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Memories of Strasburg No. 2

Teachers, Students recall time spent at this Pierce County country school

Wurgler, Edie. "Memories of Strasburg No. 2." Pierce County Tribune, 21 March 2009, 1 & 9.


Editor's Note: This is one in a series of stories focusing on past educators and students who spent part of their time teaching or attending area country schools.

Linda Heisler Bischoff remembers very little about her start in education.

“It’s so vague,” she says. “It was 50-some years ago.”

Linda, of rural Rugby, attended first grade at Strasburg School #2 in the far south reaches of Pierce County for only a few months before her family moved to Devils Lake.

Edith Lesmeister Ripplinger, Linda’s first grade teacher, didn’t stay at Strasburg #2 much longer than Linda. Financing her college education with a $300 loan from the state of North Dakota, Edith taught only the required one term, just long enough for her loan to be forgiven, before moving on.

In the early 1950s rural school districts couldn’t find teachers willing to put up with the hardships of one-room schools, so the state offered a scholarship in the form of a $300 loan. The agreement stipulated that a teacher must serve in a one-room rural school for one year or repay the money.

“They couldn’t get rural school teachers any more,” Edith said. “Everybody wanted to teach in town.” So in the fall of 1954, following 15 months of college, Edith began teaching in Strasburg School District #21, School #2 of the four schools in the district.

Edith started her own education in Alexanter Township at Strasburg #1, just a few miles from where she started her career. Her freshman and sophomore years were spent at Selz, which had only two years of high school, and she graduated from Harvey High School in 1953.

That summer she enrolled at Minot State Teachers College for a three-month session. By the fall quarter she had received the $300 scholarship, which paid tuition and books plus room and board for 12 months. To earn extra money she worked part-time cleaning her dormitory and helping in the library.

Shirley Schneider Leintz of Harvey also attended first grade at Strasburg #2 and recalls a major change Edith made in her life. The Schneiders spoke only German at home so Shirley started school not knowing English, a situation she thinks was fairly common at the time.

Fortunately, Edith also had grown up speaking German, and that made Shirley’s transition to speaking and reading the new language much easier. Shirley’s age was also an advantage. “When you’re that young, you pick it up,” she said.

Edith wasn’t as successful with another endeavor on Shirley’s behalf. Shirley was left-handed, and at the time that was considered a serious handicap. Many parents and teachers tried mightily to turn lefties to the right, and Shirley recalls Edith making a half-hearted attempt to get her to switch, but it didn’t work. Edith says she didn’t believe left-handedness was the curse that some others thought it was.

Linda Bischoff’s major concern those first few weeks was reading class. “I remember being so scared because we had these little books to take home and I thought, ‘I don’t know how to read’,” she said with a laugh.

Neither first grader seemed intimidated by the older students and having to share one room with seven other grades. In fact, Shirley thinks it was an advantage. “The older students kind of looked out for you,” she said.

The school building itself had its own share of challenges for students and teachers. It had no running water or indoor plumbing, so someone had to haul water on a regular basis. Students brought their own lunches. In cold months the teacher started the stove in the morning and students kept their coats on until the room got warm. There was no busing, so students either walked or were brought to school by their parents. Edith drove the few miles from her family’s farm, sometimes picking up students on her way.

Wild animals occasionally tried to make homes under buildings out on the prairie, and school houses were a convenient target. Edith remembers the hassle of removing a family of skunks. School was called off while men of the community tried to smoke or gas them out. That turned out to be the easy part. Getting rid of the smell was much harder, and several remedies were tried, including burning sugar on the stove, which made a terrific stench but didn’t totally eliminate the skunk odor. In time it dissipated and classes resumed.

Dewaine Pfau of Ukiah, Calif., was a student at Strasburg the year Edith taught. He remembers reading a lot, but says students didn’t play too many games in their free time. The Pfaus also spoke German, and Dewaine says he remembers once answering a test question in German because he couldn’t think of the English word. Unfortunately, he said with a laugh, it was the right answer but the wrong language, and he didn’t get credit.

Because there were so many classes and areas of study to be covered in a day, teachers didn’t always have a lot of time for individual students. “They taught you the best they could with so many different grades,” Dewaine said. “They kind of pointed you in the direction they wanted you to go and then would answer questions you would have.”

According to Edith, state exams were the most important tests given all year because students had to pass them to graduate. She recalls writing them as a student as well as administering them as a teacher. Agriculture and health were tested in seventh grade, she remembers, and math, English, science and history in eighth. Some years the tests were extremely hard, other years much easier, she said.

“They would pull a line out of a poem,” Edith said, “and you had to identify the poem and the poet.” On the ag test, “Students had to know breeds of cattle, sheep and hogs, plus varieties of grains.” The wide range of test subjects reflected the rural heritage of North Dakota, plus acknowledged the fact that prior to the 1950s a number of students did not go on to high school.

After her year of teaching at the country school, Edith returned to Minot State in the fall of 1955 and received her standard diploma, which qualified her to teach in town schools. She took off for the bright lights and big city of Stanley, teaching there for two years before returning to Pierce County, where she taught at Balta and later Orrin.

 A declining number of students led Orrin patrons to vote to close their school and bus the students to Rugby.

However, that wasn’t the end of Edith’s career. “I was lucky enough to get a position when the Orrin district joined Rugby,” Edith said.

In 1993, after teaching for 37 years, Edith retired. Following retirement she ranched with her husband, Joe, until he passed away last June. Now she keeps busy looking after her 96-year-old mother, spending time with her grandchildren and taking part in community activities and organizations.

She, and other rural teachers, had a lasting impact on their pupils, according to Dewaine Pfau. “They were all very giving,” he says of the instructors he remembers. “They wanted to teach you.” And he adds, “If you run into any of them, thank them from me.”

Printed with permission of the Pierce County Tribune, Rugby, North Dakota
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