First day of school changed my life forever

Jerry Apps
Author Jerry Apps' one-room school, west of Wild Rose, long closed.

With schools starting, I remember my first day of school years ago. There was no kindergarten, so I was destined for first grade. I had just turned five in July. I stood by our dusty country road waiting for the neighbor boy, Mike Korleski to come by. He was in sixth grade, and my mother had talked with his mother and asked if Jerry could walk with Mike to school.

I stood with my lard pail lunch bucket, two new yellow pencils and a five-cent pad of writing paper, waiting for Mike. Finally, he appeared and we began walking toward the school.

Elderberries hung heavy along the road, which was heavily shaded with elm and oak trees. As we walked along, we watched a squirrel scamper up an oak tree. We saw goldenrods’ yellow heads hanging over the road. Mike was more interested in these things than I was. My thoughts were all about school and what it would be like. What other kids I would meet, and would I be able to learn all that kids were supposed to learn?

When we got to the top of Miller’s hill, we heard the school bell ringing, echoing down the valley and rolling up the hills that surrounded the school. Mike told me we had to hurry for that was the eight-thirty bell and we didn’t want to be late. Once there, Mike pulled the big schoolhouse door open for me and I entered. My life would be changed forever.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: So much was learned at the one-room country school that was not in books.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to