Did You Attend a One-Room School?

One-Room School Houses
Readers’ Reminisce

Note: The original article appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday, December 19, 2021.  We invited readers to share their reminiscences and included here some that were in the original feature. We begin this blog with the background that was part of the Gazette feature.

Country Schools Across America

“For about a century after statehood (in Iowa), families, often with many children, lived on 160 acres in rural places.  Although few kids went to college, parents valued learning and these schools were once the foundation of America’s free, public, education. Schooling in rural Iowa posed challenges. Depending on the season roads were either mud or dust with cars and school busses in the future. Towns were a distant trek, so one-room schools were built, usually within walking distance – two miles – of home.

“Often the sole teacher was an unmarried woman.  What she taught was decided by the citizens of the township where the school was located. These teachers did many tasks, including teaching reading, writing, and math, sweeping the floor, and feeding wood into the potbellied stove. Some teachers even lived in the school! Others boarded with nearby families. That must have been something to teach kids all day and then board with them in the evening!

“A typical American one-room school featured George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s portrait upfront, rows of wooden desks, a potbelly stove, and a privy or two outside.  Although facilities were humble, pleasant memories linger in the minds of older people who launched their learning careers in tiny schools.

Fond Memories

“Several of our older friends attended one-room schools as children across the country and in Iowa.  All remember funny incidents from the past and believe their school experiences launched them to success in many occupations.

““I remember the Veteran’s Day Blizzard of 1940. It was a beautiful morning but clouds rolled in as the wind picked up outside Flanagan School. We had a car by then, but my school was on a dirt road. Dad thought the car would founder in drifts but horses might get through.  So, he picked me up with the team with the wind howling on the way home,” said John Regan who attended the one-room school between Holy Cross and Rickardsville in Dubuque County.

““My teacher was Miss Regan, Dad’s cousin. She was wonderful, and in that small building I learned education basics,” continued Regan. He went on to serve a successful hitch in the Army, repaired typewriters in New York City and became a John Deere equipment dealer in Newton, NJ.  Before retiring he rose to executive VP of the company. John now lives in a New Jersey senior residence but often reminisces about his Iowa childhood.

Quality Depends on Cooperation

“Idahoan, Bob Pratt, Rich Patterson’s former college roommate, drawled, “I didn’t go to a one-room school. Mine was a two-roomer in rural Idaho.  Grades one through four were in one room and five through eight in the other.” His school had but three employees: two teachers and a person who both cooked and cleaned. After eighth grade, Pratt attended a tiny high school and later earned a degree from the University of Idaho.  During a long career in tiny high schools, he taught practical farming and mechanic skills and math and biology.

“Both Iowan Regan and Idahoan Pratt told us, “The education I received in tiny schools was superb. Maybe better than I’d have had in a big school.  My classmates and I were well prepared for life and led successful careers in many areas.”  Pratt continued, “I taught in high schools with just a few students in each graduating class, but they went on to great success.  One is a cardiac surgeon.  Another is a skilled cabinet maker. It’s the quality of the teachers and the cooperation of parents that make students excel, not the size of the school,” he emphasized.

Antics and Airplanes

One friend recalled her mother getting a piggyback ride to school after losing her boots in the mud. Pam Tegler Geraghty, a retired Cedar Rapids special education teacher, admits to being a “holy terror!” as a kid at the Lamont, IA, school in the 1950s.  She slopped in a creek on the way home and once locked a classmate in the outhouse.

Pat Maas, a retired teacher and health secretary at Cedar Rapids’ Grant Wood Elementary, remembers rushing outside to watch an airplane zoom overhead when planes were a new wonder.

Quite the Career

Jack Neuzil of Solon, Iowa, reminisced about his country schooling days back in the mid-1930s. “I remember the first day the hired man took me on horseback.” After that, he and the other kids walked to school.

Practicing Life-Long Skills of Helping as Needed and Sanitation

Kids picked up sticks for the woodstove, pumped water from the well and used a dipper to drink from, and clapped chalk dust off erasers outside.  They practiced sanitation. After using the outhouse, they would wash their hands and dump the water outside.

