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Schools - Pine Island Public 1856-1976 by LBW

(In the January Newsletter we referred to an article about the Pine Island Public Schools written in 1976 by LBW.   The LBW had been a mystery until we recently found reference to it in a 1976 Pine Island newspaper.  Again, thank you to LBW (Louise Buhler Wobig) for the research she did many years ago.)


THE HISTORY OF PINE ISLAND’S SCHOOLS is varied and interesting.  Most interesting of all is that it varies with every source consulted.  (Therefore, if this history is not perfectly true in fact, it is hoped that it will at least be true in spirit and that the reader will forgive the errors that memory can produce.)

THE BEGINNING depends upon which County History one reads.  The town, built in an area which was once the playground and resort area of the Dakota Indians, was settled in 1854 when H. B. Peters built a cabin.  He was followed shortly by Josiah Haggard, Moses and Solomon Jewell and Giles and George Hayward.  Soon wives and children arrived, and in 1856 (according to one History) the first school was started in an abandoned cabin where the Citizen’s State Bank was later located (in 2008, location of Pine Island Bank).  Miss Annette Seek was the teacher.  In 1857 (according to another History) a log school was erected on the north side of the river where Mrs. Arthur Bolles now lives (west of Coop Station, corner of Center Street and 1st Avenue NW, west side).  The teacher here was Thomas McMannus.  No mention is made of the fortunes of Miss Seek.  In 1864 the school was moved to its present location when Moses Jewell donated land for the erection of a brick building.  This was a two-story building, 26’ x 36’, built at the cost of $3000.  A wooden addition was built later to house the high school.

BY 1883 THE POPULATION HAD MUSHROOMED to 656 people in the village and 949 people in the township.  An impressive, two story, ornately gabled, frame building was erected at the cost of $6000.  The new school had 4 large rooms, 2 on each floor.  In the cornerstone of this building was a metal box containing a list of the school officers in 1885.  They were Wm Thomson, Mary Parker, A B Cron, Mrs. Morehouse and W D Marvin.  Teachers were Alice Dibble, Clara Tome and Daniel Hawley.  Also in the cornerstone was a complete listing of students in 1885.  This list can be found in the November 22, 1934 issue of the Pine Island Record.

IN 1887 THE FIRST PIHS GRADUATION was recorded.  Members of the class were Rose Fricke, Anna Burpee, Nettie Perkins, George Swarthout, Philo Jewell and Edward Mellinger.  E B Stevens was the superintendent.  Writing in the Nov 22, 1934 Record, Nettie Perkins, who later taught in the grade school, described that graduation which took place in the High School Room of the “new building, which later became the ‘old frame building’”.  Pine Island reached true educational status when it was declared a State High School in 1892 under Superintendent N L T Nelson.  One of the requirements of a State High School was a certain number of library books, so Sup. Nelson brought his personal library to school to meet the requirement.

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY FOUND PINE ISLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS with a fluctuating school population of 60 to 70 pupils under the direction of Professor Festerson.  Tuition for grade school students from outside the district was $6.  High schoolers paid a fee of 50 cents per term for books.  Classes offered in the high school were German, Latin, Physics, Chemistry, Plane and Solid Geometry, Arithmetic, Algebra, Greek and Roman History, English Lit., Geology, Physical Geography and Natural Philosophy.   Male teachers received $96 per month, females $48.  There were 70 female and 8 male teachers in the County.  Among the more interesting news notes in the early 1990’s – the flipping of pennies on school premises was strictly forbidden, and the use of the Lord’s Prayer in schools violated the Minnesota State Constitution.  In sports, PIHS students participated in football, baseball and both girls’ and boys’ basketball.  Our baseball team, “the Pine Island Young Tigers” wore green and white uniforms and fell to both Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

BY 1903 SOME OF THE SMALL RURAL SCHOOLS had closed, and the town enrollment had swelled to over 200.  New Superintendent L J Montgomery viewed his charges with despair and wrote in the Record that the students were “doing practically nothing” and that the blame lay partly with the parents who were not “sufficiently interested in their children”.  Further disaster fell upon the citizens when the State informed them that they must build a new school in order to remain eligible for State Aid.  Plans were quickly approved for a three-story brick building at the cost of  $10,000.  This new high school (Editor’s note:  School was known as the 1904 building), which was torn down in 1971, was described at its dedication as “commodious quarters for as large a high school as Pine Island is ever likely to have.”  This building had a gym in the basement and a library on the first floor.  The high school (9-12) met in one large room that filled the north half of the second floor, and the chemistry lab was on the 3rd floor.  A most modern feature was the presence of dry closet toilets in the basement.  The first graduates of this school were Anna Zeller and Clara Marvin.

