Column: Ledgers capture one-room school details

10:43 AM, Oct. 16, 2013  |  Comments
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They lie on the table before me - two large, black ledgers from the one-room, rural White School, located north of Withee in Clark County. They cover the years from the inception of the school in 1907 until 1951. The district clerk meticulously recorded all items pertaining to the efficient management of the school, including the purchase of a broom for 35 cents in 1908.

The pages are brittle, the entries fading but legible as is the ledger's name stamped in gold on the spines of the books. Their pages speak to us of the dedication, responsibility and pride felt for their school by the board members and the people of the community they served.

Many of the children attending the school had immigrant parents, from various European countries who could neither read nor write. In the countries from which they had come, only the well-to-do could afford the cost of sending their children to school, so they were deeply appreciative and thankful for the free education their children were receiving and gladly paid the low taxes necessary for the operation of "their" school. They greatly respected the school board members and the teachers responsible for educating their children.

Electricity came to the school and the area in 1939, with the school paying $4 for a membership fee to Clark Electric with the electric bill for the year $22. Income tax withholding began in 1943 with the school board paying the teacher's tax. World War II brought a Victory tax in that year, costing the school $8.70. A subscription to the Marshfield paper in 1935 cost $2.

The school was filled to capacity for the annual meetings in July. Recurring expenditures, such as salaries of school board members and teacher's salary, were determined, but the items of greatest interest were the letting of bids for jobs necessary for the maintenance of the school. These included a monthly cleaning of the school room, supplying the fire wood, cutting the grass on the grounds plus other additional tasks with the bid let to the lowest bidder.

Every extra dollar was very important to the successful bidder. My seventh-grade brother, Edmond, arranged with his teacher to start the furnace fires for $1 a week, riding a horse to school very early in the morning, tethering his horse to the woodshed, started the fire, returned home and stabled the horse, ate breakfast and joined his siblings for the walk to school.

There was competition for every task, but there was no competition for the necessary, vital job of emptying the toilet holding tank installed in 1933 after the outdoor toilets were sold for $5 and gravity, indoor toilets installed. It was a distasteful, malodorous, lengthy task, and from 1933 until 1951, the bid was always awarded to a German immigrant by the name of Sigmund Lentz. He was of medium height and build and very strong,

School over for the summer, Sigmund hitched his team to his stone boat, a wooden, low sledge designed for easing the clearing of rocks from a farmer's fields. Onto this, he loaded four, 50-gllon barrels and a long pole to which he would attach a large bucket. This arrangement allowed him to manipulate and fill the bucket, raise it to the surface and empty the ordure into the barrels.

Prior to beginning, Sigmund had to crank the agitator attached to the basement tank until the contents were blended, a strenuous job made much easier in 1939 with the coming of electricity and an electric-powered motor used to agitate the tank.

Back to the stone boat, Sigmund lifted the heavy, cement cover of the tank, which was 36 inches in diameter, and began his reeking task. Once the tank was empty, he replaced the cement cover, drove home, where he attached 4-inch hoses to the drain plugs at the bottom of the barrels and with his team, pulled the waste-laden barrels onto his fields where the effluvium was deposited.

Sigmund was paid $10 for this work, for many years ,and by 1951, he received $20 for this very distasteful, but very necessary work. In 1951, a well was drilled, a septic tank and flush toilets installed, bringing a thankful end to 18 years of Sigmund's foul, well-done duty.

(Acknowledgments to my brothers Emil and Edmond Rohland of Withee who supplied many of the details of this story, to Edmond for seeing to it that these ledgers are safely preserved at the Withee library and to the Withee library for the extended use of these ledgers.)

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