Rock River Valley School
Joint District No. 5
Town 7N, Range 14E, Section 1
Teachers: Mary Jo Landowski (1939) Mr. Vetke(1940-41) Luanda Wendt (1941-43)
Mrs. Tekla Springer(1943-48) Mrs. Rose Thelke (1948-51) Mrs. Hazel Thompson (1951-52)
Mary Jo Landowski was the teacher in 1939. She had no boys in the lower grades to play Tiny Tim in the Christmas play, so she brought her younger brother Mark to play the part. She was fired by the school board when she told them of her engagement.
The school had a small storage area on the front end for storing wood used to heat the building, and any other items not affected by the changes in the weather. As one entered the classroom, one would be at the back of the classroom and a coat rack would be to one’s right and a pot-bellied, wood burning stone and a drinking water crock would be on ones left. There was no well on the property, so every morning before school 2 students would walk to the farm to the east of the school and carry water which was taken from a spring near the farm buildings.
The desks were lined up going from the south to the north, with the older children seated in the rear of the room and on up to the front with the smaller children. The teacher’s desk was on the north end of the classroom which was raised up one step as sort of a stage across the entire north end about 6-8 feet deep. The restrooms were at the back of the lot, boys on the left and girls on the right. Memories by: Donna Uttech Wahl
Donald Freson remembers being in 8th grade in 1932, at River Valley School. Some of the students then were: Eldyn Lenz, Walter Wendt, Dettmanns, and Kreuzigers. There were 12 children in the Freson family, so they were in attendance for a number of years.
Dean Freson said they played softball in the neighbor’s pasture and used the trees for bases. The coal bin was in the front entryway of the school building. Water was carried from a flowing artesian well located on the Kaddatz farm. During 1942-43 they had a scrap iron drive for the war effort and the pile at their school was 100 feet long, 30 feet wide, 20 feet high stretching from the road to the fence behind the school. During the depression years the government gave peanut butter, flour and butter to the families in the district.
The enrollment in school was 13 to 16 students most of the time. Some teachers were: Helen Huebel, Mrs. Landowski, Mrs. Luanda Wendt, and Mrs. Springer. Students remembered were Fred, Ed, and Helen Draeger, Merlin and Cliff Witte, Fred, Faith, and Joanne Dettmann, Vernon Wrensch, Ralph, Donna and Audrey Uttech, Don, Dean, Ray, Eugene, Margaret, Lucille, James, Robert, Jerry and Leroy Freson. From Donald and Dean Freson
The present Rock River Valley School stands on the exact site of the first school in the district. Early settlers took advantage of the agricultural opportunities offered in the surrounding area and consequently there was a very large population. A need for a school was felt, and all were in favor of a building to meet their needs. The first school was built more than 100 years ago. It was very small building; built of roughly hewn boards; and was bricked on the inside and plastered between the bricks. The hard benches were just planks and because there were not sufficient seats for all at the table, those reading would sit on benches near the windows, while those who wrote were granted the privilege of sitting at the table.
A box type stove was used in the early days. About 3 cord of wood were used each year and the cost never exceeding $12.00 in all.
There was no provision made for light. On dark days the children read as much as possible. The school day was the same length as our present day namely 9:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 4:00 o’clock.
During these early years, there were no grade levels, only upper, middle, and lower form. A child went to school until he completed the upper form or was obliged by circumstances to withdraw from school. Children enrolled at the age of four and some attended until they were 20. The boys very seldom attended regularly during the spring term but went during the fall or winter term. The spring term was 2 or 3 months long, the winter one being of about 4 months in length.
During the early years only reading, writing, arithmetic, and spelling were taught. Later Geography was added and at still a later date language and history.
The district in the early years was known as District Number 5, Town of Milford. In 1871 it became a joint district adding land in Range 14, Town of Aztalan. The portion had belonged to District Number 6 (Tyler School). This fact is recorded in an old record book in the presence of the officers of both school district and the official of both townships.
About 1880 the old school no longer met the needs of the community. A larger school was needed to accommodate the increased enrollment.
In May of 1881 the old school was sold at an auction for $5.00, and the stove for $1.50. During that summer the new school was built of two thicknesses of brick. These were purchased from Kemmeter’s brickyard, Jefferson for $87.00 for 15,000 brick. The rate was $5.80 a thousand. Today at present prices of $70 a thousand, these would cost $1050.00.
The parade of teachers had indeed marched on, with this year; the school has employed 49 teachers. Only two men have seen duty here. Each for 2 years. Up to 1907, the school terms varied but 7 months was the average school year. From 1907 to the present the school term became 9 months in length.
The entire community was predominately German, so in the earlier years, all classes were taught in German. But around 1907 the children were using English exclusively. The parents felt that the German should not be forgotten and consequently, the board hiring a teacher requested her to teach German, 2 half days a week, German readers were furnished and the children were taught to read, write and carry on a correspondence. However, the teacher was not to receive any extra wages for this service.
From the beginning of the school to the present date, many improvements were made both to the exterior and interior of the building and with the addition of electric lights, dark days do not bother.
Although many changes took place from year to year some of the old settler’s children and grandchildren still live in the neighborhood and can recall many events told by their forefathers. The oldest living person at present, who attended the first school lives at Lake Mills and is now 94 years old.
Education marches on, but no one can take away the fond memories of long ago.
By: Mrs. Rose Thelke, Teacher
This schoolhouse was given to the Johnson Creek Historical Society by John Higgins in 2003