ALTHOUGH THE NEW BUILDING DID HAVE A GYM, its ceilings were so low that basketball was played in the Opera House, and later on the 2nd floor of City Hall.  Harold Swarthout remembers that chicken wire protected the windows from the players, but nothing protected the players from the chicken wire.  The girls got a late start in basketball in 1904 because the newly ordered ball did not arrive.  In the meantime the boys, apparently playing with the old ball, were beaten 39-8 by Red Wing.

MISS RUTH SCHMUCK, CLASS OF 1906, and possibly the oldest living graduate, remembers her school days.  There were usually two women teachers and the Professor, who served as superintendent, teacher, athletic director, disciplinarian and whatever else was required.  Miss Schmuck remembers three professors, Festerson, Montgomery and Bell.  Mr. Montgomery’s interests were purely scholarly, but Mr. Bell was a lover of sports.  He organized the football team, although, according to Hazel Swarthout, a student at the time, not everyone shared Mr. Bell’s love of the sport, and many citizens viewed football as “the most foolish thing you ever heard of”.  Other teachers whom Miss Schmuck remembers were Elsa Pierce, Anna Haase, Nettie Perkins, Mary Chapman, Miss Nickerson and Mabel Rodlum.  Baccalaureate in 1906 was held in the Methodist Church and graduation was in the Opera House.

THIRTY CLASSES WERE TO GRADUATE before the “New Building” became the “Old Building.”  Those years brought many “firsts”.  In 1918 the Van Horn Library was built and in 1920 arrangements were made to have it used by the school children with Mrs. Claude Perkins as the librarian.  This innovation was noted across the country, and Pine Island was often cited as having the best library in the state for a school its size.  In 1919 we joined the State Declamatory Association and began our very successful involvement in this competition.  In 1922 we had a problem.  Ninety-three enrolled in the high school, but the seating capacity was only 72.  Zumbrota had a problem that year too.  Pine Island humiliated them 31-0 in football.  The Record gives this account:  “Friday the 13th was indeed an ill-omened day for Zumbrota.   Honestly, it was a shame to take the money, as they say in story books.”  The credit went to “Doc” Dietz, the coach, and to the boys’ blocking ability.  (The next week we lost to Cannon Falls 20-0.)  Other highlights of 1922 were a course in typing, class pictures cost 35 cents each, the school children earned $30 to buy a radio set, and the average high school graduate earned $1000 per year while the non-grad earned only $500.  Football was played in a field at the south end of Main Street near the river.  The field was later moved northwest of town near where the NSP substation now stands.  In 1923 physical education for every student was required by State law.  In the 1924-25  school year, under Sup Cogswell, letter grades were adopted and the high school offered 21 courses.  Kindergarten classes were held for six weeks in the spring and religious instruction was on the first Thursday of every month.  The school voted for Coolidge, the first official Armistice Day was observed, Scarlet Fever kept many children home, and students were able to buy iodine tablets to prevent goiter.

THE CLASS OF ’25 WAS THE “LARGEST EVER” with 20 graduates.  At some point the school colors changed, for in 1925 sports heroes received maroon and gold PI letters.  In 1928 PI won the District Vocal Music championship, and in 1929 a boys’ band was organized.  The football team was disbanded because of lack of men, the library asked for missing books, no questions asked, Tom Mix was playing at the Blue Mouse Theatre, our kindergarten was declared illegal because we had no Normal Dept, and this note appeared in the Record, “Autoists driving past the school grounds are requested to drive slowly.  Occasionally someone goes by as though he were going to a fire or his mother-in-law’s funeral.”

NINETEEN THIRTY ONE WAS A YEAR TO REMEMBER.  The football team won 4 of 5, the basketball team 8 of 10 and the baseball team was undefeated.  The first PTA was organized with Mrs. Baltz Alberts as president, and Miss Ella Burreson (later Mrs. Reiter) arrived to influence 3 decades of students and to produce several “firsts” of her own.  One of these “firsts” was the Junior-Senior Prom in 1932 held in a City Hall decorated with hundreds of paper sweet peas.  There were no married female teachers (Miss Burreson changed that when she became Mrs. Reiter) and a woman’s smoking was cause for dismissal as a teacher.

