Hanchett / Lawrence / South Evergreen
One Room Schoolhouse Reunion
Stories - Hanchett School
Hanchett School Memories
By Dorothy Westrate Smith
The school, located at the corner of 88th Avenue and U.S. 16, was home each year to 20+ children in kindergarten (beginners) through the eighth grade. It consisted of one big room with a coal furnace for heat. There were two bathrooms complete with chemical toilets, one sink along the east wall in the main room, and a cloak room along the west wall. There was, of course, a bell tower on top. Things were cozy, and we looked out for each other. My uncles, Len, Bill and Ben Westrate, attended Hanchett in the 1920s, and they told stories of some rather bloody fights on the playground, but I don’t remember anything like that. We were pretty much a family.
I walked two miles each way every day, and I’m convinced that the daily exercise is the main reason for my lifelong good health. Sometimes I’d ride part of the way with Father Salatka, the priest at St. Michael’s, or with the milkman who picked up full cans at the farms along the way. Our desks were arranged in a circle around the furnace when it was cold and wet, so we could warm up and dry out before beginning our school day.
I remember square dancing, usually with Jim Fitzpatrick as my partner, spring school picnics, and our Christmas programs. Delores Walt and I sang “Star of the East” one year. Miss Mary Cook, our teacher for five years, took us on a field trip to Grand Rapids once. We visited a bakery, a soda bottling plant, the G. R. museum, the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper and Lookout Park, where we had a picnic. We had a great time rolling down the huge hill at the park. We also went to the state capital one year.
Hanchett was about 1/2 mile from the railroad track, and one day when we went out for morning recess, we found a genuine hobo asleep against the bank next to the road. Miss Cook, responsible for our safety, made us all come in immediately. When we went out to play after lunch, the man was gone.
The school grounds included a valley to the east of the ball diamond, and there we played many games. Some of the older kids, including Rhea Mae Scott and Lois McCue, provided us with a story line about “The Ghost of Ghost Mesa,” and we acted out a segment of the adventure every day after lunch for months. I remember that there were clues to a hidden treasure, which was eventually found, hidden in a small tin box. It was a collection of beads and such. Clues were often attached to spines on the thorn bushes that grew in the valley. We had to be careful not to be stuck by thorns on the ground. We also played kickball and sometimes brought our skates or simply slid on our boots on the frozen ditch beside the highway. We slid down hill on large pieces of tin, in lieu of sleds. We’d come off the tin about halfway down, bumping along the rest of the way on the seats of our snowpants. I wore mine out, and my mother, none too happy with me, sewed on a very large, ugly denim patch. In warmer weather, we’d go down the slide on pieces of waxed paper, which made us go a lot faster.
On Halloween, we’d trick or treat in the neighborhood, scaring the little kids with spooky tales as we walked by the little fenced 1860s private graveyard located just south of the school. We were told that a mother, father and baby were buried there, but the years had rendered the inscriptions illegible. One year, we walked nine miles. Miss Cook had planned a party with refreshments back at the school, but we were having too much fun for that. Our parents became worried and came looking for us, but we would duck down in the ditch whenever a car approached. When we finally did come back to school, we were severely chastised and taken home without a party.
Once, Miss Cook sent Delores and me out to burn the papers. It was a windy day, and sparks caught the dry grass on fire. I can still hear Delores saying, “We’re up the creek without a paddle.” Everyone had to come help us stomp out the flames.
After my kindergarten year, 1946-47, when my teacher was Mrs. Olga Paul, I was the only one in my grade. I studied most subjects (except math!) with the grade ahead. When the schools were consolidated and the country kids moved to a classroom in Coopersville, our seventh grade geography text was the same book I had studied from in sixth grade at Hanchett.
Older kids got to help the teacher a lot, giving and grading spelling tests and reading to the little ones and listening to them read. We could also hear what the older students were doing. As a third grader, I had read every book in the library and enjoyed diagramming the same sentences the eighth graders were working on. Another pastime was designing and cutting out our own paper dolls and making clothes for them.
Mrs. Inez Hubbell succeeded Miss Cook when I was in the sixth grade. She lead a 4-H wildflower project for those of us age 10 and older. We filled in a project book in which we drew pictures and recorded information and observations. Each of us also prepared a poster with pressed and dried flower. To this day, I can identify most of the wildflowers I enjoy so much each spring.
I guess all of were relatively poor in worldly terms, but we didn’t know that. We were rich in all that really mattered. We enjoyed many freedoms and opportunities for independent adventures that today’s children, sadly, lack. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at Hanchett for anything.
