The Philco radio sat on a small table in the front of the room at the Oak Grove Ridge one-room country school miles northwest of Seneca in Crawford County. Wisconsin School of the Air, originating at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, broadcast 10 school programs. I vividly remember four of those programs during my eight years at Oak Grove School-from 1948 to 1956.
The first program of the week was “Afield with Ranger Mac” at 9:30 every Monday morning. It was 15 minutes long and the teacher had “follow-along” lesson plans that had been sent in the mail. Ranger Mac was Wakelin McNeel, who had started his teaching career in Tomah in 1906 at age 22. He was Ranger Mac from 1933 to 1954. McNeel was the state 4-H Club Leader for Wisconsin and a Professor of Extension Education. But on radio he was known as the Chief of the Junior Forest Rangers. Wakelin McNeel died in 1958 at age 74
Ranger Mac always started his broadcast with an “Up and away” salutation. He had a distinctive deep rich sonorous voice. The teacher’s manual had admonitions to “Listen for these ideas” and a short vocabulary list, such as; energy, cells, vascular system and honeycomb. Our teacher would prompt us ahead of time. There were suggested activities in the manual, tips on field trips, and activities students could do at home.
We kids always looked forward to hearing Ranger Mac on the radio. The program was designed for grades 5-8, but in a one-room country school, everyone listened. Nature and the great outdoors taught us lessons on conservation, school forests, protection of woodlots, soil conservation, preservation of wildlife. He ended each program with “May the Great Spirit put sunshine in your hearts, now and forever more. Heap much!”
At one time, our Oak Grove School built a little Conservation Corner of exhibits, plant samples, bird feathers, bird nests, mud animal tracks, wasp’s nests, tree leaves and bark. Ranger Mac exhorted us to keep a log book of our observations of nature. My log book was a single sheet of paper that I wrote down a few things I saw each day.