Through the first half of the 20th century, if you were a kid growing up in the town of Leeds, just north of DeForest, you spent many a day in your one-room school.
Sometimes more than 90 other children were in your class - and you all shared the same teacher. Along with studying the 3 R's, you washed blackboards, cleaned the floors, swept the outhouse, raised the flag, carried in firewood for the heating stove and refilled the water barrel from which everybody drank with a tin cup - sometimes the same tin cup.
School bus? Students walked to school or were driven by sleigh in the winter.
School sports? Maybe an impromptu boys' baseball game now and then.
Principal's office? It wasn't needed, said Mary Wendt, 65, a 1958 graduate of the La Follette School, which closed in 1965.
"We had a terrific amount of respect for our teachers," she said. "That's how we were raised."
Wendt is an organizer of the 2009 Leeds School reunion - a chance on Saturday for former one-room schoolmates from North Leeds, South Leeds, Leeds Center, Langlade, Burke and La Follette schools to share their memories over an open microphone and for history buffs to hear their stories. (South Leeds was the last of the schools to close, in 1969). Students from Leeds Elementary, a four-room school that was open from 1957 until the district consolidated with DeForest in 2002, also will join in.
In the Wisconsin heyday of the one-room school, about 6,200 were operating in rural areas across the state, said Dale Williams, site director of the Reed School in Neillsville, which today is a historic site operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
"They hit their peak in the 1930s. By the 1960s, they were virtually all gone," Williams said. A few tiny schools remain in the state, including one on Madeline Island, he said, but most have vanished or been transformed into museums, gift shops, bed-and-breakfasts and the like. Several in the Leeds area were converted to homes. Leeds Elementary now serves as the town hall for the community, population 860.
The first all-school Leeds reunion in 2006 drew nearly twice the 100 people expected, including Leola Hermanson, who attended Langlade - nicknamed "The Beehive" for its bustling activity - as a student from 1924 to 1932. In 1944, she returned as a teacher, earning $75 a month.
Today a spry 90, Hermanson recalls how winter school days began with music and lots of marching and clapping to warm up cold feet and hands, followed by reading and arithmetic, geography, history, English, spelling and exacting lessons in penmanship. Most pupils carried their lunch to school in old syrup pails; once a week they had to take goiter pills handed out by the teacher. Twice a year they headed out to a neighboring farm to be weighed on a granary scale, a requirement of the county nurse.
The big social events of the year: the Christmas school program and the annual box social, where decorated boxes of goodies were auctioned off to earn money for the schoolhouse. The "mothers' club" held a yearly card party to buy such schoolhouse staples as a broom and dustpan.
"You stop and think how different the schools are now and what they were," said Hermanson, chuckling. "How did we get any education?"
But the close-knit community to come out of the one-room schools is something special, as is that period of history, said Wendt.
"Now it seems like there is a bond between these people," she said. "The times have changed so much, people can't comprehend what we had to do. So we try to bridge that gap and help people understand."
\ SCHOOL REUNION\ WHAT: Reunion for those who attended one- and four-room schools in Leeds, plus anyone interested in regional school history.\ WHEN: Saturday. Potluck dinner at 12:30 p.m. Program at 2 p.m. Bring a dish, plus stories, school mementos and photos.\ WHERE: Leeds Town Hall, N1485 Pribbenow Road-Highway 60, Arlington.\ ADMISSION: Free.\ MORE INFORMATION: Mary Wendt, 608-635-8256, or Rosanne Woodward, 920-992-5149.