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OPINION | James Hales: School days in 1950s-70s remembered at museum meeting

by JAMES HALES Remembering Rogers | May 25, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
Southside Elementary was completed in 1951. This photo was taken just before it was demolished in 2008 for the expansion of Heritage High School. (Courtesy Photo/James Hales)

The Rogers History Club met on Sept. 16, 2021, at the Rogers Historical Museum for a program jointly sponsored by the museum and the Friends of the Rogers Historical Museum. The program, "School Days in Rogers," consisted of speakers Bob Ross, Bonnie Deason, Mayor Greg Hines and Sue Fleming. The participants related their fond memories of school days in Rogers from the 1950s through the 1970s. The large audience was welcomed by Friends' Board President, Sandy Chalmers, who taught school in Rogers for several decades until she retired. The introduction was by Karen Russell Burks, who attended and graduated from Rogers High School. Her family were prominent business leaders who owned Russell's Five & Dime, the Hillcrest Motel, and other ventures.

Here are excerpts of a few of those memories:

Bob Ross

"I attended the Garfield School and graduated from Rogers High School. We not only left a lot of memories at Garfield, but we also left a lot of hide, because there was nothing but rocks on the playground. I thought that I would talk about chinquapins, because they were prized by us children. For those who don't know, it is a cluster of nuts enclosed in a burr that was like a porcupine. They were absolutely fantastic and delicious. We would bring pocketfuls of them to school and use them like money to barter. If you have never seen a chinquapin, you will probably never see one because in the 1950s and early '60s, the trees were attacked by a blight disease and disappeared almost overnight. These magnificent trees, some three or four feet in diameter, died out and were gone.

"As I said, I attended school in Garfield and unfortunately followed my older brother, who was quite notorious. A window in the study hall did not lock, and one day in the summer, after everyone was gone, he threw a dead possum in the study hall. When school resumed several days later, the smell was horrendous. My brother was a great athlete like the late Steve Roberts, but years later, the first memory brought to mind of him was of the episode of the dead possum.

"The only whipping that I ever got in school was by a really mean teacher named Dorothy Ross (my mother). I don't remember what the whipping was about, but I am sure I didn't deserve it. My mother taught at Garfield, Central Ward, and other Rogers schools for 35 years."

Someone asked Bob Ross if they played marbles at Garfield School? "Yes, marbles was one of our favorite games, because the sixth graders could play the second graders and win all of their marbles. We also played mumbly peg, a game where you flipped a knife and stuck it in a wood floor. You could not play that today because kids can't bring knives to school."

Bonnie Deason

"I grew up in Rogers and attended several different schools. I first went to Liberty Bell, which was just south of Pinnacle Country Club. Then I went to Maple Grove, then Central Ward, and graduated from Rogers High School. An interesting note: My mother, Alma Hardy, and Dorothy Ross (Bob's mother) both graduated together from Pea Ridge, and they both lived into their 90s. They remained friends all of that time.

"Liberty Bell was a country school with six classes and one teacher, Miss Polly Crane. There were only a few people in each class, and we had one big room and one small room. We heated with a wood stove, and one of the older students was assigned to ring the bell for the start of school. One day Jeff Moser came into class yelling, 'Polly want a cracker! Polly want a cracker!' Boy, did Miss Polly Crane give him a spanking! One time someone put a mouse in her desk, and she tried not to be afraid, but you could tell she was.

"I was at Maple Grove for part of the second and third grades, and I loved it. I never cared for the educational part of school, only the social part. I loved games, and we played jacks, red rover, and hop scotch. One of the good things about Maple Grove was a little store across the street, White's Grocery. We loved White's because he had all of these apothecary jars full of candy. Mother and Dad would give me a penny or two, and we couldn't wait to buy some candy, then we walked home. Right up the street was Spence's Grocery. His store was bigger, he had a meat counter, and he sold more groceries.

