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Country school reunion evokes memories

Staff writer

At least 36 alumni, 15 spouses, and three teachers of the former Waldeck School gathered Oct. 3 at Lehigh to reminisce.

The school, located about three miles northwest of Lehigh at present-day 240th and Chisholm Trail roads, was in operation from 1889 through the 1955-56 session.

Steve Schmidt, owner of the land on which the school was located, led the group in a traditional school day opening.

They gave the salute to the flag, recited The Lord’s Prayer, sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” and answered roll call.

James and Sharon (Goentzel) Bartel of Hillsboro were recognized as two former students who later married.

Verlin Koehn of Wisconsin came the farthest, and
Anna (Thiessen) Penner was recognized as the earliest teacher in attendance. She taught the 1944-45 session.

Five members of the group attended Waldeck through all eight grades: Joyce (Thiessen) Kessler of Lehigh, Jim Ratzloff of Peabody, Verlin Koehn, Maryellyn (Koehn) Stenzel of Marion, and Maynard Koehn of Inman.

Marlon Steinert of Kansas City attended Waldeck from 1928 to 1937. He was one of the oldest alums in attendance. He said the years at Waldeck were a nightmare because he was near-sighted and sat in the back of the room. He went on to graduate from high school and college and became an associate college professor.

Leonard Klassen of Marion said he looked forward to the last day of school because students could eat as much ice cream as they wanted.

“I ate 10 cones,” he said.

Jerome “Jerry” Koehn was a student at Waldeck the last year it was open. He recalled school facilities: a cistern with a pump, outhouses, a horse barn, a bell with a rope, wooden lunch lockers, and desks on runners with ink wells.

“The first morning my mother brought me to school, Miss Jantz wrote ‘Jerome’ on the board,” he said. “I still have the candle from the Christmas program. One time, someone put a firecracker on the window sill during story hour!”

Judy (Prieb) Zimmerman of Concordia said she was a talker and often got into trouble for it. She remembered going up to the front of the school room and sitting on a bench for reading class. Two others were in her grade.

Darlene (Steinert) Balzer of Buhler said drinking water was in a large bucket in the sink. Everyone used the same ladle. Pearl (Winter) Besecker of McPherson remembers, in later years, getting water out of a stone crock with a spigot. Everyone had their own tin cups.

Besecker also remembers days during the winter when students were allowed to skip recesses so they could go sledding on a hill across the road during an extended lunch period. Her family was in charge of getting the school ready for classes every fall.

Maryellyn (Koehn) Stenzel of Marion attended Waldeck all eight grades. She lived one mile west and three-quarters of a mile north of the school.

Teachers at Waldeck often stayed with Elfrieda (Duerksen) Gaeddart’s family. The teacher took the children to school.

“We got to be custodians, cleaning blackboards and erasers, sweeping the floors, getting the pail of water, dusting, and so forth,” Gaeddart recalled. “My older brothers had to carry in the coal for the big stove in the corner, take out the ashes, and clean the horse barn. Then at 8:30 we got to ring the big bell.”

Several students remembered building a hogan or adobe hut during one of the last years of the school’s existence. It was a recess project. They made forms for their own mud bricks. The building had a little window and an east door. A story about it was published in a local newspaper.

Other students recalled riding horses to school. Jerry Plett of Lincolnville attended third grade at Waldeck. He said Leo and Diana Janzen gave him and his brother, Bob, rides on their way to school one day. He had just gotten on Diana’s horse, when it commenced bucking. The lid flew off his lunch bucket, sending its contents flying. When the horse finally calmed down, he got off and walked the rest of the way. He doesn’t remember what, if anything, he had for lunch.

After a noon meal prepared and served by Glenda Schmidt and George and Sharron Schutte, reunion attendees were invited to visit the school site to look for remnants of its existence.

Judging from the excitement generated by the gathering, those former students treasure their memories of country school. They will not forget those days as long as they live.

Last modified Oct. 29, 2009

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