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Edgewood School's first reunion evokes memories

BECIDA -- From the days of Beltrami County's early settlers to the baby boomer years, Edgewood School answered the educational needs of country children.

As in many country schools, Edgewood's teachers worked with students in grades one through eight all in one classroom. When the youngsters graduated from eighth grade, they either went to work or continued their education at Bemidji High School.

Built in 1898, Edgewood School was one of the last to remain open during the 1960s era of consolidation. On Feb. 25, 1969, the Beltrami County District 15 School Board voted to close the school and consolidate with Bemidji. Classes continued through the spring, but the teacher, Geneva Jacobson, received notice that her work was finished at Edgewood.

All-school reunion

The students who spent happy days at Edgewood School have always remembered an era that's not so long ago in years, but in many ways was a different world. On July 15 and 16, those who attended Edgewood School will gather for their first all-school reunion.

The school that closed in 1969 was the second Edgewood School. The first building, located on the east side of the 3700 block of Becida Road, burned down in the early 1930s. The new building, which is now the home of John and Susanne Rabel, opened in 1935 on the same site.

"You can see where the desks were screwed into the floor," said Susanne. "It cost about $800 to build."

A tour of the Rabel residence will be one of the reunion events. Because the school is now otherwise occupied, the rest of the reunion will be held at Rockwood Town Hall, two-and-a-half miles south.

Simple facilities

Former Edgewood School students planning the reunion described some of their experiences.

"Every morning we had to go out and pump the pail full of water," said Shirley Hiltz Moe. "The famous pump that everybody stuck their tongue on."

"They didn't learn from other people," said Margaret Charon Lease.

They noted other amenities, including the boys' and girls' biffies behind the school. To request permission to use the outhouse, students raised one finger or two, to indicate how long the teacher could expect them to be out of class.

"When I first went there, we brought a potato in our pocket, and we'd put it on the stove, and we'd have a potato to eat for lunch," said Margaret.

Shirley remembered when cooks started making hot lunches for the students during the 1950s. "You could have as many butter sandwiches as you wanted," she said.

"I just remember Spanish rice, Spanish rice, Spanish rice," said Sharon Hirt Taschner.

But she also remembered the cocoa. All the children lived on nearby farms and brought fresh milk in jars to school. The cooks would make a big pot of cocoa for those who added their milk to the common supply to share.

Food for the lunches came from government commodities. "And donated," said Shirley. "I remember Dad got a big bag of rutabagas and he donated them."

"We were always so hungry, we'd eat anything," said Margaret.


Some of the children walked to school, like Margaret and her younger sister, Carol Charon Shepherd. "Or got dragged," said Margaret, recalling a cold day when Carol, a first-grader at the time, decided to lie down and go to sleep on the mile-and-a-half walk to school.

"I knew I'd be in trouble if I left her," Margaret said. "So I took off my coat, rolled her onto it and dragged her."

Those who lived farther away rode the school bus, a converted truck in the 1930s and a station wagon during the 1950s.

Sharon's father, Norman Hirt, drove the school bus for Edgewood School, several other country schools in Beltrami and Hubbard counties, Bemidji schools and St. Philip's from the fall of 1945 to the spring of 1988.

"I hauled three generations in one family," Norman said. "That was the Vodt family."

"People would set their clocks by him," said Dorothy Hirt, Norman's wife.

Their three daughters, Sharon, Carol and Linda, attended Edgewood School. It was the nearest school to their home, but because they lived just over the Hubbard County line, their parents had to pay tuition.

"Dad paid $5 a month for each child," said Sharon. "He finally told the board, 'I own land in Beltrami County. Why can't my kids go to school there?'"

Norman said the School Board members agreed after the first year, but they never refunded the first year's tuition.

Riding the bus could also be an adventure. Carol remembered a snowy day when the road by Fern Lake was drifted in and impassable. She said Norman told the riders to hang on because he was going to make a run around the drifted section through a fairly snow-free hay field.

The riders also had the duty, taken in turns, to "run the tracks." Norman said the law required the bus to stop before crossing railroad tracks. A student had to get out and walk, or run, across the tracks and signal the all-clear to the driver.

Once, he said, the child running the tracks couldn't get back to the bus before a train came through. There he was, Norman said, with the bus on one side and the student on the other.

"That was a dumb deal," said Norman. "I don't know why they'd have a little kid look and listen."


Sharon said the largest number of students at Edgewood School at one time was 34. She and other former Edgewood students recalled some of the activities they enjoyed, such as sliding on pieces of cardboard down the gravel pit banks, school plays, jacks, jump rope, dodge ball, Red Rover, Fox and Geese and softball games.

"We just made fun," said Margaret. "We had to go out to play unless it was below zero."

They also went to play days at Bemidji State College and on field trips.

"One of our trips was to the Nesbit pop company in Bemidji," Sharon said.

"We went to International Falls and went through the paper mill in Canada," said Carol.

Some of the students also took release time for KYB, or Know Your Bible, classes taught in nearby homes by students from Oak Hills Christian College.

The former Edgewood students said they were educationally well prepared for ninth grade at Bemidji High School, but they found the big school scary. Besides, they said there was always a division between country students, who had to get home for chores, and city students, who could participate in after-school activities.