweeping and cleaning, the coal to carry in, the building of fires on cold Monday mornings, the journeys to the outdoor pump by thirsty youngsters, the torn clothing to be sewed and on and on."
(The rest of the information is taken from a hand-written memoir by Ms. Kuehl.)

She left her home at 7 a.m. and drove 19 miles to Cook on a dirt road. She would wear out several sets of tire chains in the winter and usually three sets of tires. "Sometimes the snow was so deep you also got stuck and had to wait until some farmer pulled you out with a team of horses," she wrote.
"During wartime (WWII) we were rationed gasoline, sugar and tires."
(Gas rationing went on from May, 1942 until August 1945).

"I had just enough gasoline to go back to school but my tires had been recapped and I needed new ones. (Tires were rationed from January, 1942 until October 1945). I went to the rationing board to file for new tires and was told flatly I could not get any. So I called the superintendent of schools and told him I couldn't teach that season because I couldn't get tires. He helped me out by pulling a few strings. I got four new tires worth $80 to start school that fall," she wrote. "We had paper drives and scrap iron drives, sold it and chartered a bus to go to Springfield and once to the Chicago zoo."

The children gathered milkweed pods for the soldiers' coats during the war according to Kuehl.

Other information indicates that the supply of Kapok, a soft, cotton material used to fill life jackets, was cut off when the Japanese occupied Java. The fluff of milkweed plants became a substitute.

So a major campaign was begun with the slogan, "Two bags save one life." School children began to collect milkweed pods. Nationwide, more than 11 million pounds of milkweed pods were collected by war's end.

There was no electricity at the school when Kuehl began teaching there. They had old bracket lights that were used when the days were dark and or short. Eventually they got electricity.

When that happened, they bought a radio. They listened each day to WLS Chicago broadcast a school program.

The old furnace was vented outside. "One day a cat came bounding in through it," wrote Ms. Kuehl.The children named the cat "Lady." Students in grades 1-3 made a doll house from wooden orange crates. They made rooms and also made furniture for the doll house. Lady claimed the bed in the doll house. Later she had kittens in the wastebasket.

There was also a groundhog that lived under the school. "He would stamp his feet and give out a sharp whistle ever so often to his mate," said Kuehl.
Eventually Cook began to overflow due to a new housing development from Babcock and Meersman Addition. The school went from 20 to 40 students.
This was too many for one teacher, according to Kuehl. "But for a few years nothing was done," she said. She organized a softball team, basketball team and a track team out of that group.

Her dad skinned an elm tree and dried it for a pole vaulting stick.

"Wages were low. I enjoyed the job very much. I had to clean the school house wash windows, scrub floors, wash blackboards, dust erasers, and wash desks," she wrote.

Kuehl began her teaching career in a one-room building named Eureka in Coe Township in 1926. She received $90 per month. In her 47 years of teaching, Kuehl never missed a day because of illness.

I found it interesting that when her student population doubled she received no extra pay. It was also good that the school was able to charge for their school programs so they could have money for items not provided by the school board.
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.