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Remembering the one-room schoolhouses

Thomas School, 1948
Thomas School, 1948

PRINCETON — Frances Timmerman Hamlink was only 19 when she stepped before her first classroom full of students.

"The first job I had was at what they called Trading House School," Hamlink said. "It was in western Bureau County, about as far west as you can go."

Hamlink is one of the few teachers — almost all women — who taught in Bureau County's one room schoolhouses many decades ago.

Hamlink found herself in a one room schoolhouse on the way to becoming a physical education teacher.

Hamlink was born and raised in Mineral. She attended Mineral High School for two years, and then moved to Amboy during World War II. She graduated from Amboy High School in 1945.

Hamlink had two inspirations in deciding to become a teacher.

One was her mother, who adopted her as a baby.

"My mother was a teacher her whole life," she said. "That's all I ever remember her doing, was teaching school."

The other inspiration was Hamlink's love of sports.

"I got interested in sports, and that's what I wanted to major in — to be a gym teacher, so that's what I did," she said.

Hamlink planned on minoring in elementary education, but ended up before a whole school full of students before she taught physical education.

"I got into teaching elementary before I became a gym teacher," she said. "It worked out."

Hamlink had begun working on her degree at Illinois Normal University when she found herself at Trading House School. After one year, the state closed the school because there were fewer than 15 students, so Hamlink moved to the Thomas School in Fairfield Township.

Every summer Hamlink returned to college to work on her degree, but for 10 years, every fall found her teaching first- through eighth-graders at the Thomas School.

Hamlink said she averaged about 20 students every years.

"That was too many," she said. "That was not pleasant because I felt I was not doing what I should for the kids because I had too many. I didn't have time for them, and that worried me."

But Hamlink, like other one room schoolhouse teachers, did her best. She said certain grades, such as first and second, could be put together for reading.

"You'd do the same way with third and fourth, or maybe you could put third, fourth and fifth together, but not very often," she said. "It depends on the ability of your kids."

Hamlink said her philosophy was to teach her students everything she could give them.

"The more they could learn, the more you'd shove them to learn, and that's what I did," she said.

Hamlink said she did occasionally ask the older students to help with the younger ones, but not very often.

"I didn't rob them because I didn't believe in that," she said. "I said that time was theirs, and they needed it for themselves."

As with most one room schoolhouses, recess was eagerly anticipated. Hamlink said she usually went out with the students.

"If I didn't, I would be chastised because I always participated," she said. "I was athletic myself, so they wanted me to pitch; or they wanted me to catch; they wanted me in action.

Christmastime was another favorite.

"I was as big a kid as the rest of them," she said.

Practicing songs, assigning parts for the program and play practice went on every day for two weeks before the program, to which the entire community came.

"The schoolhouse was full," she said. "The men all stood up in the back because there weren't seats enough for everybody."

Many of the older students were taller than Hamlink, but she said she never had any discipline problems.

"You can't go by the size," she said with a laugh. "They knew right away who was boss."

Hamlink said she boarded with Harry and Annie Doty for a while because they lived close to the school. She paid $6 every week for her room and board, a reasonable amount compared to her monthly income of $150.

While teaching at Thomas, Hamlink met and married Willard Hamlink, a Mineral farmer. She graduated from college in 1958 with a degree in health and physical education. She taught physical education at Wethersfield Grade School until 1967. In 1969, she went to Mineral to teach fourth grade for the Annawan School District. She remained with the Annawan School District until her retirement in 1984.

Now a resident of Greenfield Retirement Home in Princeton, Hamlink still enjoys hearing from former students. She recently attended Jim Lind's 75th birthday party and looks forward to visits from Rita and Theora Wiseman.

All in all, Hamlink is glad for her one room schoolhouse days.

"That was a learning experience," she said. "I used that to better myself for the future."

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