Stories, Games, and Pranks

“We would sit around the teacher who would read stories,” Neuzil shared. Popular recess games were Annie-Annie Over (or Andy Andy Over) and Kick the Can. Kids showed their daring-do by balancing along the wooden fence. He chuckled that adults would guard the outhouse around Halloween to prevent pranks.

Into the Future

As Pratt and Regan shared, the quality of education can be high in country schools. After his couple of years in the one-room school with eight or nine kids, Neuzil attended the University of Iowa schools and on to college. “I didn’t realize how good a student I was until I went to Northern Illinois College.” Attending on a work-study plant, the equivalent of a basketball scholarship, he held a job in maintenance. “The head custodian respected my work so much he eventually had me clean the president’s office, “Neuzil reflected proudly.

Creative Career Paths

Neuzil attended officer candidate school in Newport, RI, served in the tail-ed of Korea and the beginning of Vietnam, helping refugees find safe haven, taught high school at Eldora, and started the skills programs at Anamosa. “…so they could get a job when they got out of prison.” He went on to create and teach in the trade industry program at Kirkwood Community College for 25 years.

Neuzil holds patents on two heat exchangers, worked with Dick Schwab on the round buildings in Solon, and created a program of building and taking wood dinosaurs to schools around the area.  “We did this to promote reading as we talked to kids.  You have to be interested in order to learn,” he observed. After a time, believing that “free is no good” Neuzil began charging schools a book for each program.  The kids wrote their names in the books which he donated to the Solon Public Library.

Now in his 90s, Jack Neuzil continues to share his wit and wisdom with others, demonstrating that the expression, “From here you can go anywhere,” holds true. Country schools were indeed a bedrock of America’s education.

One of our favorite one-room schools involves a long drive but is completely fascinating.   It’s set in the vastness of the Eastern Montana prairie and is part of the American Prairie Reserve. Local ranch kids attended from 1942-1957. The sole teacher lived and taught in the same tiny school surrounded by sprawling open spaces and occasional resident rattlers. Visiting it is a trip back in time, and a reward might be staying in one of the Prairie Reserve’s luxurious nearby yurts.

Why Do Geese Love Lawn Mowers?

Artful Dodgers

Walking one of Cedar Rapids’ trails sometimes is like a skier racing a slalom course.  Instead of weaving between flags, pedestrians must dodge piles of goose poop.

It wasn’t always that way. Before the mid-1980s few geese lived in town. Cedar Rapids began restoring them.  About 125 of the giant birds were released near downtown.   Few predators pester them and are they prolific! A goose couple can live for decades and raise upwards of a dozen goslings a year.   That is a lot of geese!

Geese Mixed Blessing

Canada geese are a blessing.  We love hearing “goose music” as they wing over our house. Watching such attentive parents teach their babies to swim and find food is great fun.

Canada geese are a curse, mostly because there are so many of them and they enjoy living, and pooping, in town. Their droppings are more than a walking nuisance.   Loaded with nitrates and bacteria, they stimulate algae growth, lowering water quality.

Geese Requirements

Geese love water but don’t need massive remote lakes. They prefer the dozens of small ponds at golf courses, corporate and school campuses, and parks. A lawnmower is a goose’s best friend. Well, maybe not a mower, but close-cropped lawns have tiny tender grass shoots that make fine goose dining. Running a mower down to a pond’s edge creates goose paradise.  And problems for landowners.

People sometimes put snarling coyote mannequins near their pond to scare the big birds.  It might work for a minute or two, but geese are smart. They figure out it’s a fake and nibble tender grass right under the phony predator.

How to Discourage Geese

Some cities reduce goose numbers by locating their nests, shaking the eggs to kill the embryos, which is called addling, or coating the eggs with oil so they won’t hatch. It may work to reduce flock size, but geese are protected by federal and state laws. Destroying eggs without a permit is illegal.