UNDER SUPERINTENDENT HOPPE IN 1933, the school found itself over crowded once again.  Faced with the lost of State Aid with 60% of its students bringing in State paid tuition, the community quickly decided to build.  A $60,000 bond issue was passed, and with an addition $30,000 WPA grant the school was underway.  The old frame building scheduled to be town down was struck by lighting in June of 1934 and burned to the ground leaving only the chimney and cornerstone.  The new high school was dedicated on Nov 21, 1934 when Dr. C B McKaig presented the new building to the community and H H Billings accepted on behalf of the taxpayers.  School started late because of the construction, and classes met on Saturdays to make up the time.  The Junior Class Play, “Huckleberry Finn” was presented on the Maroon velvet curtained stage.   The auditorium was also put to use for boys’  basketball, the Junior-Senior Prom, lyceums and assemblies as well as for regular gym classes.  Great was the wonder of the elementary students as they lined up at the back door to enter that marvelous place!

THERE WERE 269 PUPILS IN 1935 at the average cost to the taxpayer of $67.98 per pupil.  Miss Ruth Ackerman organized a high school band beginning with 25 members and 8 instruments.  In 1938 a partial hot lunch program was begun with cocoa and one hot thing prepared by Mrs. Sadie Rehling.  This later was expanded to full hot lunch, and for years students reveled in Mrs. Linder’s apple crisp.  By 1940 pep fests were being held, the girls’ octet went to the State Vocal Contest and the baseball team finished 3rd in the Class A State Tournament.  The Class of ’41 and Miss Burreson scored a “first” with their publication of the “Pine Log” edited by Shirley Baumgartner.  This “first” was an “only” until the Class of ’50 published the second year book.  In 1940 the athletic field was purchased for $1000 and in 1941 a new 42 passenger bus picked up students near Oronoco and carried teams to out of town events.  The first school patrol was organized in 1941 with Tony Stucky, James Klann, James Noehl, Donald Berg , Geo. Dickenson, Robert Mott and Jack Jasperson.  In 1942 the milk program for school children began and in 1944 hot lunch cost $10 per year or 10 cents per meal.  The Home Ec Dept moved into the high school in 1945, and Mr. Russman came to teach English, Science and basketball and stayed to become the school principal and to make “Aaah” a household word for students of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

THE FIFTIES STARTED OUT WITH SOME GOOD NEWS AND SOME BAD NEWS.  The music students under Miss Farrell and Mr. Luehrs won 9 A’s at the District Music Contest, but the basketball team won 1 and lost 9.  Movies were held in the gym because the theater burned down.  We had 3 school buses, enrollment was 431, and in spite of a 7-6 loss to Zumbrota, PI won the Conference Championship in football.  The Dodge County League became the Wasioja Conference in 1951.  (Wasioja means all the territory drained by the Zumbro.)  The PI basketball team took this new conference by storm.   Who can forget the 50-54 loss to Rochester in the District 3 finals?  Who can forget the ’52 season when PI won 12 straight before falling to Winona in district play?  And who can forget that Richard “Gut” Waldron scored 44 points in a sub-district game?  It is at this point that we come to the PERPLEXING PANTHER PUZZLE.  No one has forgotten those days of glory, but has anyone remembered the end of the Islanders?  When did the Panthers spring upon us?  Was it in 1950 when Pat Ryan reportedly named them in a contest she no longer remembers?   Was it in 1954 when the Record calls us Islanders one week and Panthers the next?  Did the Panthers begin in football and spread slowly?  If you remember (for sure) please tell everyone else, for this writer has found no two people who remember it in the same way.

