If anyone could claim to be an expert on Bureau County’s one room schools, it could very well be Ohio’s Gene Lehn.
In the space of six short years, Lehn attended four different schools in Bureau County.
“I think we moved every time the rent was due!” Lehn said with a laugh, “No, my dad managed farms, and that’s why we moved quite often.”
Lehn actually began his school career in Nebraska, where his father had moved as a child. But in 1939, when Lehn was ready to enter the third grade, the family moved back to Bureau County.
Lehn attended the Gander Lane School for only one year, and then the family moved into the Miller School District, just west of Spring Valley. He said they moved because his father was managing a farm for Western Sand and Gravel when World War II broke out.
“I remember we were playing tag football, and I remember my mother coming out and saying she heard the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” he said.
After Miller School, Lehn attended the Lockard School, and finished his elementary career at the school in Hollowayville.
The Hollowayville School was a city school — not one of the county’s one-room schoolhouses. Lehn said the Hollowayville School was two rooms, with an empty classroom on the second floor.
“We wanted to go up and play because there wasn’t anything up there,” Lehn said. “Later they made it into a classroom.”
The schools have all blurred together in Lehn’s mind over the years. He remembers the Hollowayville School was quite a bit bigger than the three, one-room schools.
Lehn said the number of students in each class varied quite a bit.
“Sometimes there wouldn’t be anybody in second grade,” he said. “If there was one student in second grade — a good student — they’d move him ahead.”
Lehn also remembers the tornado cellars, which were a change from Nebraska.
“Most of the schools had them,” he said. “We’d play in those and slide down the sides.”
Lehn said it wasn’t particularly hard moving from school to school. While many students stayed in the same school all eight years, there were many children of tenant farmers who moved every year.
“I don’t remember having any trouble,” he said. “I don’t think we knew any better.”
After high school, Lehn debated getting a “section” job with the railroad.
“Anybody could get a job in the section that paid pretty well, and there were a lot of jobs available,” he said. “I didn’t really plan on going to college, but my folks wanted me to, and they said, ‘Well, go give it a try.’ I went, and it was the smartest thing that ever happened.”
Lehn started out at LPO Junior College and got his bachelor’s degree at Illinois State. After a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, he returned to Bureau County, where he taught school in Ohio for 30 years before retiring.
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