Hanchett School Happenings
I would walk alone for the first half-mile along Arthur Street and hope to meet the others coming from the east - - Arlene Ruster, Earl & John Busman, Leona and Cecil Wykoff and Joe Fabian and off we would go to Hanchett School. We would pass the old grave with the iron fence and sometimes run fast when someone would mention the occasion. We would approach the school with excitement and anticipation for the coming day.
Inside the school to the right was the girls’ cloakroom. Clothes hooks lined the walls to hold our coats and on the far end of the room would be shelves to hold our boots and lunch boxes. What an array that would be – some new lunchboxes, other metal pails and gunny sacks or paper bags. The other side of the front door was the boys’ cloakroom. In the right corner of the schoolroom stood the round coal stove. Usually the teacher or one of the big boys would carry in the wood from the woodshed behind the school to stoke up the fire so we could stay warm in the winter. The right side along the windows (the sunny side) small desks were lined up for the younger children and for the older ones the desks grew bigger. We older kids could help the younger students with their reading, writing and arithmetic. How special that was! Every day we would start off with the pledge of allegiance to the flag and sometimes we would sing songs from the old and tattered songbooks from yesteryear. Usually John Busman played the old piano. Sometimes a smarty would request a song that he didn’t know or anyone else knew. How everyone laughed! What memories!!!
Our recess time was so short. My special pal was Harriet Bouwman. When Lloyd Brown was our teacher he had a set of boxing gloves and would spar with the “big” eighth graders. We would all stand around in amazement. When that was over everyone would hug and get back to school books. We all enjoyed eating our lunches together. We would compare the goodies, and sometimes exchanged sandwiches or cake. Then came the time of hot lunches (well it was really cold additions) to our lunch. Open a can of cold baked beans or peaches – what an addition to our lunches. Everyone played softball. Two of the boys would be captains and choose members for their team. I always wanted to be on John Busman’s team because I knew he was a great ball player and could bat the ball a long distance and maybe we would win the game. We also visted other schools for softball games – Jericho, Marshall, Toothacre, South Evergreen, North Evergreen. I don’t know if we won or lost or how we managed to get to these schools but it was an outing for us to visit other schools.
At Christmas time we always had a program for our parents. We constructed a stage with wire for curtains and practiced for a “perfect” program. The school was always full with parents and friends no matter how hard it snowed or the cold temperature. We exchanged gifts and welcomed the Christmas season with lots of cheer.
Occasionally we were visited by the country nurse or superintendent. I always feared these people and would make a dart for Ruth Venema – my mentor – I knew she would protect me. Oh yes, the usual ailments would prevail in that public school – measles, mumps, chicken pox, or whooping cough etc. The country nurse would nail the quarantine sign on the side of the house – NO VISITORS ALLOWED.
The summer brought the end of the school year and a picnic for all. Everyone enjoyed the delicious food prepared by our mothers and planned special occasions for the summertime events.
The years passed swiftly and soon it was time to get on the school bus and head into town for high school and plan for our unknown future. We had to put our rural education against the “city kids.” We proved that our rural schools could make as many valedictorians as the city schools and we can be proud that we attended a “one-room country school.”
Dear Hanchett Students and Staff Members,
Thank you for the invitation to the Hanchett School reunion on November 8, 2008. We have a previous commitment and we will not be able to attend.
I Taught 31 students K-6 at Hanchett School during the school year 1955-56. The three contact persons on the invitation were part of the student body that year. It was a successful and good school year with lots of memories for me. Many times during my 27 year teaching career I recalled the days with Hanchett School students. I also shared my times with fellow teachers the one-room school teaching experience. It was fun. I still have the class picture with the name of each student for identification. That year we were awarded the certification of appreciation from the Ottawa County Safety Council, Avery Baker was Director. Hanchett was the first county school to enroll and the first to complete the Bike Safety project. (I still have the picture.)
Al and I are enjoying our retirement years with family and friends. We still travel and keep in touch with our many friends we’ve made over the years. Our three children are all married and have families of their own. They all live near Allendale so we see them often.
Thanks again for the invitation. We’d like to be included if you have another reunion
Nancy & Al Torno
Jim Fitzpatrick remembers staying after school and writing the same sentence over and over again on the blackboard. That was his punishment for ringing the school bell. Half way through the noon hour, he and Carl Holman decided to call all the kids in from the playground. They snuck back into the school house and started ringing the bell.
Cathy Holman remembers “trick or treating” at Halloween with her brother Carl, just south of Hanchett School. Going by that private graveyard was scary.