Stories in the walls of rural schoolhouses

Wittenberg Historical Society to host discussion about them
Evan J. Pretzer

Education is something that has changed with time and, on July 24, the Wittenberg Area Historical Society will highlight the way things used to be during a free afternoon gathering with Susan Apps-Bodilly.

The teacher with decades of experience across elementary and middle-school education has written a book titled “One Room Schools: Stories from the Days of 1 Room, 1 Teacher, 8 Grades.” She will be discussing her book and the history of local rural schoolhouses at the WOWSPACE.

Carla Strassburg, president of the historical society, said these buildings became the heart of education in the area today, and there has been a lot of interest from local people with first-hand experiences.

“A lot are just gone,” she says. “They’ve been torn down, and they’ve been gone for a long time. We have pictures of them, and we found out there are approximately 57 one-room schoolhouses that after a while were all combined into the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District. It has been pretty positive. It has caused quite a bit of conversation. I went to a senior meal site one day, and some were like ‘Oh, I never went to a one-room schoolhouse,’ but then a couple of the younger ones said, ‘Well, I did’ … I think we are going to a positive response and good crowd.”

At the gathering, people will have the opportunity to purchase Apps-Bodilly’s book and donate old photos, records and other memorabilia from this era which ended in the 1950s and 1960s in Wisconsin. Strassburg says a lot of this sort of material has come in already to a high degree.

“I think we are done collecting things,” Strassburg said. “It has been a pretty community-wide effort. We have a couple of interviews with former teachers and are hoping to get some more.”

Of course, not all who know history are moved by it. Some dismiss the past and focus on the now. For Strassburg, however, this event is important to the present, too, because it helps show how things today were built on those from yesterday and, sometimes, the past is good to look to.

“It might give a little bit of perspective on education in general,” she said. “(Think of) how important people back then thought it was. They were willing to put forth effort to make sure students could learn. Families and neighbors would cut firewood; they would help clean with special events, and it puts a light on what’s going on today with our education. Everybody’s so up in arms about what we can and cannot teach; maybe this will give a little better perspective.”

Apps-Bodilly could not be reached for comment about her upcoming appearance.

The historical society’s free event kicks off at noon and runs until 3 p.m., with Apps-Bodilly speaking at 1 p.m. The WOWSPACE is located at 114 W. Vinal St. in Wittenberg.