School experiences have changed,
but graduation is still a thrill

This article written by Connie Williams.

Logo (Editor's note: For the next year, we will present a series of articles that examine the years around 1900. Our purpose is to provide a comparison of the beginning of the 20th Century to its upcoming end.

The author, Connie Williams, is doing graduate work in history at St. Cloud State University and has worked at the Paynesville Area Museum for several summers.

As graduation draws near and young people go out into the world to spread their wings, here are graduations and other school experiences to reminisce about.

The first New Paynesville commencement exercises were held on June 8, 1889, from the first school built in New Paynesville (the school stood just north of where the Paynesville Area Elementary School and District Offices now stand and was destroyed by fire in 1911). There were only two graduates in that first class­Burt Cameron Haines and Rebecca Barbara Schmidt.

Graduation ceremonies were actually held at Tuttle's Hall (the current Color Max building), because the school had no auditorium. Music for the ceremony was provided by Latterall's Orchestra, a local group of musicians. The board of education consisted of Pete W. Ross, superintendent; R.J. Tuttle, president; W.A. Huntington, clerk; and Augus Haines, Edward Gale, J.H. Boylan, and C.A. Zabel.

Henry Sunde was raised on a farm southwest of Paynesville. Born in 1906, he started school in 1913 at District #97, where there were 45 children in one classroom. At the time, he could only speak Norwegian, but he started learning English that year. He said he was shy when the teacher asked him a question and let his sister answer for him.

Sunde went only through the eighth grade, which was common in those days. "Kids were brought up to work. There was no such thing as being bored," he said.

Sunde received his first long pants in 1921. The pants were bought at Arleigh Behr's clothing store in Paynesville.

Before graduation in the spring of 1921, the eighth graders were given an examination. Sunde doesn't remember how many were in his class, but only he among the boys and some of the girls took the test. The other boys and girls chose not to. Only those who took the exam and passed could graduate.

Graduation day was July 1921, but school had let out about a month earlier. Graduation was held in Willmar for all the eighth graders in the whole county. On graduation day, he and his mother took a horse and buggy from their farm to the town of Irving, where Art Borsheim, drove them along with Borsheim's younger brother, Arnold who was also graduating, and his mother the rest of the way to Willmar in a Model-T Ford. A group picture of all the graduates was taken. He and the other boys were dressed up in suits and the girls in fancy dresses.

Kids, especially boys in those days, were taught about the importance of work. Work came first, school second in many cases. Sunde remembers when he was in school, "I would wish the school would burn down so I could stay home and plow."

Two of Sunde's older sisters, Emma Christensen and Clara Borsheim, went on to high school in Paynesville. They lived on a farm so they had to board in town during the school week. There were no school buses in those days. Their mother cooked up and packed their lunches for the whole week. She also made and sent meatballs and roasted meat back to town with them. Sometimes they bought a pork chop for five cents, and cooked it on a kerosene stove in their room.

Josephine Marshall graduated from Paynesville in 1928. She was the salutatorian of her class and gave a speech at graduation. She was from the country and boarded at different homes in town while in high school.

Marshall went on to St. Cloud Teachers College for two years and then taught in-termediate grades for four years in country schools.

Some of her classmates were Irene McGraw, Peter Anton, Evelyn Nehring, Margaret Blakely, Genevieve Jahns, Russel Anton, and L. Jeanne Brown.

Lura (Huntington) Webb said there were no school buses for the farm children, but some of the parents would organize and pool rides for group of students from their area. Many rural girls still would work for their board and room with families in town or two or three girls would rent a small upstairs apartment.

Clarys (Sheldon) Anderson did that. She used to haul oven-warmed bricks upstairs to her frigid room where she covered up with warm wool quilts. When her parents butchered beef and pork, they would share this with the family as payment for her room. Anderson also sewed dresses for the family's little girls.

Webb noted that there was no school lunch program in those days; you either went home for lunch or brought your own sack lunch to school.

The school didn't have typing or bookkeeping classes or band or chorus. Webb was disappointed because she wanted to take music lessons and shorthand in the worst way.

Basketball was considered too strenuous for girls, but girls were allowed to participate in track and relay races.

These were depression days so there was no prom, but there was a junior-senior banquet hosted by one of the churches.

There were 33 graduates from Paynesville in 1935. Webb was the salutatorian. "Of course, there were no caps and gowns to wear. In the depression times, we were lucky to have a new dress or suit for the occasion. Many of the girls sewed their own dresses," commented Webb.

It was 1949 when Harry Schuelke came to teach at Paynesville. At that time, there were nine elementary staff, 12 junior/senior high staff, and two administrators. Lewis Thompson was the superindendent and Merel Hough was the prinicpal. There was one secretary.

Schuelke says dreams were more local then and more worldly now, but dreams are still dreams. Then and now students feel the same excitementŠand fears. The last days of school are filled with heart-pounding excitement. There is so much to do and so little time left to do it. Plus, spring and warm weather are here. The smell of lilacs and apple blossoms in bloom, and senior skip day. But in 1949 there were no class trips.

It was popular to put baby pictures in the yearbook. One photographer took all the senior pictures for the yearbook. Then he made a class composite. This is where the individual student pictures were put together to make one big picture. Sometimes the composites were placed as a spread on the inside covers of the yearbook.

There was a banquet and prom held in the gym, which had been built in 1941 and is now the elementary gym.

Graduation also was held there. Commencement in those days usually had a keynote speaker, like a college president, but the valedictorian and salutitorian each gave a short speech. Small parties were held at the homes of graduates.

Schuelke said five out of 42 students (or 11 percent) went on to college that year. Vocational schools were practically unheard of at that time.

Dick Hiemenz, retired band teacher from Eden Valley, started teaching there in 1953. He said girls thought they could only be teachers, secretaries, or nurses. Farm kids would miss a lot of school because of having to help on the farm. Kids had nicknames like Squeak, Spike, Smiley, and Curly. They wore class rings, and had a prom and banquet at school.

Even though dreams have differed during the years, the thrill of graduation is the same throughout time.

(The June Turn of the Century column will be about weddings.)

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