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One-room school teachers, students reminisce

September 20, 2009
By Fritz Busch

Students and teachers who attended the former Brown County District 10 one-room schoolhouse in Sigel Township fondly recalled their younger days Sept. 12 during a grade school reunion at Hermann Heights Park.

Alpha (Wech) Fussner of New Ulm taught three years at the school, before all one-room schools in Minnesota consolidated with larger school districts in 1971.

The reunion brought back lots of fond memories, especially for Fussner.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Fritz Busch
The former District 10 schoolhouse on Brown CSAH 11 was also the former Sigel Town Hall.

"We got along well together," she said. "Students were very good about helping each other. They were really good kids."

The brick schoolhouse along Brown CSAH 11, south of the Cottonwood River later housed the Sigel Town Hall before it was boarded up.

A traveling library offered books to students at the school.

Musical instruction was provided by a traveling music teacher.

A Hanska native, Fussner taught in rural schools for a dozen years and lived in New Ulm most of her life.

Former one-room schoolhouse students at the reunion included Linda (Guttum) Stadtherr of New Ulm.

She attended the District 10 school for five years before it closed.

Stadtherr said the consolidation was a bit of a shock at first.

"It was a real eye-opener for me. I didn't realize there were that many kids my age in the world until I went to school in New Ulm," she added. "There were four kids in my class in Sigel and 12 kids in the school."

Stadtherr said students tended to learn more in a one-room school than students in larger schools.

"After consolidation, students said they were more (academically) advanced than the kids they were put in class with," Stadtherr said. "We learned a lot more students in big schools by watching the older student's classes.

During most of the school year, she rode a bicycle 2 1/2 miles to and from school.

"It was great, a lot of fun," Stadtherr added. "Everyone was like family. Mrs. (Wech) Fussner made birthday cakes for all her students."

Some of her other memories including eating lunch quickly so students could play kickball longer afterwards.

Ron Saffert attended the Sigel school in the 60s when enrollment reached one its highest levels at 33 students.

Some of his favorite memories include "huge" Christmas programs in which half-day practices began after Thanksgiving in the upstairs part of the school.

Everyone in the entire school district attended Christmas programs.

In springtime, students brought rakes and shovels to school and cleaned up the entire school yard, built a bonfire and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.

"I think it was a good learning situation," Saffert said. "By the end of sixth grade, we had heard the lectures six times and were using eighth grade books."

Jane Soukup of New Ulm said she enjoyed three recesses a day at the Sigel school.

"We played lots of games including girls against the guys football and the girls usually won," Soukup said. "We really had some athletic girls who were pretty fast."

She said everybody was either your sibling or neighbor so you had to get along and everybody had to know their lessons.

"You knew you were going to get called on to answer questions in class," Soukup added. "Not much changed, except for teachers leaving once in a while or kids graduating from grade school. Plus the student-teacher ratio was very low. Teachers knew exactly what you did and didn't know. You learned a lot and it really stuck because of the repetition."

Teaching duties in 1872 included items not done today:

Daily filling lamps and cleaning chimneys.

Haul a bucket of water and scuttle of coal into the school.

Male teachers can court one night a week, two if they regularly go to church.

After 10 hours in school, teachers may spend their remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

Female teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.



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