"Maple Grove did not have hot lunches, but if you wanted a hot school lunch, they bused you to Sunnyside School, then back for more classes. Mom always fixed lunch, and I would walk home for it. My teacher in the third grade was Mrs. Jesse Holyfield, and Josephine Reed was our music teacher. Our principal was Mrs. Curry, Doctor Curry's wife.

"Then I went to Central Ward, and it was so much fun. We moved out to Little Flock, and I had to ride the school bus. I enjoyed the bus. I really rushed to get a seat and save it for me and this older boy. Years later, I saw him and asked if he remembered me saving a seat on the bus for him, and he said, 'You did that? I don't remember that.'"

Mayor Greg Hines

"I started kindergarten and first grade at Northside, and several of my teachers are here today. We moved to the west side of town, and I finished the sixth grade at Westside. Mrs. Sandy Chalmers was my music teacher for all of those years, and she was one of those educators who was concerned with you developing as a person. She made sure that you appreciated what music and the arts had to offer. It wasn't just music class, it was something that you were going to carry forward for the rest of your life.

"The big deal at Westside back then was Halloween and the carnival. Before Halloween was the competition of decorating a Valentine box. I decided that I was going to win that competition, and I worked for weeks on a gas station replica called the Heart Mart. It was spectacular, but this little girl, whose Dad was an architect, built a scale model of Westside School. So, I came in No. 2, and held a grudge against her and plotted to get even. I sat next to her in the cafeteria and threw some food from my plate at her, and it turned into the worst food fight in Westside history. We both got suspended for the day for that, and I still hold her responsible. Today, after 35 years, she is my wife's best friend, and we still argue over who started that food fight."

Sue Beck Fleming

"I started school at Central Ward. My mother (Opal Beck) was a one-room school teacher. She taught at Monte Ne, Shady Grove, New Hope and other places. New Hope was a very old school, and we were sitting in class one day and plaster started falling out of the ceiling, and everybody ran out in terror. Mother canceled school that day and sent everyone home.

"When I was in the fourth grade, Mother was teaching at Prairie Creek School. My brother Butch (Larry Beck) and I had Mother as our teacher, and that was the hardest thing for me. Mother did not mess around; when she told you to do something, you did it. She taught the first through the eighth grade at Prairie Creek, and there were at least 50 kids.

"Loraine Head was Mother's friend, and she talked Mother into letting her daughter, Patsy (Simmons) come to school, even though she wasn't old enough. Mother assigned three of us girls to babysit Patsy while she was at school. My brother, Butch, got into trouble every single day, and Mother would paddle him up on the stage in front of everybody. Patsy loved Butch, and when he got paddled, she would cry and wail something awful. After a few times, Mother would have us three girls take Patsy outside while Butch was getting spanked.

"Out behind the school were the boys' and girls' outhouses, and every year they got painted white. One thing that you did not do was write on the walls of the outhouse, but I was about 10 years old and I wrote mine and my boyfriend's initials on the wall with a pencil erasure. I got into so much trouble and had to scrub the wall with soap and water."

Serena Barnett, Rogers Historical Museum director, closed the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and for sharing their memories of school in Rogers.

On a side note, the early Rogers schools sounded very primitive with the outhouses out back, but other areas had it worse. My mother, Frances Hales, attended the big white school at Boxley in the early 1930s. They did not even have outhouses. There were separate sections of the bushes out back designated for the boys and girls.

  photo  The class of 1932 at Maple Grove School is pictured in this photo courtesy of Rogers Historical Museum. It is the oldest surviving school in Rogers. Mrs. Jesse Holyfield was the teacher. (Courtesy Photo/RHM)
  photo  The class of 1932 at Maple Grove School is pictured in this photo courtesy of Rogers Historical Museum. It is the oldest surviving school in Rogers. Mrs. Jesse Holyfield was the teacher. (Courtesy Photo/RHM)
  photo  Southside Elementary was completed in 1951. This photo was taken just before it was demolished in 2008 for the expansion of Heritage High School. (Courtesy Photo/James Hales)

Print Headline: Rogers residents recall good old school days, spankings and penny candy


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