End of school year picnic evokes fond memories

Jerry Apps
Jerry Apps, second row, far left, and his brothers, Darrel and Donald, front row, posed with classmates in front of the Chain O' Lakes schoolhouse in 1943. The culmination of the school year was the much anticipated picnic.

The end of the school year picnic at our country school was the highlight of the year for both the students and their parents. The school year usually ended about the time when the farmers in the neighborhood had their oat and corn crops in and just before haying season started. So the end of the school year picnic was well attended by the families of the students.

Every one brought a dish to pass, called a potluck today, plus their own sandwiches and silverware. The school board bought a couple of two-and-a-half-gallon metal tubs of ice-cream, encased in huge insulated containers to keep the ice-cream from melting. The event began with a huge meal, all laid out on planks on sawhorses—the same ones that were used for the school Christmas program stage. The boards were covered with the mothers’ tablecloths.  

After the meal, the teacher spoke for a bit, thanking everyone for coming. She especially thanked the parents for their support during the school year. “I couldn’t have made it through the year without all of your help,” she said. 

And she was right. For everyone did help out, from building the fire in the woodstove at the school, to making sure that the children did their homework. The teacher then introduced the eighth graders who had successfully passed the county-wide tests, and were eligible to start high school.

The highlight of the day was the softball game between the students and their fathers. I remember those games so well. It was one of the few times I saw my dad play—he mostly worked all the time. 

We students usually won the game, as we had been playing softball since the snow melted back in March. We had played all the nearby country schools, so our softball skills were well tuned. Occasionally a father would hit a long ball over the fence and into the country road. But that was rare.

With the school year over, we said goodbye to everyone, and headed home. Now the never ending summer work began.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: For those of us who experienced them, fond memories of the end of school year picnic remain with us forever.

Jerry Apps

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