Little rural school long gone but well remembered

John Oncken
Author John Oncken, top row, third from left, is joined by fellow Flint School students in the annual picture with teacher Mrs. Martin. One little boy couldn't resist sticking out his tongue at the camera!

I was at home looking at some photos in a big cardboard box holding dozens of envelopes full of photos and negatives. Most were photos my mother had recorded years ago when us three kids were growing up on the farm.

One of the of the envelopes from a Madison newspaper attracted my attention, and lo and behold upon opening it I found four or five photos of the Flint Grade School located for many years at the end of the quarter mile Oncken driveway and where we all attended grade school.  

I had been searching for photos of the school for decades with no success – until now. It seems I had written a Christmas story for Madison newspaper (complete with photos, which they did not use) and they returned everything to me where it all remained packed away in the big box for decades.

Regular readers may remember my columns about the annual rural school Christmas programs held over the years that were the highlight of the year but I never had a picture of the school itself. Now I do. At least the outside of the building and a couple photos of the student body.

Flint Grade School, closed and vacant and awaiting demolition. It was built in the early 193’0s replacing an older building.

Unfortunately, some of  these photos were taken after the school was closed and vacant, just waiting to be demolished by the state in order to widen State Highway 106 (now H138) for a faster road between Oregon and Stoughton.

Although I was long married and living in Neillsville, during my trips home to the farm brought me by the closed building. However, I never thought to get inside or take some photos. Oh well! 

Hundreds of one room rural schools were closed by the state one by one beginning in the 1940's, with the last ones remaining open until 1968 in Kewaunee county. Many of them are still remembered. It’s all about nostalgia, days gone by, history, growing up.

Without its windows and roof, the rural grade school is just a vacant shell.


Those of us who learned readin,’ ritin,’ and ‘rithmitic from a teacher with two years of training at a “county normal” school were indeed fortunate. My class size was but three: Willard, Doris and me. However, we were in the same noisy room as the 30 or so other students.

Anyone who attended a one room rural school will remember the unique features long gone from todays modern and expensive grade schools. The fact that all eight grades were taught by one teacher, in one room is different. This meant that there was always talking going on, thus noise that would disturb the studious. It also meant that every student could hear every class which was often a big plus in the learning process for many.

The teacher’s desk at the front of the room provided a clear view of each of the 35 or so desks lined up in neat rows according to size. I don't remember that being so close together caused any real difficulty – perhaps the kids were less vocal in those days or maybe we knew how our parents would react to a bad report from the teacher. (Note; Back then the teacher was always right!)

Flint School had everything a country kid could need, a large large playground to the right of the two shade trees and a backboard and hoop for some basketball.

Our water came from a shallow well via an outdoor pump and poured into a heavy ceramic container with a simple faucet to drink from. The bathrooms (boy and girls) were called outhouses. Our lunches were brought from home in paper bags or steel lunch buckets, square and fancy painted for girls, black or blue with a round top for boys, complete with a thermos bottle for milk or soup.

I still the love the peanut and banana sandwiches mother often sent for lunch. Of course, there was some lunch swapping going on but I don't remember any nutritional requirements in force. We just ate. 

Fox And Geese

Of course, we had a recess twice a day, mid-morning and mid-afternoon when we played outdoor games: marbles in the spring when the dirt around the school was dry; softball later, always "work up" where you batted until you made an out (this favored the bigger kids) and "fox and geese" after the snow fell.

Note: I don't remember the rules to the game Fox and Geese but we did a lot of running around the circle we laid out. Oh yes, during any goof days year around we played "annie ey over" which involved throwing a softball over the garage, catching it as it came off the roof then running around the garage to "tag" the other kids. (Again the rules are mostly forgotten).

Nearly 30 students attended at Flint School at the time that this undated photo was taken.

Does anyone else remember the weekly goiter tablets everyone took? Most kids hated them. I thought they tasted like chocolate candy and sort of liked them. I wonder, are these pills still used?


Over the years I've run into so many one-room rural school grads and we've talked about those days and usually end up, but never answering, the question: How did we go so far in life with what today would be deemed a minimal education? The only answer we ever came up with was "because we listened to all the classes, all the time." 


Some years ago I wrote a history of Flint School, and was looking for one of the students who was a year behind me in school. I hadn't seen him for decades but remembered him as one of the less progressive students in grade school and high school. Today he would be placed in special education or slower learners class.

I called his home and his son said "I'll give you his cell number, you can call him." Which I did. To my great surprise, John was overseeing construction of the elaborate entrance and lobby of the American Center in Madison. Today the space is used for elaborate performances.

As a supervisor for a large construction company, he proved that you don't need to be a star in school to be a star in life.

I guess it’s ok to look back on those years ago and remember attending the long gone one-room rural school. It was different but it worked

John Oncken is at