NORMANDY — Attending the Bowen School south of Normandy was a family affair for Grace Merdian and her niece, Bonnie Etheridge. Both women attended the school as did Merdian’s mother, Minnie Cook.
“I went all eight years there,” Merdian said. “There were just two in the class, Harold Wallace and myself.”
Merdian has good memories of her school days, particularly in the cold weather.
“It was a big school, and they had plenty of space. And in the wintertime, we would go down, and we’d learn how to square dance,” she said.
There was also a creek about half a mile away that would freeze over every winter.
“They would let us walk down there, and we’d skate,” she said. “And then the teacher would go out and ring the bell 10 minutes before it was time for school to start, and we’d all come back.”
Merdian had several teachers in her years at Bowen, but Alma King was one of her favorites.
“She lived in Manlius, and we just loved her; she was really, really nice,” Merdian said. “On the weekends, she might take a couple girls home with her to spend the weekend.
Merdian remembers going to the Meeks School to play baseball and having the graduation ceremony held in Manlius with other nearby country schools.
Etheridge only attended the Bowen School for a couple of years, and her memories are sketchy, other than remembering she was the only girl in her class.
Oh ... and the storm cellar.
“There was a storm cellar out in the backyard,” she said. “The boys used to play in it at recess.”
One of Etheridge’s classmates was Carolyn Kuehl, who attended the school for five years until it closed in 1949 and was consolidated into the Walnut Grade School.
Kuehl remembers a nice building, made of concrete block and with hardwood floors and a tin ceiling.
“It was larger and nicer than a good share of the country schools,” she said.
Kuehl also remembers the aluminum pillars on the front porch.
“I can still remember leaning up against those poles in the winter and feeling they were cold,” she said.
Kuehl also remembers the chemical toilets — one for the boys and another for the girls — and the coal stoker that provided heat for the classroom.
“I remember having a big register in the wall, and on cold mornings when we got to school, we’d all stand in front of the register, huddled up, trying to get warm,” she said.
For awhile, it was the job of teacher Etta Hasenyager to fill the stoker in the morning.
“She finally rebelled against doing that, and one of the boys, I think it was Harold Bohm, was hired to do it,” Kuehl said.
But janitorial duties were part of the teacher’s assignments.
“I can still remember her wearing brown cotton gloves dusting during recess and noontime, and running the dust mop on those hardwood floors,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl remembers the plays put on each year, and how curtains were strung over a wire to provide a stage area on the flat floor. Events such as the plays, PTA meetings and any other school events were big social functions.
“Everybody in the neighborhood came; it wasn’t just people with children,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl said that by the last year of school, there were only six children left in the school.
“We were really sad when our school closed,” she said. “In fact, some of the children had left the year before because their parents thought they would get better schooling.”
But life went on.
“It was exciting to go to a new school,” Kuehl said.
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