History of Zion Lutheran School
The 19th century was a period of turmoil and chaos in northern Europe. The Napoleonic Wars, as well as later struggles, promised little to the peasant and his family. Land was passed to the oldest son or belonged to the landed gentry of the day.
Little wonder that the offer of free land to immigrants brought many thousands to North America. Especially attracted were the young men of military age, who could expect a call to arms any moment without much chance to return to any permanent employment or profession after was ended.
Southern Minnesota got many of its settlers from folks influenced by these circumstances. Carver County was no exception. The earliest families arriving in 1856 thru 1868 were about 30 years old, married a few years or about to be married. Only a handful of school age children were numbered among our membership. Pastor Kahnmeyer taught spring and summer classes using the catechism and Bible as textbooks. The schoolroom was his log pastorage. It is of interest that the first burial from our midst, a Mr. Kasten Uetzmann, who died in 1857, was a school teacher. Factors which slowed the program of formal education were, the Panic of 1857, the Civil War, the Indian uprisings and several outbreaks of contagious diseases – notably a Diphtheria epidemic in 1863.
By 1868 however, following an upsurge in membership and an increase in the number of children ready and waiting to attend school regularly, brought about serious consideration to establish a Christian Day School. But the battle with the wilderness was not over. Cash was a scarce item and much business was conducted by barter. A two dollar and fifty cent tax bill presented a formidable barrier. The few hard-won acres grubbed out of the great forest produced fine wheat unless the deer got into the field or there were grasshoppers. Children would guard the grain field during daylight hours to shoo away wild and domestic animals until rail fences could be erected to keep out the cows and oxen. Deer soon moved out when hunting decreased their number.
So it was in 1873 by the time Pastor Fischer was relieved of his classroom duties and Teacher Henry Ehlen came to us. Since he was educated in Germany, having immigrated in 1872, he used German language textbooks only. IN fact, German arithmetic books were used until 1882. One wonders whether Teacher Ehlen understood the dialects of his charges. They praute, kuet, snackt, and raere. Some families headed off this problem by using high German only, dropping the low dialects along the way.
The school building was also our church building from 1866-1880. Unique as well as practical were the somewhat lower benches serving as pews during church services along with higher ones, more normal in height. During the school term these seats could be paired, allowing the higher ones to function as desks. Whether Teacher Ehlen moved to Waconia, Pastor Krumsieg filled an interim teacher’s role from 1876 – 1881, until Mr. William Schulze accepted a call and became the first of a line of 8 men to serve our parish school. Emphasis on education meant many things to many people. The attendance records during the first 50 years would bear this out. During the fall season, when cattle grazed fields and meadows – other than pastures, schoolboys and girls were expected to be cowherds. Or the corn harvest called for baby sitters when mother helped husk, bundle, cut or shock. Unless a son seemed gifted as a possible pastor, teacher, or in other professional endeavor, it mattered not greatly to insist that their sons or daughters have few absences during the school year.
In 1882, State recommended books were introduced in our school and the English language was taught by teachers trained for this during their preparatory schooling. Prior, workers had immigrated from Germany and had to acquire the use of another language until they could be expected to teach it. Pioneer teachers found the almost complete lack of paper a formidable handicap. A student usually received one pencil, a slate and a piece of soapstone or chalk. The pencil was for marking a small check to indicate the verse or song to be memorized. One pencil lasted all six years, in many cases of a pupil’s school period.
The slate bore the brunt of attack by all budding scholars. A lesson in arithmetic, it wasn’t called math in those days, would be posted on the slate until passed by the instructor. Because slate was two-sided, some had folded side pieces, a number of subjects could be recorded, or incomplete lessons were finished the next day. The teacher would then order slates erased. Some pupils had a small sponge to sponge off their slate, but there was always the fellow in the back of the room who would use his sleeve because he lost his sponge or was too lazy to look for it.
By 1910, the slate was only an auxillary tool for the student and passed into limbo by 1915.
