The Star School, and places like it . . . in the past

It’s that time of year again, time for the kids to start wrapping up the school year after being educated and creating memories which will be with them for the rest of their lives.

This morning, I was thinking back to my days in country school and visiting other such rural institutions which do not exist any longer.

One of my favorite memories of visiting my mother’s parents was created by them living near the Star School.

It was a little one-room school house just across the road from their farm east of Elgin.

I spent Kindergarten through eighth grade in a one-room school house of my own, so the one-room nuance wasn’t what made it magical. It was the ability to just run across the road and have a merry-go-round all to ourselves, whenever we wanted.

That merry-go-round also got me in plenty of trouble, as Grandpa Pete delivered his first spanking to me after I rode my bike across that busy, hilly road without looking both ways. I felt so bad about the spanking, I wished I’d been run over by a truck instead.

During the summer, when we’d go to visit, classes were obviously not in session so we could pretty much do what we wanted on that school site. We’d play in the fenced-in yard, peek through the windows of the building where my mother and her siblings sat when they were little.

I remember attending Christmas programs there, as my Aunt Michelle was only four or five years older than me. I remember walking across the road to watch my idol star in the play – and then walking back when it was time for Grandma’s famous chocolate cake and ice cream.

The school closed in 1980 after decades of operation. At that time, all the tiny one-room schools were closing. District 60, where I went to school, also closed with me being one of the last eighth graders to graduate after generations of students walked through the doors.

A few years ago, my Aunt Linda sent me a letter with a newspaper clipping. She explained how the old Star School had stood there so many years, vacant and unused – but it had become time for it to be taken down. I am sad to say I hadn’t been out there for many, many years.

At first, I was surprised the school was still standing at all. My old District 60 became a farm outbuilding for a local farmer; the school near Knievel’s Corner where my siblings finished their country school experience had been turned into a little rural café; and the Park Center School where my husband attended classes was moved into Elgin and restored as a public building.

But the old Star School stood there alone, all those years, overgrown with trees, grasses and weeds which the Elgin Review reported “obscured most of the building from view.”

The man who bought the school property went to the newspaper, saying the school needed to be torn down. But he wasn’t going to do so without holding an open house for those who attended.

“I think the building and former students deserve a chance to say good-bye,” Charlie Meis told the newspaper. “We want to give everyone a chance to gather, share stories and hopefully pictures. It’s sad to see it go, but it has to.”

Aunt Linda provided the date of the open house and invited me to attend. Sure, I never went to classes there, but that little school held a lot of memories for me. And I wanted to see again the place where my mama learned to read.

Unfortunately, I was committed to other things, so I was unable to go. But God bless Aunt Linda, she provided me plenty of moments she shared with my mother as they grew up at the Star School.

“This brings back a flood of memories,” Aunt Linda wrote.

“The school would always have a huge picnic on the last day of school or the Sunday after. We would play ball all day – the parents and the kids. Then Dad would always ask Mom which pan her chicken was in, and her potato salad,” because it was historically a potluck dinner and I guess he felt safe with the chicken he knew.

“They would also hold these box socials to raise money,” Linda remembered. “The girls would decorate a box and fill it with lunch for two . . . and then hope the right boy bought it! It was so much fun.

“Cheri (my mother) and I would wear skirts or dresses to school,” Linda remembered of her sister. “But in the winter, we had to put pants under it! And we loved the big furnace grate on the floor, where we stood to get warm. The little kids would drop colors in there – which of course, would melt and then stink!”

What’s so funny is that when it came to the one-room schools, the experience was the same, generation after generation despite the passage of time. Things in my one-room school were pretty identical to what my parents saw, smelled and did.

Regardless of age, we were all educated in that one room with one teacher. Besides being educated there, we helped with the facilities whether it was carrying water from the neighboring farm, bringing in wood for the stove, pulling weeds around the big cement steps or pulling crayons out of the heater grates as Aunt Linda described.

We all had our favorite trees on those properties – especially if one was strong enough to hold a tire swing. We knew every nook and cranny of those little pieces of land set aside to school the farm kids – and felt sad to leave for town where we embarked on a whole new experience.

The Star School disappeared years ago. But fortunately, my mind is like a steel trap when it comes to remembering happy things. I can vividly picture that little school property where I spun my brothers around on rusty equipment until they threw up, ate ham sandwiches when Grandma would let us have our “own school picnic” and thought about what it was like for my mother to be a little girl.

The Star School, like most other one-roomers, is now history. But it will forever be preserved in the minds of the youngsters who spent their childhoods there . . . and those who maybe just visited now and again.

 

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