9:37 PM EDT, July 13, 2013
SIPESVILLE — Many folks cherish their high school reunions but, for one select group, nothing beats recalling the hijinks at their one-room elementary school.
With that in mind, several dozen attendees of the long-defunct Walker Grove School in Somerset gathered Saturday to swap stories and renew old friendships.
And what tales there were.
Most of them concerned creative ways of canceling or delaying classes. Trapping a spraying skunk under the building, “accidentally” locking the teacher out, plugging up the chimney and even breaking windows are all part of the history.
“Kids are kids,” said featured speaker and long-time Somerset County educator Karl Kale who, though he didn’t attend Walker Grove, seems to know quite a bit about one-room schoolhouses.
“Walker Grove School never left. You can very plainly see the outline of the foundation,” he told the crowd of about 60 gathered at the Sipesville Fire Hall for a meal and trip down memory lane.
Kale then took the audience on an imaginary journey through the school — see the heating stove in the corner, the slate board, the teacher’s desk and the wooden floorboards. First- and second-graders can be spotted reading “Little Black Sambo,” material he would not suggest to be used today.
And he’d done his homework.
“You were fortunate at Walker Grove School. You had an outhouse,” he said, noting that some one-roomers did not.
The school — holding pupils from grades one through eight — dated to 1891 and closed its doors in 1954. Kale said in 1929 the county hosted as many as 205 one-room schools.
The afternoon appeared to be a big hit. Graduate Earl Mey drove down from Michigan with his wife to attend.
“The smallness of the school helped to keep people close,” he said. “By high school, there’s too many people.”
He said he’d received a good education there due to “the closeness of the teacher to the kids — more individualized training. You could learn what was coming up next year by listening in.”
Hazel Kinsinger attended with her two sisters, Ruth Nicholson and Dorothy Walker. All three are from Somerset.
Kinsinger could recall riding a horse to school one time, guided by her father.
“The snow was too deep,” she said.
Walker said she didn’t fuss about going to school with the younger kids.
“You didn’t have any choice at that time,” she said. “You got what you got. (And) you didn’t make noise.”
The eight-member organizing committee for the reunion was headed up by Mary Jane Bell.
“I think it’s terrific,” she said. “There’s kids I saw two years ago (at an earlier reunion) that I haven’t seen since 1949 and now they’re completely gray. It’s fantastic.”
A.J. Walker was the emcee. Somerset County Commissioner Pam Tokar-Ickes also attended.