School finances were a problem in 1875 no less than they are now. Many hours were spent getting pledges to cover the cost of a salaried teacher. It was customary to pledge at the annual meeting for the coming term. These pledges were held binding under pain of membership dismissal unless prior release from a pledge was granted. There was a tuition charged varying in amount. An example was: $4 for the first child, $3 for the second and $2 of the third, $1 for any above three. The teacher was not paid on a monthly basis, but received whatever the treasurer received as soon or whenever he got it. Suffice to say that last minute contributions were as popular in 1873 as they are now. Two hundred dollars seems to have been the wage in the 1870s and 1880s. It was customary to furnish fuel, wood, housing, a plot of ground, a cow, a horse, some chickens and all the skunks and civet cats the teacher could catch, since it was so near Bevens creek. Folks would share their fruit produce with their church workers. So meat, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit grown locally appeared on the menu.
Cordwood was provided per roster by voting families. Upper grade schoolboys and girls formed chain gang delivery from the sawed pile to the church and school basements, pastorage and teacherage. Hardwood or soft was specified as needed. The wood detail ended in 1925. Furnaces had been installed several years earlier. The ancient box stoves with the long stove pipe were well remembered by all who suffered from over heat when near them and a lack of heat if any distance away. School clothing were heavy knitted stockings, heavy coats, and underthings, wool dresses, heavy shoes and overshoes. The overshoes were ankle high of cloth and rubber which collected a wedge of snow that crept into the top pf the shoe about where the shoestrings were tied, freezing them into a little ball. Many a graying and gray alumnus remembers chugging up Zion’s hill in winter, dressed in all necessary paraphernalia to withstand the cold. The only help a blustering northwest wind to bring him to another day long battle with the books. Somehow the trek downhill, under similar conditions, was not nearly so difficult even though heading into a gale at twenty below.
There were paths through deep snow in virgin timber. Great was the effort to reclaim a well-trodden trail after a heavy snowfall and several days of blizzard winds. Short legs followed longer ones, but the going was tough and only the energy of the young prevailed against the weather. Then, of course, the first warm day in spring and the carefully shaped trails would collapse under the softening snow. Next the ponds of melted snow and an overflowing creek added miles to an otherwise shortened journey cross country.
Imagine the pure joy, when spring brough forth the myriads of spring buds, leaves, flowers, chipmunks out of hiding, etc., and the walk home when morels appreared suddenly and the school bags became a sack to gather mushrooms. Or maybe the wood aple trees were loaded with red or green colored fruit and the school bags were good to carry enough to school for your friends. Such were the joys of walking to school until they passed into history when family autos and busses provided transportation after WWII. Everyone recalls the encounter between an amateur trapper and an experienced skunk. Somehow – it was always a boy, and the teacher would say “Geh heim” in 1882 and “Go home” in 1952. “We cannot use you today!”
No school is complete without recess and noon hour when some of the most important activities were discussed, planned and carried out. The old horse sheds played a major role during their day from about 1890-1934. They provided a backdrop for many boyhood games – and pranks. The hitching posts along the metal cemetery fence could be used as props for a leapfrog contest – not too successful if the trousers got caught. The old cemetery was off limits for the most part. Abandoned in about 1890, it was allowed to gather weeds and brush, much of it poison ivy. So, the kids steered clear of it, until the old markers were removed and the area was leveled and filled in, in1933.
The park area behind school provided another fertile area for playground activity. Formal equipment did not appear until the late 40s and early 50s. Before this, round games of many kinds occupied the time of the girls, such as “drop the handkerchief”, pick up stick, tag games, run-sheep-run, ring-around-the-rosy, etc.