Legal Tricks

Here are less lethal and legal tricks that work, at least to some degree to discourage geese:

  • Hold the chow. Folks love tossing stale bread to waterfowl, but it just encourages the crowding of the pesky birds.
  • Stow the mower and let the grass grow. Geese shun tall grass. Even better, plant tall prairie grasses near the water’s edge.
  • Fence ‘em out. For some reason geese don’t usually cross even small low barriers they could hop or fly over. A fence of lightweight plastic pipe set parallel to the edge of the water may discourage them from entering small areas.

We’ve got them.  Geese are fellow city residents. We need to coexist, but a few simple tricks can discourage them from certain areas while still letting us enjoy delightful goose music as they wing overhead.

Now on to 2021 Labyrinth Walks!

Chronologically I trace the year in different labyrinths.

Save on Energy Bills Right NOW!

We knew natural gas prices were way up but our $80+ November bill both surprised and pleased us.

Surprise:   That’s a high bill for us.

Pleased:   Our efforts at energy efficiency and wise house management kept the bill from being higher.

Nearly everyone can reduce heating costs. Some actions are long-term, like adding insulation, replacing drafty windows, or installing a wood stove. There’s not enough time this year to put these in place this winter.

Here are short term ways to reduce the heating bill at either no, or low, cost:

  • Open south-facing window blinds on sunny days. The sun will warm the room and never send a bill. Close the blind when the sun calls it quits and sets for the day.
  • Caulk holes and cracks. We bought a spool of “rope caulk”. It’s putty that won’t harden, comes in a roll, and is easy to press into cracks, especially around windows.
  • Replace the furnace filter. If it gets clogged with dust the furnace has to work harder, and that costs money. Write on the filter the date you replace it so you know. Then, make a note on your planner to check and replace. Some furnaces also send alerts to change a filter.
  • Wear comfy sweaters and socks and set the thermostat down a few degrees. We often nestle under a blanket or throw when watching tv or reading in the evening.

It’s going to be an expensive heating winter, but taking a few simple efficiency steps will remove some of the monthly bill’s sting.

November Makes 12

Meeting a Challenge

A few years ago, we received an email from the National Wildlife Federation asking us, and millions of others, to camp in the backyard once during the summer.

Upping the Ante

Man by tent

November makes 12.

We took it to heart and then went further. Over the past twelve months, Rich and occasionally Marion camped out at least once a month. The first time was on an unusually mild December night in 2020. The last one as November 2021 ended. In brilliant sunshine, Rich set up his backpack tent about 20 feet from the garage and spent a night punctuated by coyotes and owls vocalizing in nearby woods. The night completed his camping every month for the past year.



Some months – like in the dark of winter – Rich tented in the back yard.  After an evening of reading or watching a Great Courses DVD Rich bid “Good night” and stepped into the cool evenings, snuggled into the thick sleeping bag – preheated with “Hot Hands” packs, and enjoyed the evening serenades.

Watching the Weather

January and February 2021, Rich camped back to back.  The predictions were mild for January 31st and February 1st. And, cold was on its way. So, Rich pushed away snow and set up his tent next to the barn where the chickens sleep.  He was aroused at 4:00 a.m. when the light we use to wake the birds did just that.  Between the bright light shining in his tent and the rooster’s crowing Rich gave up and came in about 4:30 a.m.  Still, the overnight counts!

Combining Interests

In warmer months when fishing beckoned, he would head to NE or SE Iowa and come back with a string of trout or panfish.

The few times we traveled further afield, we tented – March in Kansas with the campground to ourselves; September and October in the East under beautiful stars and in the pouring rain.

Why Backyard Camp?

Backyard camping is great fun, even in a tiny urban yard.  It also has these advantages over trekking to a distant state or national park:

  • Spontaneous decision. No need to take time off work or school. Just set up the tent behind the house, add a sleeping pad and bag, and camp.
  • Choosing the weather. If it’s cold, hot, windy, rainy, or (gasp) snowy, wait for a more pleasant night.
  • No camping fee or need to drive anywhere.
  • Easy to drag in many blankets and pillows that might not be taken on a camping trip somewhere.
  • During winter’s long dark nights just stay inside to watch tv or read before sleeping in the tent.
  • It’s an adventure….at least for kids.

With 12 months down, will Rich’s streak of every month camping continue?????    We’re not sure, but likely it will.