Boarding School

Boarding School

Steele high school

Steele High School

In this brief story, Esther covers only the grade school days. When Esther told us stories about the pictures in Grace’s picture album, this picture triggered a lengthy discussion about life in Steele, where the kids went to high school. Not many parents today would do what Fanny and Ted did for their kids.

The township grade school near the farm only went through grade eight. If you wanted more school, it was off to Steele for high school. Though only thirty or forty miles from the farm, that was far enough that the kids had to rent a room in town, staying there during the week, coming home only for the weekends. In the winter, travel would be with horse and sleigh, and sometimes road closures meant weeks would go by without a trip home. Henry went to high school only one year. He didn’t like it; didn’t fit in well. Esther thrived.

The first year Esther was away at school the onset of winter was brutal, which meant she didn’t get home for six weeks. Surviving that extreme case of homesickness hardened her to never be bothered being away from home again.

Vic Gottertz

Vic Gottertz

Melvin joined her the next year and they rented a light housekeeping room from the Goettertz (pronounced Gott-hard) family in town. Henry built a little table for them, they had orange crates for cupboards and a single burner hot plate to cook on. There was no running water, they carried everything to the room in a bucket; out in a slop pail. Rent was ten dollars a month.

After that Bruce Bowerman joined Esther and Melvin, the boys were fourteen and Esther was only 16, but she did all the cooking and cleaning. Fried eggs with bread and butter every morning for breakfast. All without running water, on a hot plate.

By the time Esther was a senior, the boys had left town, and she had to grow up really fast, managing the money and time alone. Somehow she knew enough to get up (alarm clock) and go to school.

My days in high school were pretty mild compared to that. Our kids lived a pretty cushy life, too.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Esther writes:

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Getting to school at the two-room country school for the first eight grades was always a high priority. We went to school by whatever means of transport used at the time—car when the weather permitted, or horse and sled in the winter when the roads were not plowed. When we were a little older we drove horses with buggy or sled much of the time. The neighbor boys, Charles and Galen Bowerman, were learning auto mechanics at an early age, and their family had one or more Model T Fords which the boys kept running and gave us many rides to school.

The schoolhouse was not only for school, but served as the only center of activity for the township. Neighbors had many fall and winter parties where everyone played cards, usually whist, until eleven or so. Then the women would break out a big lunch of sandwiches and cakes. Finally the fiddle and piano played for dancing until three or four.

Whole families came, and kids slept on coats and blankets when they could no longer stay awake.

Second Year at Steele High School

In this letter Grace shares something I had never heard before, and never did hear in person from her. She talks about a young man that she knew well, but never “went out” with. Is that a common thing? What comes to mind is a certain young lady who was very special to me in high school, we were together many times, double dated and such. We enjoyed many of the same activities in school, signed the yearbook with some special sentiments, but we never hit it off. Now, how many years later, we are still friends. Somehow that closeness never developed into a deep romance. Maybe that’s good?

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace Writes:

Steele high school

Steele high school

I think I enjoyed that second year at Steele a lot more than I did the first. I was so bashful + scared to talk to anybody that a lot of kids thought I was stuck up. Guess its hard for all kids to start in a new school, it sure was for me. We always had a homecoming dance + ball game in the fall with a queen + all that goes with it. That year someone nominated me + another gal to run for queen. She got elected but it was quite an honor anyway.

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High School Skit and Proms

Joyce & Guy - Prom 1967

Joyce & Guy – Prom 1967

Lately the letters from Grace and Lucy have been about the various dances they went to in high school. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about going to dances, she never taught me how to dance, but I never missed a dance. In the early days it was John, Mark and me going to the dances just to watch the bands and talk about their guitars and drum kits. Later on I became interested in taking girls to the dances.

The first dances I remember going to with a date were the ones at the Masonic Lodge. They were pretty formal affairs, with dance cards and such. The school put on a number of dances, too, like homecoming. Generally it was pretty important to never go to the dance alone.

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Best Friend in High School

Grace and friend in high school

Grace and friend in high school

Every summer the carnival came to the Stutsman County Fair in Jamestown. Grace and her friends went to the county fair in Kidder County intending to talk to boys, my friends and I usually went to go on the rides. Some of those rides must have been the ones Grace had in mind when she made the comparison to the ones she went on in Steele.

The county fairs marked the high point of the summer. After the fair not much happened beyond swimming and fishing, the fair was the big event. Once I discovered girls and could drive them to the fair, I enjoyed those summer nights much more.

We still love to go to the county fair, but now the focus is the grand kids.

The part about fixing up her bedroom is actually quite sobering. We didn’t have much to fix up my room during my high school years, but it was far better than a peach crate with ruffles. The comparison to my children’s rooms and their kids’ rooms is another light year away from peach crates. I’ll add my room during the high school years to the list of things to write about in a future blog post. In the meantime, maybe you’d like to share what your room was like in high school?

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

My best friend in Steele was Mary Ann Pletan. Her dad bought into the garage there with another man + they moved to Steele when we were sophomores. We would stay overnight with each other and go to shows + talk about boys.

One time we went to a carnival and went on lots of rides. We were both mad at some boys and we went on the most reckless rides we could find. Those rides were pretty tame in comparison to the ones they have at amusement parks now.

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High School in Steele

High School in Steele

The house in Steel that Grace boarded at.

The house in Steele where Grace boarded.

The one thing that jumps out from this letter is the comment about going to school twenty-three miles from the farm. That was so far away Grace rented a room to stay in town during the week. In today’s world, in fact in my world of high school, 23 miles was not a big deal. How many of us think nothing of going out for dinner or to a concert that far away, and drive home in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter? Many of you commute farther than that every day. Transportation has improved a lot since 1936.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

My first two years of high school I went in Steele. We lived about 23 miles from there, so I stayed there during the week. In my freshman year I roomed with Ruth Marston and shared a room with a girl from Dawson who was a year older than me.

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Grace’s letters – On the Dakota Prairie

Most of us were born in town, in a hospital, and grew up on a street with sidewalks and other houses. My mother had none of those luxuries, and a childhood quite different from mine, starting with where she was born.

Grace

Grace on the farm

Grace grew up on a farm in the middle of North Dakota during the Great Depression, just south of Lake Williams, ND, south of Kunkel Lake. These are the letters she wrote to me in 1991 with her memories of life on the farm, going to school in Steele, ND, and the first couple of years she lived in Jamestown, ND. The stories end with her wedding to Louie Havelick.

Kidder County hasn’t changed much since the days Grace lived there. It might be worth your time to visit that part of North Dakota. A highlight for me is the Fairview Cemetery where Grace, her mother and other relatives are buried. From the top of that hill, there are almost no signs of civilization. No visible buildings, no houses, few roads, but plenty of sky and birds. One day Judy and I were at the cemetery alone and a solitary pair of pelicans circled overhead the entire time we were there. They were marvelous birds, quiet and graceful. We thought “Maybe that’s Grace and her mother?”

Sunset is an especially captivating time there. Quiet really sets in, which is a surprise since it’s quiet during the day. The wind dies down and stars come out. For a city kid like me who’s interested in astronomy, there is nothing in the world more captivating. Uncountable stars, and the Milky Way. Stars and no sign of civilization. (There may not even be a cell tower nearby.)

Grace’s first letter relates a story of Native Americans on the prairie and how the railroad influenced rural development.
Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


Updated 2016-10-18