There were courts for prisoners base, pump-pump-pull-away, tin-can, putt-lok-um, and a couple of areas for stick ball, “tick un halven is ut”, softball and volleyball. Touch football showed up in the middle thirties, and also indoor sports when the auditorium was built in 1954. Early day winter season games were fox and goose, sliding on the ice ponds, dominos, tick-tack-toe, katz und maus, jacks, and a number of blackboard games. Girls of all sizes played jacks for a good many years, seated on the schoolroom floor trying for “bird in a basket, over the fence and back again, around the world,” etc. Mothers wondered if it was necessary to sit on the dusty floor, but apparently it was.
During the middle 40s, a Tri-school playday began, including Zion, Hamburg, and Young America. Zion was the smallest group, usually, but the trophy case held a number of awards for athletic prowess. The events have remained generally the same since the beginning. Various races, jumps, volleyball, dodgeball, and softball skills are displayed. Benton victories have been close, cliff-hangers leaving the audience as limp as the contestants. The school board is always amazed at the quantities of hamburger, pop and ice cream consumed on such a day, whether the weather was fair or foul. Reliable sources indicate a gallon or two of sunburn lotion soothes the foreheads and arms of rabid onlookers the flowing day.
Since the auditorium has been a part of our facility, basketball has been a popular team sport. A number of championships, by our Benton girls, has highlighted wintertime competition since the middle 60s.
One could hardly compare our present auditorium to the school basement under the 1925 addition. And yet, a lot of us got enormous enjoyment out of this modest area. A wonder that the stairway survived the pounding of 29 years worth of hurrying feet.
Zion’s hill would have to be one of the prime snow recreation areas near a school. During the 1870s and 80s sledding was a favorite pastime, but a couple of accidents caused broken legs, so the church fathers banned all sliding and sledding on the church road. Travelers found ice a serious handicap, and horses and sleds could not climb the grade so local authorities requested a ban at the same time. When the pastor’s and teachers’ outbuildings were left unused in the late thirties, sledding and tobogganing became once again the winter pastime it now enjoys. Many of us remember the thrill down slope on sled or toboggan before and a good toboggan driver dumped his passengers to climax the run. Someone should invent a system to invert the hill so one could slide back up without the climb.
Extra-curricular activities were confined largely to a Christmas Eve program and Kinderfest on July 4th. Christmas was observed since earliest times, highlighted by children telling the age old story of the Savior’s birth.
Preparation for Christmas brought the initial need for music into the schoolroom. In the log cabin era, a tuning fork sounded the pitch and the teacher led his singers from memory. Teachers Ries and Gierke used a violin as well. Teacher Hoffmann pumped a parlor organ, donated by one of the parish members. When a second room was added in 1925, another parlor organ was donated by a parish family. Pianos replaced organs in the early 30s. Recently guitars, brass, and read instruments, as well as drums, perform in occasion, tutored by Mr. Lynn Mueller of the Lutheran High School music department.
Christmas Eve has been a highlight in our midst. It was a rather common occurrence to find one black board covered with four or six verses of “Sei Gegrusst Du Kind der Gnade” in a morning when pupils began to arrive. Everyone copied this for reference until memorized. Two-part singing dates back 75 years. And, recently much duet type singing, sometimes with Mr. Clausen’s guitar accompaniment and Mr. Scholz’s direction is in evidence. Oldsters recall meeting in the old school, lining up and marching across the roadway between buildings under any and all weather conditions. In 1922, an open year, the Model Ts could carry their owners and occupants to church. In 1928, horses and sled were the only vehicle possible. It seems, the starting hour has never been later than 7 PM and for a time in the early 1900s, it was 6 o’clock.
The earliest programs consisted of recitations of Bible passages, prophecy and fulfillment, much as now. However, the teacher – a master of ceremonies – announced a question, followed by a quotation assigned to one or more pupils called by name. Each assignment belonged to one individual who had an “Ersatzmann” in case sickness caused an absence. During teacher Affeldts time, and continuing through Mr. Eckhardt and Mr. Scholz’s tenure, complex and often quite technical presentations have delighted audiences. The Christmas story has always played before a packed house. The bags of goodies passed out after “Laest Uns Alle Froehlich Sein” or “Let Us All With Gladsome Voice” is a tradition predating 1900, while trees, in the classrooms, were not vogue much before 1940.
