It’s coming up on 8 years since Ann and I retired after teaching a total of 70 years at Tomah High School. Eight good years, with travel, grandkids, church work, pinochle club. Hobbies of jogging, bicycling, flying RC planes (when I don’t wreck them), crossword puzzles.
We have four books out there, three science books and a memoir book of growing up on a farm in Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin, attending a one-room country school, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers.
The Seneca Seasons book is what they call a niche book, of most interest to those who lived and grew up in the time frame of the 1940s and 1950s. We go out and do a lot of book talks concerning the book and that era, a PowerPoint of about 300 slides, stories of the farm, school, Church, and family. Some of the slides are the 51 sketches by artist Fred Weiner.
Folks often come up to us after our talk and say things like “I remember things just like the way you described.” Many of them attended a one-room country school, some taught in such a school. That makes sense because if you lived in rural Wisconsin in that time period, you would have many shared memories. We’ve presented Seneca Seasons talks to many libraries, senior centers, Sons of Norway, and church groups.
With a background in science teaching, we do about 25 programs a year for schools, Museums, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. These are gee whiz, high interest, kid participation, Mr. Wizard type, demonstrations with brief explanations of the principles involved. We’ve done these programs for groups as few as 10 and as many as 600.
The current physics teacher at Tomah High School is Oakley Moser, a former student of mine. He is very good at his job, a Kohl Award recipient, and science department chair. We do programs together at the Deke Slayton Museum, the Parenting Club at Winnebago Park, and our latest venture, a monthly 5-minute Science Lab television program for LYNXX-24.
We have another venture. Ann and I traveled through Israel in October of last year, 2017. It was a marvelous trip through the Holy Land, and we put together a PowerPoint of that trip that we’ve presented to Church groups in our area. It has been well received and no rocks have been thrown at us!
Jerusalem, the Old City, Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross) Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, tomb of David, the Western Wall, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Megiddo, Masada, Sea of Galilee, Church of the Annunciation, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Sea of Galilee, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. We discuss the political situation, the West Bank, and the views of three major religions.
Retirement has been very rewarding for us thus far. Health is everything and we been blessed with good health (knock on wood). We continue to write a weekly science column for The Tomah Journal newspaper, a monthly account of Knights of Columbus, and periodic pieces for The Country Today agricultural newspaper, The Catholic Life magazine, Monroe County Herald, and a number of monthlies.
The last farm on the trek home from school was the Bernier farm, purchased or rented by the Powers. Alan and Frieda did not have any children that I remember, but took that Tom Wills boy in. Both the Powers are buried in the Dickson cemetery at the top of Lynxville Hill. Their tombstones state Allan Powers (1905-1989) and Freda (1911-?)
Once we passed the Bernier farm, we were on the edge of the Scheckel property. We walked the long slope to the bench where stood the lone oak tree and a view of the back of our barns and granary and up the final small slope to the farmstead. We were home.
When I was seven or eight years old, to walk that mile seemed like an eternity. Once home it was time to change into farm clothes, Take off the school clothes, hang them on a clothes tree, put on the older blue jeans and shirt, then fix a slice of bread with jelly and peanut butter, have a glass of milk, and then out to do the chores.
It was the Kozelka kids that we walked with most of the way to school and back. Gloria Kozelka was called “morning glory” after the obnoxious weeds that grew in the cornfields and wrapped around the cornstalks. Morning glories had beautiful flowers that closed up at night and opened in the morning sunlight. Numerous times Phillip, Bob and I were sent to the cornfields to pull the morning glories up by the roots.
There was no known relationship between Gloria and morning glories. We just couldn’t come up with a better name. It seemed like we all had nicknames for each other. One of the boys we called “squeak”, which he resented big time. When you’re a kid, you tend not to think how cruel a nickname can be. We also knew nothing of political, ethnic or religious correctness. That would come much later in life.
We called Nancy Kozelka “Nancy Goat”, a really bad play on “nanny goat”. She was tall and athletic. Calling her “Nancy Goat” would invoke her wrath. Nancy was pleasant most of the time, but she had a quick temper. Oh, could she ever hit a softball! When we chose teams for noontime Oak Grove School softball, Nancy was always the first girl chosen, and many times ahead of a good many of the boys.
Jimmy Kozelka was a neat kid, but a little rough around the edges. He was small in stature, but a gutsy lad. Jimmy would eat dirt on a dare or swallow a worm if asked. If young Jimmy didn’t want to do something, the teacher permitted him to sit out on the front steps of the school. Jimmie’s siblings allowed that teacher was “spoiling him”.
Ruth Ann Kozelka got influenza meningitis in third grade and missed most of the school year. She was held back a year, so she could catch up. We were walking home from school when we heard that Ruth Ann was to repeat third grade. Some of us teased or taunted her about “being dumb” or some such name. It is one of my behaviors that I have regretted to this day.
Gary Kozelka was much like his brother, but always had a smile. Good natured, pliable and pleasant. Nothing seemed to bother him. Gary enlisted in the Navy and had top-secret clearance to work at Camp David.