THE FIFTIES WERE FILLED WITH FIRSTS – the first Polio vaccine, the first Tip Top Canteen, the first Drivers Ed, the first Girls’ Stater, Lillian Holst in 1954.  And there were some “lasts” as well.  The last of the rural schools were closing as consolidation advanced.  PIHS became severely overcrowded.  Seventh and eight graders were shifted to “7th Heaven” (the 3rd floor of the old building).  Mrs. Dickman’s library study hall overflowed.  A new school was again on the drawing board.  Plans were presented in 1954 for a one-story building, but by the time the school was finished in 1956, the need was such that it had been changed to a two-story building.  As the new high school began to take shape on the south bank of the Zumbro, the Class of ’56 became the last graduates of the old high school, and the school board began the sale of the rural schools which had been “home” to generations of elementary school children.  The 1956-57 school year began under Superintendent W. C. Hanson with 405 elementary students starting on Sept. 4th.  Vacation for the 340 older students continued until Sept. 20.  Even at that late date the school was far from finished, and construction continued at night and on weekends.  When finally completed in December, the school boasted a library, a gym with 420 fixed seats and 480 bleacher seats (and a floor consisting of 45,616 pieces of rock maple 1’ long by 2’ wide), 12 classrooms and 44 special department rooms.  It was a marvel, but within 15 years it was once again to be overcrowded.

THE CLASS OF ’57, THE FIRST TO GRADUATE FROM THE NEW SCHOOL was also distinguished by having one of its members set an attendance record.  Carol Ronningen was honored on Awards Day for 6 years of perfect attendance.  In 1958 plans were approved for a two-story addition to the 1934 building, and in 1959 the elementary addition was completed.  Growth continued in the 60’s – the Class of ’65 was the first ever to have over 60 graduates, and Class of ’69 numbered 82 (the largest to date).  The school ended ties with the Van Horn Library in 1965 when the elementary library was moved into the elementary building.  Curriculum in both elementary and high school underwent great change as new programs were begun.

BUT PERHAPS THE GREATEST CHANGE OF ALL occurred on February 18, 1963 when John Rossi died while at his job at the school.  For over fifty years he had served Pine Island Public Schools.  Although his title was custodian, four generations of students knew him as advisor, jester, judge, mediator, morale builder, law maker and friend.  Any person who went to school under John Rossi hesitates before walking across the grass and views with horror the paths in evidence around the old high school.  We remember him raising the flag, stoking the furnace, unlocking the doors, proclaiming, “save the women and children first”.  We remember him with his 1951 blue Chevy, a gift from his former students.  The students, the teachers, the buildings themselves came and went, but for over 52 years John Rossi was Pine Island Public Schools.  How right it was that the school flag should have flown at half mast when he died.

THE LATEST ADDITION.  By 1969 the school was once again bulging.  Three sections of the 6th grade were back in the 1904 building, there was no space for kindergarten, the high school needed more lab and class room space.  A $375,000 bond issue was finally approved, and an addition was built connecting the elementary and high school buildings.  In March of 1971, the schools moved into the new addition.  The building featured one cafeteria and one library for combined use by both schools, the old cafeteria was made into office space and classrooms, the sewing room became the Physical Sciences Lab, and a new sewing room was in the new addition. The capacity of the new school is 1200 students.  In June of 1971 the 1904 building, remembered variously as the new high school, the old high school, the grade school and the old grade school was torn down.

SO WE ARRIVE AT THE PRESENT (1976).  The elementary faculty numbers 35, including 6 male teachers as opposed to 0 males in the 50’s.  Elementary education is more departmentalized and allows more emphasis on the individual and his needs.  The high school offers over 100 subjects with 33 faculty members.  Girls are competing in track, gymnastics, volleyball and basketball.  PI continues to do well in music and speech contest and to go up and down in sports.  (1975-76 was a winning year.)  Through a gift from Leon Hayward with additions by Ida Kettner and the PTA, a scholarship fund with assets of almost $100,000 is available for student use.  PI hired it’s first woman school bus driver as Ralph Stussy continues to oversee 11 buses which pick up 700 students.  On the darker side, PI endured its first bomb threat, and more seriously the school is once again bulging.  Built for 1200 students, it will greet 590 elementary and 550 secondary students when the doors open tomorrow. (This includes a 7th grade class of over 115 students.)  State requirements for equal opportunity for male and female students put severe pressure on the available facilities.  After 120 years Pine Island Public Schools remain a central issue in the community.  We do not know what solution the community and school will find for the present problem.  We do know that for those of us who have gone before, Pine Island Public Schools have helped prepare us well for life.  We are confident that Pine Island will continue in its own fine tradition.

***Special thanks to Hazel and Harold Swarthout, Ella and Harold Reiter, Ruth Schmuck, Jean Hoppe, Dorothy Bloom, Arnold Wobig, Midge Jackson and the Pine Island Record Staff for their help and memories.  LBW***

(Reprinted in Pine Island Area Historical Society Newsletter  April 2008)