My 40th high school class reunion is coming up on Sept. 19, and I figured this would be a good time to look back.
I began my school career at Central School on Kennedy Boulevard in Vandalia, with Miss Crickman as my kindergarten teacher.
Do all children love their kindergarten teachers? I surely loved Miss Crickman, and then one day she got married and wasn’t Miss Crickman anymore. In fact, I think she quit teaching and turned our class over to a perfect stranger.
Then I moved down the hall and up to first grade, with Miss Josephine Stennett as my new teacher. Miss Stennett was the complete opposite of Miss Crickman. Miss Crickman was young and new to teaching; Miss Stennett was a seasoned teacher.
Miss Stennett must have had a long run at teaching Central School’s first graders, because my sister, Sandy, who is four years older than me, also had Miss Stennett as her first-grade teacher. And a friend, Don Schultz, who is four years younger than me, also was a Miss Stennett pupil. He remembers her ruler.
In fact, several of the people I quizzed about their first-grade experience with Miss Stennett mentioned the ruler. A whack across the fingers would put a stop to fidgeting, goofing off and any other behavior not acceptable in a first-grade classroom.
Along with her short, tightly curled hair and circles of rouge on her cheeks, it is a stack of folded newspapers that comes to mind when I think of Miss Stennett. She kept them by the classroom door. I can remember sheltering under Miss Stennett’s newspapers as we headed out the door and into the rain at the final bell.
I also remember her summer dresses of chiffon and other lightweight materials. It seemed odd to my 6-year-old mind that her arms were younger than her face.
My sister tells of returning home from school one day in tears, and our mother, Cora Torbeck, marching to Central School the next day to have a talk with Miss Stennett about what to teach in school and what to leave to the parents. A jolly old fat man was involved.
Of the 26 pupils in my first-grade class, 12 were in my 1969 graduating class of 120 students – which was, up to that time, one of the smallest classes to graduate from Vandalia High School.
In 1963, when I started seventh grade, both seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms were on the second floor of Central School. Added to the kids we knew from grade school years, were students from Lincoln and Washington schools, as well as outlying country schools.
Still later, the pupils from the rural schools, like Augsburg and St. Paul, were sent to Vandalia to attend high school, and still more students were added to our class.
I think I was in third grade when Elizabeth Shively, Kay Wright and I were caught playing in the town branch during lunch hour. Exploring was more fun than the jungle gym…that is, until I cut my foot and we had to go to the school nurse.
Then Katy-bug, Lindy-hop and Lizzie-something-or-other were banned from leaving the school grounds at lunch time – something we were already not supposed to do. Who remembers Principal James Spencer? Scary guy when you’re a third grader and are caught off school property.
It will be fun to visit again with school chums from first grade at our upcoming Class of 1969 reunion. I wonder what their memories of Miss Josephine Stennett will include. Will it be her stern demeanor, summery dresses, the stack of newspapers or, possibly, the ruler?