Memories of Early Aberdeen - BY E. L. Davis
We have mentioned about our first schools having been conducted in privately owned property, first by the Mennonites, and later in the tent by the Presbyterians, but by the time we landed here School Dist. No. 54 had been formed and contained at least three schoolhouses. A Miss Mary Becker, now living in California, taught the one just south of town in 1909. Miss Margaret Giesbrecht taught the small school about eight miles south and west of Aberdeen by the Frank Enns dry farm, and usually called the Frank Enns school. Then she taught the little school just south of Aberdeen for four years, 1911,1912,1913 and 1914, this school being less than half a mile from where she lived at that time, with her folks, on the Giesbrecht corner, now the Walter Hege corner. Mr. Giesbrecht had a pump by the house and people came for miles to haul water from there. Miss Giesbrecht then taught some years way out west. One of the pupils at the Giesbrecht school was our friend, Rev. Edgar Toevs, so the readers would know she was a good teacher, and Mr. Toevs remembers it very vividly. Miss Giesbrecht was county Supt. from 1925 to 1931 and is at present one of Aberdeen's finest teachers.
The local school building was a two room affair at first, and the next year a room was added on the south side. The job of painting the addition was let to the old Aberdeen Hardware crowd, to be the same color, brown, as the two room section. It was painted OK, but it did not turn out to be brown, and it looked funny-but another coat or two of paint made the colors reasonably the same, though they were never exactly the same until the entire building was painted. The old auto owners will remember that Henry Ford used to advertise that one could have any color car he wished as long as it was black. Now we had a school building all the same color, brown.
Mrs. C.L. Meyers taught first in the tent, and Mr. E.W. Harold and Mrs. Mary Jackson, (Marion's mother), taught in the two room building in 1909 and 1910; and the following year, Mr. Harold, Mrs. Jackson.and Mrs. Meyers taught, Mr. Harold being the Supt. or Principal.
About this time, or a little later, our school space beginning to be crowded, an election was called for voting bonds for a new building, and, according to the papers the v6te was a distinct defeat, 127 to 38. After this, the district was divided, and another election called. This time, after a great deal of work and argument, the bond issue carried but the Chairman of the Board heard from it for a long time afterward. In those days the Chairman got the most pay or reward in the form of protests and kicks in general. Many people came right through town to the warehouse to tell him what they thought of the School Board in general, and him in particular. In all fairness, the complaints were largely on the grounds of the size of the contemplated building, or in other words, building so far in the future-20 years was the common guess.
In 1913 the Board spent many nights in meetings, and not a few nights we burned the proverbial "midnight oil", or other lighting equipment. So we were all ready to build in 1914, architect hired, plans studied and contracts let. The $30,000.00 bonds were sold at a premium, and work started. Incidentally, it seems that our old friend, Mr. Henry Hege had arranged with the Townsite Co. for the lots for the first building, and an entire block for the grade building. Some may have wondered how the latter choice property could have been obtained at that late date but Mr. Hege and the Townsite Co. had arranged for this long before. The Townsite Co. donated the property for both sites.
I remember there was a slight hitch in obtaining the cash as promptly as seemed reasonable and we were wondering why. One day, probably two weeks later, the writer received a communication from J. Speyer and Son, a large stock and bond concern in Chicago, about whom he had known when in the building contracting business in that big city, asking whether we had received the money. Immediately I decided that there was a strange man, somewhere in the woodpile, and put in a call for a certain bonding company in Salt Lake City. A lady answered the phone, and upon being asked when the money might be expected she gave the usual, "We will have the money pretty soon now," so I said, "I just had a card from Speyer and Co. and wanted to reply," and quickly she said, "What have they got to do with it?" I answered, "You ought to know," and hung up. I called P.A. Fugate at the bank and explained what had transpired. Paul agreed with me that Salt Lake had the money all right but were simply "stalling". I immediately sent a telegram stating that if the money was on the train the next day, the answer would be held for a day. We received the check OK and all was well again.
As I remember, the contract was let for about $29,500.00, or just about the cost of the heating plant in the new building now under construction. When the present High School was built (the writer was not on the Board then) it cost some $50,000.00. The Board bonded for $30,000.00, but had about $20,000 on hand. Our present new high school bonds called for $288,000 but the building will cost $279,000. The balance will be used for other expenses.
To get back to the grade school. The original plan was to make allowance for building in the form of a letter H, so we built the gymnasium partly outside the main building, intending to build an exact duplicate on the west side to correspond with the east, thus saving the expense of the cross bar of the letter H, but when the figures were given, they were twice as high as that of the present building, which, as stated, already contained the gym, so the Board wisely decided to build elsewhere-hence the present high school building. Now, even the original idea seems fantastic, if only the size of the grade school gym is considered.
As to the prophecy of a building "for 20 years". In a short time we were not only crowded for room but had at least five ugly buildings located between the grade school and the sidewalk on the south. But even the School Board was too optimistic as we sold the original building to the Methodist Church, as stated before, about as soon as the grade school building was occupied, and now with the present high school space all taken, all are anxiously waiting and hoping that the fine, large high school being built, will soon be ready for occupancy.
