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Remembering Swanson School

Editor’s note: The following is another story in the BCR’s ongoing series on one-room schoolhouses in Bureau County.

Wanda Stanfield has wonderful memories of her days attending the Swanson School.

“It was great,” Stanfield said. “I have a lot of fond memories.”

Stanfield began attending the Swanson School in third grade, along with her younger brother, Tom, after her family moved to the area from West Virginia.

“Swanson School was a mile around the road, so that’s where we went to school,” she said. “We grew up with the Anderson kids, and the Hansons, there were Etheridges and Calsyns.”

Like with many country schools, the Swanson School didn’t have running water when Stanfield started.

“There was a pump down at the corner of the lot, and in the morning, that was one of the boys’ duties,” she said.

The boys would bring the water into the classroom, and then children used a dipper to fill cups they brought from home.

Stanfield said she liked the style of learning in a one-room school.

“We were in rows, according to grade,” she said. “When you had your work done, you’d help the other children. With the repetition of things, you learned more every year.”

Stanfield said she has remained friends with many of her classmates, including some of the Amish children who also attending the Swanson School back in the 1950s.

“We got along really well,” she said. “They liked to play as well as we did.”

It was on the playground that Stanfield had one of her most memorable moments.

“One time we were playing baseball, and we had this huge, big baseball,” she said. “I was behind second base and this ball came and just clonked me right in the forehead, and I just went out. When I opened my eyes and looked up, all of them were standing around.”

But Stanfield’s favorite memories are of the annual preparation for the Christmas program. Stanfield said the teacher would write up the parts, and they would rehearse for a certain amount of time every afternoon after the schoolwork was done.

“It was such a fun time,” she said. “I just always remember how much fun it was to be able to rehearse for the plays and then the nights we put the plays on.”

Stanfield said it was at Christmas the difference between the Amish and the other students became the most obvious. She said the Amish boys would help build the stage and hang the curtains, but they drew the line at the plays.

“We put on the plays, but I don’t remember they were ever in the plays,” she said. “But their parents came to the Christmas programs.”

Stanfield said Mrs. Etheridge would come and play the piano for the students to sing, and the songs were generally pieces like “Jingle Bells.”

“Some of those things the Amish people wouldn’t identify with, so we tried to keep it more with things that they could identify with, too,” she said.

Stanfield was one of four children in her class, including Verna Fritz, Eugene Calsyn and Doris Kropf.

“The three of us left and went to Walnut for high school, and of course Doris was done because she was Amish,” she said.

It was a big transition to Walnut High School. Stanfield said she was well-prepared academically, but it was hard to actually leave that little one-room country school.

“It was this huge building where you had to go and have a locker and get books and go to different rooms for classes,” she said. “And it was scary at first, riding a bus.”

There were also a whole lot of new children to get to know. Stanfield said there were about 58 students in her grade in high school, and some of them weren’t very welcoming.

“There were kids who didn’t really pull us into their groups right away,” she said. “But then the kids from the other country schools, we kind of migrated together because we had more in common.”

Stanfield said her school day experiences are some of her most cherished memories.

“I think I learned a lot about life, getting along with other people. The values in life, I think I learned some of that from the Amish children,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”

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