The Fourth of July celebration, or Kinderfest as it was called, began early during Teacher Ries’ time. Inspired by patriotism, a desire for fellowship, and teacher Reis’ talents as a bandman and musician, made this celebration a hit with young and old. The earliest picnic grounds were Henry Egger’s woods, now owned by Erwin Bruesehoff and Proehl’s pasture, immediately south of our present cemetary. By 1916, the church grounds were used until the custom ended when World War II began.
Just as the period after Thanksgving has been devoted to Christmas preparations, so the picnic program required time and energy after Easter vacation by teachers nad pupils alike. The “Liederperle”, a German songbook and other sources, largely Concordia Publishing House material, were scoured for new or novel stunts, drills, playlets, skits, etc. How many recall “Widdle Widdle Venne Heisst Meine Truthenne”, “Alles Neu Macht Der Mai” or “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”, well enough to sing today.
Surely the parade to the grandstand in the park to the beat of a brass drum, played by an upper grade boy, is vivid in the minds of many. Every marcher carried an American flag. The troop, assembled on stage, would invariably render one or two patriotic gems and the festivities were under way. There were costume skits and presentations, many times, with a moral or some message of conservation and anti-poluution. The local choir must be credited, to a large measure, for the success of the event for so many years. It was a great day for kids and adults alike. July the Fourth was a month into summer vacation, so one day was set aside a few days earlier to rehearse the children’s program. During Mr. Affeldt’s term, the Picnic Day was moved to the first Sunday in June. Little Wonder!
One can hardly imagine a more important facet during the school term than for or lunches. The first lunches consisted of molasses or butter sandwiches, eaten dry with chunks of liver, blood or summer sausage, and washed down with a gulp or two of water. Before hot lunches, a prayer was said before the teachers walked home. Numbe r308 in the German hymnal, “Speiss Uns, O Gott, Deine Kinder” before lunch and after lunch hour the prayer No. 310 “Wir Danken Gott Fuer Seine Gaben” was prayed in unison. The closing prayer for the day was often hymn 316, verse 1.
Thermos bottles began appearing in 1926 and slowly but surely, increased food consumption by 100 percent, as did the advent of the school lunches as we know them today. The early lunch bucket was a half-gallon or one-gallon tin pail, depending on the appetite of the carrier. The consensus was that an empty bucket was a poor weapon in a boyhood squabble. Lunches were stored variously. The earliest storage was at the student’s feet, which was most unsatisfactory. Later large hooks were installed for this purpose. In any case, the hooks loosened etc., shelves were installed for this purpose. In any case, one was not too apt to consume a sandwich after a two-mile walk in below-zero weather much before recess. It took about that long to thaw out.
Since 1954, hot school lunches with all the comforts of home, are available to all, with the Government furnishing varying kinds of food. Mothers, and other interested folk, volunteered as cooks until 1973, when a permanent cook was engaged.
Nothing reflects the changes a century has brought more than the subject matter taught during this time. The four Rs – religion, reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic were the only concern the first ten years. Then German grammar, complete with plusquamperfect, appeared on the school calendar. Geography, history, and English grammar, followed in the early eighties. By 1920, physiology and citizenship were taught, because the State Board examinations included written tests for this. It had been customary for confirmation calasses to enroll in public schools prior to 1930, after Easter vacation, to allow students to pass their 7th or 8th grades. A few years, around 1929 – 32, some of our pupils walked to district school, wrote and passed their exams for the 7th grade, then returned to Benton for their eight grade work. By 1935, exams wer conducted in our midst until the State discontinued this regulation in the late 1940’s.
By the 1940’s, Science courses appeared, and of late, comprehensive math courses are considered routine. The library could tell a story of its own. From small booklets, treating of simple subjects – such as the Story of Wheat and Cotton, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc., the present collection appears large.