All this shows progress, as is expected of the people of Aberdeen. The first high school class was graduated on May 18, 1917. Their freshman year was spent in the old church building under the instruction of Prof. E.W. Harold and Miss Mary Reddick. The Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year classes were conducted in the then new grade building under the management of Prof. W.E. Davidson, who was Supt. for several years.
The first graduating class was made up of 3 girls and 1 boy, viz., Miss Harriet Myers, now Mrs. Kettenbach, living in Canada; Gertrude Latimer, now Mrs. Rowland, residing in Hawaii; Clara Newcomb, now Mrs. Frank Dvorak of Aberdeen, Idaho; and Allen Hurt, now living in California. Allen was not here for the graduation exercises as he had joined the armed forces and was in service at the time.
This first class to have been graduated made history for Aberdeen as we were now a full fledged high school, and since, have steadily grown, having taken in scholars from Springfield, Sterling and Grandview schools, until now we are all united into one large school district under the new consolidated system. It does not seem possible, but we have had thirty-four commencement exercises.
Aberdeen has also had its share of honors in the athletic field, having taken many district prizes, and some state prizes in track and basketball and having had the honor of sending one team to Moscow for competition. In 1920 a basketball team having taken the southeastern championship for B teams, was sent to Moscow where it competed with both A and B teams, and placed high against even such competition. This team was composed of the following boys with Frank E. Wedel as their mgr.; Ted Banman, Leonard Johnson, Elwood Ferguson, Karl Duffin, Peyton Hurt, and John L. and Edgar Toevs, and they were joyously received here upon their return.
In 1949 we were the runnerup team at Kimberly, and had beaten the team that copped the district prize in 1950. Leston and his teams are to be congratulated upon their fine showing since he came here as coach.
One person whom I remember very distinctly as a teacher was Magdalena Toevs (now Mrs. Will Dirks), who taught what was called the Pete Goertzen school about 6 miles straight west on the dry farms. When we were homesteading 13/4 miles west of the southwest corner of the townsite, the writer walked to the warehouse most of the time, at other times coming in a "one hoss shay", and every weekday morning he would meet a beautiful young lady of 18 years going west, also using a "one hoss shay". I could see her coming for almost a mile, from the top of the Frank Wenger hill up to the bridge, at Rev. John Toevs place. Almost every morning we would meet at just about the same time, she with rosy cheeks and a cheery smile, and a friendly wave. Magdalene taught that school in 1914 and 1915, 1 think. Miss Florence Cunningham taught it the year before. Both became teachers at Aberdeen, and both had fine records.
The one person to whom the Aberdeen schools and people owe much credit, perhaps more than any other one person, as I see it, is Mrs. Mabel Arms, who began teaching in the high school in February 1925, and has taught every year since, with an enviable record for ability and thoroughness. Mrs. Arms has been honored, I suspect, by more homecoming ex-students than any other here, or perhaps, in the state. These young folks seem to think it is a must to call on her, and seldom fail. I know our five children feel that they must see or talk to Mrs. Arms when they come home. I also know that literally hundreds of others call on her to say "hello", or to receive some advice, and I suppose she has more pictures of these fine folks than any other person here. This means to me that she is honored and respected for what she has transmitted to him or her, through her ability as a teacher, and as a person. Mrs. Arms belongs in the `High Honor' class.
Since our old friend. Mr. E.W. Harold started things here as Supt., we have had, on the whole an exceptionally fine class of superintendents, Mr. Harold was followed by Supt. W.E. Davidson whom most people here will remember, as well as Mrs. Davidson; the next was Mr. Lee Tedford, Mr. L.C. Collister, followed by our present Supt., Roy A Weston, who came in 1929, so has a record of 21 years here. This long record must, almost necessarily, signify a community satisfaction, generally, with his labors. Everyone here knows Roy. He has been a great help in almost every community project started here since 1919the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and etc. In fact, he has been the leader in many of them. He is too well known to need further comment.
In the early days there were only three members on the School Board, but since Dist. No. 54 was changed to Independent Dist. No. 58, there have been five members, which makes for better service.
As an afterthought, perhaps a few words could be added in defense of our teachers. In the early days several erstwhile school teachers had been elected to our school boards and for some unexplainable reason, most of them are against higher salaries for the teachers. Some of us tried to explain that our school teachers should receive living wages, or at least wages equal to that of unskilled laborers. But these men had not received high wages when they were teaching and could not see why our teachers should either. One night, the chairman was trying to get a little more equitable increases for some instructors, as he had always thought most teachers were underpaid, when a Mr. X spoke up and said, "I taught school for $30.00 per month". The chairman replied, "I suppose that was all you were worth, too, wasn't it?" and Mr. X said quickly, "Yes sir, yes sir." We all laughed and Mr. E.B. Coulson, whom many of you remember, often reminded me of that night. Of course, not all ex-teachers are like that fortunately. But Aberdeen cannot afford that kind of teacher either for the "laborer who is worthy of his hire."
CORRECTION-In a previous chapter the statement was made ' that mail came by train immediately after Mr. Henry Hege retired. Mr. Ben Matthies reminds us that he carried mail for about two years after Mr. Hege quit, and later that it was taken by train.