Week 35: School

The Wonder Years! Of all the influencers in my life I think my elementary school years had a MAJOR impact on my life…on my career choices, my friendships, relationships and values. Let me tell you about my school, Gurnee Grade School District 56 in Gurnee, Illinois, 1944-1952.

Gurnee Grade School circa 1945

On the far right the two basement windows looked in on the room where I met Mrs. Daily as my first and second grade teacher. Above that room is where Mr. Milton J. Davis, the principal and eighth grade teacher, held court. More on him later. Behind this room was Mrs. Oltman’s third grade classroom and Mrs. Thorson’s fourth grade. Miss Baumgartner taught fifth and sixth in a classroom on the left, behind the Principal’s Office on the front left. We entered through the center doors into a large hallway that led to the bathrooms in the rear. At recess we would go to the bathroom and then out the back door, down a flight of stairs to the playground. From the stairway we could look west and see the DesPlaines River.

It’s amazing! As I write this 75 year later I can see the rooms and the teachers in my mind’s eye. I started school about age 4 when I first learned to read (DUZ spells Duz was my first word learned off the soap box). My Mom along with two other mothers, Mary Welton and Betty Merchant, pushed the school to have a Kindergarten. I was in the first class. Then because I was young I was also in the second class (Yes, I flunked kindergarten). I was an avid reader and did well in my first few years. I remember loving Mrs. Daily, hating Mrs. Oltman and deciding to be a teacher when I watched Mrs. Thorson! She was beautiful and such a good teacher.

Me in 5-6th grade

I became a young lady in fourth grade; got my first bra, etc. and fell in love with Jimmy Keifner. That didn’t go anywhere because I was twice his size (always the tallest person in the class) and he didn’t reciprocate my feelings. Fifth grade was memorable because I got my first kiss from Richard Cook at a school picnic in Viking Park and because I moved from fifth to sixth grade after the first month of school. Also it was in fifth grade that we studied the United States. I did a project to collect info from every state. I wrote letters to each Secretary of State to get travel information. Unbelievably, I got loads of mail…travel brochures that I filed alphabetically by state. ( I saved all that info into my married years and dreamt about seeing all 50 states–I’ve only seen 47).

My class size was small, probably about 15 kids. I knew most of them but it was in sixth grade that life-long friendships were cemented. I still have several close friends from those early years… the kind that I might not see for a year, then we talk and pick up right where we left off. I am very lucky to have these people in my life.

In seventh and eighth grade we had Mr. Milton J. Davis as our Pincipal and teacher. He was very tall and skinny. He must have been a good teacher because I learned a lot and was well prepared for high school. He also promoted our social lives by having Friday afternoon dance parties in the classroom. Everyone had to dance, including Mr. Davis who danced with all the girls. We girls probably drove him crazy! When we had slumber parties we would call him in the middle of the night and ask him if he had Prince Albert in a can (let him out) or was his refrigerator running (better go catch it)! And he would laugh and hang up! Later in life, when we girls would vacation together we would make our dinner reservations in his name, then laugh and go down memory lane when the hostess would call out “Davis Party”.

Gurnee Grade School 1959, old building at far left

Seven years after graduating from GGS I returned one September with my sister, Bobbi, in tow to register her for school. Mr. Davis was at the Registration Desk (still Principal) and he asked me, “What are you doing next week?” I had two years of college under my belt and had decided to stay home to help out my Mom who’d been seriously ill. Turns out GGS needed teachers and I could qualify on a temporary certificate so at 19 I became a sixth grade teacher, back in my old school.

My fourth grade dream became a reality and lasted all my life. No matter what I was doing… Mom, teachers, supervisor, business owner, grandma, corporate trainer…I was a teacher. Thank you Mrs. Thorson and RIP Milton J. Davis.

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