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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Garfield School

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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In the early 60’s, the Peshtigo Public School country kids attended a four-room school located on the Old Peshtigo Road called Garfield. It consisted of four classrooms, a small kitchen, two bathrooms and a small entrance vestibule - not much else. The center hall featured coat hangers and benches for the boots, mittens and coats. (It’s now the Peshtigo Town Hall.)

All the Peshtigo Kindergartners attended morning or afternoon half-days at the main school building in Peshtigo proper. Then the country kids in grades 1-6 went to Garfield while the city kids remained in Peshtigo.

Miss Louise Deimers had the first graders in one room. Grades 2 and 3 shared a room with Mrs. Loretta Brabant. Grades 3 & 4 shared a room with Mrs. Ann Devroy and the 6th graders had Mr. William Ruechel, although the year I was a 6th grader a huge 5th grade class caused half the 5th grade to be with Mrs. Devroy and the other half with Mr. Ruechel. Imagine teachers with no aides managing two classes in a single room.

For hot lunch, we left our classrooms and went through a food serving line in the tiny kitchen. Our two cooks, Mrs. Millie Meunier and Mrs. Christensen (I think) baked homemade bread or rolls every single day, and their homemade pizza was very popular. I only remember a few kids bringing their own lunch (mostly highly picky eaters). We took our trays back to our classrooms to eat. I remember the cost being 25 cents per day.

Every single day we had several outdoor recesses, rain or shine. It was a good chance to run off some energy, and a practice that today’s kids don’t have access to. You wonder if so many little children would need medication to sit in school if they had the luxury of frequent recess. Girls were strictly required to wear skirts or dresses to school then, so we laboriously put on pants or snowpants and took them off again 3-4 times a day in winter. Hard to think of a dumber thing than requiring girls to wear skirts in our climate there. Even at 10 below zero, the bare legs were an inflexible requirement.

I remember being in Mrs. Brabant’s class when Mr. Ruechel came to solemnly announce The president has been shot. (President Kennedy.) It was an unfathomable horror to hear such news, and was underlined by the highly unusual appearance of our sole school’s male teacher in our classroom making such an announcement. He’d received the news over the school’s only telephone which was in his room.

One spring the bathrooms all backed up due to some sort of plumbing malfunction and as a result, the older kids took the younger ones outdoors to the shrubs around the sandy playground. It was viewed as an enjoyable adventure.

Once a week Mrs. Millie Cox, the music teacher, would come and visit Garfield to teach music. We all had to buy a Flute-o-phone, a plastic wind instrument, and learn to read music. I dreaded these sessions as I couldn’t figure out how to read music but in the discordant class renditions of Mary Had a Little Lamb I could usually fudge my way through.

If you got sick, you went to the vestibule, all glass, and laid on a fold-up cot to wait for a parent or friend to come and fetch you. It was horrifically hot out there, and if you hadn’t vomited by the time you made the cot you probably would once you got there from the stuffy heat.

There were a lot of good things about the little school, but I recall the lack of support for special-needs kids, who struggled to learn or even read, and even the most well-meaning teacher had no time for remedial work with them. The concept of identifying and supporting such children was more than a decade away. Some of them disappeared completely before we went back into Peshtigo proper for middle school. I remember a few of them, and wonder what happened to them.


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