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Lake Geneva Chiropractic

Childhood memories of Central-Denison

August 05, 2014 | 04:10 PM
Walking by Lake Geneva’s Central-Denison School on Wisconsin Street to the north of Maple Park, memories cannot help but bubble to the surface. This writer’s experience, no doubt, must be similar in many respects to that of thousands of others who attended Central School between 1901 and 2014. Accordingly, this column will be, in essence, a “slice-of-life” recollection of a particular period in Lake Geneva’s history as seen through the eyes of a young student at Central School, refracted through the prism of six to seven intervening decades.

Perhaps the most notable external feature of Central School (it was not called Central-Denison School during the years following the end of World War II-the name change in honor of longtime school superintendant E.B. Denison came much later) is the semi-circular room where this writer attended kindergarten as did his parents, aunt and uncle in 1922, 1915, 1913 and 1912 respectively.

It was a day or two after Labor Day in September 1947 that this writer’s grandmother walked with her five-year-old grandson to Central School, a few blocks from their home on Maxwell Street across from the Pioneer Cemetery. The young boy clutched a pencil and pad of paper in his hand. His grandmother was going to enroll him in kindergarten at Central School, much as she had enrolled her three children in kindergarten some three decades earlier. When the two of them reached the kindergarten room (it was the afternoon kindergarten-kindergarten was a half-day class and the morning kindergarten was at the Third War School, today the American Legion Hall on Henry Street) they encountered the kindergarten teacher, Miss Ruth O’Brien, standing in the doorway greeting the mothers who were enrolling their children. Miss O’Brien reached down and took the pencil and pad of paper from the young boy’s hand.

“We don’t do that here,” she said. Crushed, the young boy sensed tears welling up in his eyes. He had learned how to read when he was three years old by reading the Chicago Herald American newspaper on the floor of his living room and was very much looking forward to learning how to write.

He had thought that was what school was all about. His grandmother handed him a small rug that all new students were required to bring, admonished him to look both ways as he crossed streets on his way home from school, bid him goodbye and was gone. The young boy looked around the room. Of the 23 other students, he saw quite a few that he already knew ­— his neighbors the Smith twins, Timmy and Terry, Mary Lynn Schryver and Sally Gray; Carol Hanny, Nancy Hess, Richie Kahn, and Bruce Peck, whom he knew from the First Congregational Church, and John Brandley, whose Dad ran the Schultz Brothers “Dime Store” on Main Street, and two of his cousin Bill Malsch’s cousins, Tommy and Helen Malsch. He walked up to John Brandley and began talking to him. Miss O’Brien suddenly clapped her hands and told the students that it was time to take a nap and that they should unroll the rugs that they had brought with them, lay them on the floor and lie down on them. When class was over at 3 p.m. (a bell in the school rang, signaling that the school day was over), the young boy walked home, making sure to look both ways as he crossed streets) still upset that Miss O’Brien had taken his pencil and pad of paper away. For the ensuing nine years, he would attend Central School from September to May each school year.

The young boy had seen his Kindergarten teacher, Miss Ruth O’Brien, many times before. During the summers she worked in the small wooden Chamber of Commerce building in Library Park at the southwest corner of Main and Cook Streets, dispensing information to tourists.

Only after he grew older did he learn that she was a native of Lake Geneva and had been 51 years old when he entered Kindergarten.

A few years later she would marry Edward J. Nusssbaum, who lodged in the same house that she did in the 400 block of Center Street.

It is astonishing that the smells and sights of Central School have been retained in one’s mind for almost seven decades. A particularly remembered smell is that of the pink powder that the school janitors used to clean the smoothly worn floors.

Every day they pushed the pink substance down the halls with their large brooms, rendering the floors spotlessly clean. And the drinking fountains in the school are also remembered. At heights low enough to accommodate the younger students, they were called “bubblers” and cool water bubbled up in them. Ralph Warham was the principal of Central School in 1947. The next school year, 1948-1949, began with the young boy in Miss Margaret Maslowke’s first grade. She was from Wisconsin Rapids and had graduated from Stevens Point State Teacher’s College. But by the beginning of January, it was apparent that Miss Maslowke’s class was overcrowded as was Mrs. Karl (Maxine) Thorsell’s first grade class at Third Ward School. Mrs. Thorsell was from Duluth, Minn., and had attended the Duluth State Teacher’s College and graduated from the University of Minnesota. So half of Miss Maslowke’s students, including the young boy, and half of Mrs. Thorsell’s students were combined in a new first grade whose room was not in Central School, but in the “old” Lake Geneva High school (long since torn down and replaced by the modern middle component of Central-Denison School complex). The new first grade teacher was Miss Marilyn Breke from Milwaukee, who had never taught before. On the first day of class in January 1948, Miss Breke paired each student from Central School with a student from Third Ward School and made each of them promise to be friends with each other for life. The young boy from Central School was paired with Charles “Buzz” Wheeler from Third Ward School. They did indeed become the closest of friends for life, attending Whitewater State College and the University of Wisconsin together. “Buzz” became a well-known attorney in Green Bay until his death a number of years ago.

The following school year, 1949-1950, the young boy was back in Central School again. His second grade teacher was Miss Erna Tandrup. His “job” during the school year was to go into the school’s basement at mid-morning and bring up a metal container with 26 half pints of milk in glass bottles for the class. The young boy enjoyed the job because he could watch the school’s two janitors, Leroy Johnson and Arnold Ackley, shovel coal into the roaring fires in the large furnaces on the east side of the school’s basement. He also loved the morning and afternoon recesses which, weather permitting, were in Maple Park.

In 1950-1951, the young boy’s third grade teacher was Mrs. Clarence Vener, whose sister was married to Al Gove, the letter carrier who delivered mail on City Route #3.

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During the 1951-1952 school year, the young boy again moved to the old high school building. For fourth grade he was in a combination fourth-fifth grade class taught by Miss Hazel Artz. Miss Artz’s boy friend was an English teacher at Lake Geneva High School, Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007), who later became a well-known movie actor in Hollywood and a TV actor. He appeared in 23 movies (mostly “B” movies, the most notable of which was “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”), and 14 television programs. The young boy remained in the “old” high school building for the 1952-53 school year. He began fifth grade as a student in Miss Ethel McBroom’s class. Miss McBroom, a graduate of Northwestern University, was from Woodstock, Ill. At midyear, however, the young boy was transferred to Mrs. Holzmitler’s fifth grade class, also in the “old” high school building, because Eastview School had opened and Third Ward School was closed, requiring Miss McBroom to transfer to Eastview. For the 1953-54 school year, the boy was back in Central School again, but this time on the second floor. His sixth grade teacher was Miss Lorraine Meyerhofer, a native of Bloomfield Township, who lived on Park Row.

During the 1954-55 school year, the boy’s seventh grade teacher was Allen Cramer from Sauk City. Mr. Cramer turned out to be the boy’s favorite teacher. After Mr. Cramer retired from teaching, he was a Walmart “greeter.”During his final year at Central School, 1955-1956, his eighth grade teacher was Dale Wolff. As of this writing, Dale Wolff is the only teacher this writer had at Central School who is still alive. Another teacher merits mention, Al Heling, the gym teacher. The school nurse was Margaret Walter. The school’s principal was Theodore J. Kitze. The Superintendant of Schools was Vernon Pollock. The years 1947-1956 were a magical time to have been educated in the Lake Geneva public schools.

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