These are the kids we walked with to and from school. Gloria, Nancy, Jimmy, Ruth Ann, Gary and David Kozelka, the Scheckel kids, five or six of us at any one time, and Tom Wills, the import and reject from Madison. The Kozelka’s had younger kids; Kathy, Susie, Lizzie and Mary, that came later. By the time the younger ones started grade school, I was in high school.
The Kozelkas had a big brown lab dog that answered to Curly. In his prime, Curly walked to and from school each day. Curly hung out around the school building, and truly earned his keep by chasing after and retrieving the softball that was hit over the fence and into the woods.
Curly wore out his welcome when he ate the eggs set out for the Easter Egg hunt. Curly had his fill of eggs, but we kids had our fill of Curly. He was literally in the dog house from then on!
I look back with great fondness on the Kozelka family. They were a large Catholic farm family like our own Scheckel family. Neither family had television. The Scheckel boys walked up the hill to watch television with the Fradette kids some Sunday nights, and the Kozelka brood walked over to the Ingham farm to watch the Wide World of Disney.
Recounting my days walking home from the Oak Grove Ridge one-room country school in the late 1940s and early 1950s outside Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, adistance of one mile to the Scheckel farm.
We trudge along on the gravel road, down the Ingham hill and soon up to the top of the next hill to another commanding view. You can see miles in every direction. A slight descent, around a slight bend and on the right was the Kozelka farm, a small 50-acre job. Not enough to raise and totally support the large Kozelka family, so Mr. Kozelka, or Rudy, as we called him, worked bridge construction. Rudy was a good man, terrific worker, devoted husband and father. The Kozelkas attended our St. Patrick’s Church.
Mr. Kozelka worked for Brandon Bros construction and built bridges around the Midwest. He lived until 1970, dying way too young at age 55, and leaving Florence a widow for close to 50 years. Rudy had a heart that was damaged by rheumatic fever when he was young. The Kozelkas had three young girls at home when he died.
Walking home from school was an adventure. The exchange of gossip, reliving lessons learned in the classroom, arguing about nothing, laughing, singing and throwing sticks. We boys would marvel at the hundreds of beer cans in the ditch where garbage was also dumped.
Cockleburs grew along the side of the road. Cockleburs bunch together and cling to your clothes. They would hook into the clothing and not let go. We would pull cockleburs off the plants and ball them together. Who could make the biggest ball? Then we would throw them at each other. Hopefully, someone would be wearing a wool sweater. Cockleburs just love wool clothing. Cockleburs were the forerunner, I’m told, of Velcro fasteners. I sure could have used Velcro on my shoes when I was a little tyke. I had trouble learning how to tie my shoelaces. I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up and I was afraid I couldn’t be a pilot if I never learned to tie my shoes.
My dog Browser would run through the cocklebur plants with me and his coat would pick up cockleburs. That was not much of a problem for Browser, because he was short-haired and cockleburs love long-haired dogs. Shep was a black and white long-haired dog that we had on the farm when I was about 6 or 7 years old. Shep got so many cockleburs in his fur that the only way we could rid him of the plant pest was to cut them out with a scissors.
The first farm we came to when walking home from the Oak Grove Ridge one-room country school to our farm in the late 1940s and early 1950s outside Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, was the Ingham farm. Two bachelors and an “old maid” lived there. The Ingham’s were of English stock and they have their own coat of arms. A Thomas Ingham arrived in New England in 1657, well over 100 years before our country was a country. An Ingham served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.
James Ingham was born in Lancashire, England and settled in the Seneca area with wife, Nancy Andres, in 1856. Their Ingham children married Bernier’s, Lawler’s and Crowley’s.
The Ingham’s were warm and friendly folks; Tom and Bob Ingham and their sister Margaret. Margaret was the postmistress at Lynxville. We never knew why most of them never married. Another brother, Jack Ingham, had a farm further back on Oak Grove Ridge. Jack also never married. One doesn’t think of those things when you’re young. They all lived in a large rambling farmhouse. The Ingham farm was on a knoll with a commanding view in every direction.
The garage and machine shed were on the right and the same side of the road as the house. But the barn, hog house and assorted other building were across the road. Frequently, Bob or Tom, or both would be out by the road. The conversation might go something like this.
Tom Ingram: “Hi boys”
Scheckel kids: “Hi”
Bob Ingham: “How was school today?”
Scheckel kids: “OK”
Tom Ingram: “I see your Dad cut third crop hay”
Scheckel kids: “Ya.”
Most conversations were more extensive, I believe, and might concern the upcoming Basket social in late October, or the Christmas program, or end-of-the-year May picnic. The Ingham attended them all, even though they had no kids in school.
Bob Ingham was taller, more extroverted and talkative. Tom was a bit shorter, more taciturn by nature.
Tom Ingham died in 1963 at age 49. It was said that he was lifting a bucket of milk into the cream separator when he keeled over with a heart attack. I was to be one of the pallbearers.
Bob Ingham lived until 1968, passing away at age 59. Margaret and Jack both died in 1982, Jack at age 77 and Margaret at age 79. I see their graves each time I visit St. Patrick’s cemetery in Seneca, along with a bunch of Ingham’s that go back to the Civil War. I walk beside those graves in Seneca with fond memories of hard working, friendly, helpful, humble, and loving people.