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Back in her classroom: Kramer visits District 63 schoolhouse (with video)

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Margaret Kramer stands in the District 63 schoolhouse on the Stevens County fairgrounds. Kramer is believed to be the last living teacher at the school. The school closed in 1961. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times2 / 3
A bell was often used to attract the attention of students when they were outside for recess. Margaret Kramer looks at the bell inside the District 63 schoolhouse. Kramer taught at the school for several years. The building is owned by the Stevens County Historical Society and it sits on the county fairgrounds. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times.3 / 3

As she walked through the District 63 one-room schoolhouse Margaret Kramer paused to look at a book on top of an old desk.

"I remember this book," Kramer said as she paged through "More Streets and Roads." The book is a basic reader book popular when Kramer taught students inside the one-room schoolhouse.

Members of the Stevens County Historical Society said Kramer is the oldest living former teacher at the schoolhouse. Kramer will soon turn 90.

The District 63 school closed in 1961. The school was built in section 8 of Donnelly Township for a cost of $550, according material provided to the Stevens County Historical Society. It's been owned by the historical society for several years. It sits on the Stevens County Fairgrounds and will be open to visitors during the fair from Aug. 8-13.

Kramer taught at the school from 1949 to 1955. She taught at District 35 prior to District 63. She started teaching at 17 after graduating high school at 16 and then, she completed one year of Normal School training.

The one-room schoolhouse looks much the same as it did when Kramer taught there. A desk sits at the front of the school room. A shelf of books covers nearly one side of a rear wall. Desks are lined up facing the front.

A one-room schoolhouse meant students from first grade through eighth grade were in the room together.

"When you taught the little kids, the big kids you had to give them something to do," Kramer said. "Sometimes I'd be in one corner of the room working with a few kids, and then, in another corner working with a few different kids."

Kramer needed to be organized, confident and able to move comfortably from one topic to another and one age group to another.

"I had to plan for each day," Kramer said. "I had to know what I was doing."

But, after a time, "it comes to you," Kramer said of teaching in a one-room school.

The students were considerate and respectfull, Kramer said. Although she laughly said she didn't recall if the names of students carved into a blackboard did so while she was a teacher. She did however, recognize at least some of the names.

Like most of her students, Kramer lived on a farm. The start of school each day, "wasn't even the start of the day," she said.

Kramer had to milk cows and feed the pigs before she left to teach the students. "Then I'd get ready for school. I had to rush into the house after milking the cows," Kramer said.

Personal hygiene could often suffer, she said. "We all smelled the same," Kramer said. "They smelled like manure, I smelled like manure."

Most students walked to the school that stood near the road. The school yard was small but big enough for games such as Duck, Duck, Goose, or tag. "I remember the seesaw," Kramer said. "I don't remember if there was a merry-go-round."

Kramer would drive to the school about three miles each day in her "Little gray Ford."

She'd ring the bell to call the students to class. The day would start with the Pledge of Alligience and the singing of "America."

Kramer recalled having about 12 students each year at District 63. She'd teach math, reading, history and other subjects throughout the day.

"We all brought our own lunch," Kramer said. Those who brought hot food placed it on top of the oil burner that kept the food and the school warm.

Country schools had outhouses when Kramer was a child, but District 63 had indoor toilets when Kramer was a teacher.

Kramer's great-great-nephew Landon Strand of Herman recalls a story his great-great-aunt told him about classroom rules. Students who needed to use the toilets raised one finger or two fingers to indicate the needed use.

She didn't need to enforce many rules in the school because the students did respect and care for each other. Older students would help younger students. Sometimes they'd help each other with a problem in a particular subject. And sometimes, an older student would get a younger student paste so that Kramer could continue teaching.

"Every Friday we'd have art classes," Kramer said. She'd pick projects that would require at least two Fridays of work.

"One time I gave them a piece of glass and we did a mosiac on the piece of glass," Kramer said.

She also taught music one day a week, Kramer said with a frown.

She is not musical so she didn't know if the students were in tune or on pitch. "We pick out (a song) and sing. We just had fun," Kramer said.

Teaching at District 63 was fun, Kramer said. "I just enjoyed the kids. That was my love," she said.

Strand said when he is with Kramer, former students often greet her. They always call her Miss Kramer, Strand said.

Kramer can recall the names of various students and recalled the names of the school board members who hired her. "I thought about them the other day. I was thinking about how much I got paid," Kramer said.

She was paid $75 a month. "Isn't that something? For the time you put in," Kramer said. "I didn't get rich. It seems like it went a long way in those days."

Kramer taught at District 63 for six years and two years at District 35 two years. She went on to complete a four-year degree in college at Moorhead. She took most of those classes while teaching at District 63. She taught in the Herman School District until she retired in 1983.