Farm girl – MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette – country school

We’ve been learning about MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette, who was born and grew up on the family farm near Lake Marshall south of Marshall.

Her mother, Anna, died from a heart condition when MaryAnn was 11, forcing MaryAnn into the role of homemaker for her father, Theodore Kack, and older brother, Ted, Jr., who had been her farm chores partner growing up.

MaryAnn, the child homemaker, continued attending her country school, District 6, which was conveniently located immediately to the west of their farm. She smiled as she recalled, “I could get up at a quarter to 9; eat breakfast; and run to school and be at school [before] school started at 9 o’clock.”

She explained the inside layout of her school.

“On the north side there was a locker room where you put your clothes and then we had a sink with the running water in there. And then the rest was all an open, big room. There was wooden floors and — I don’t know if it was once a week or what – but we would have to oil the floors. [T]he teacher would pour the oil on the floor and we’d move the desks. And then we would take rags and slip around and the kids, we’d oil the floor.”

She described the varied roles of the school’s heat source.

“[T]here was a big, old, pot-bellied stove and a lot of times in the wintertime the dairy farm kids would bring milk and some of us would bring canned tomatoes and she’d (the teacher) stand up on top of a chair with a pot on top of that stove, that big, old stove, and make us tomato soup or cook some other things.”

She remembered another one of the students’ chores involved hauling coal into the school from a storage shed behind the school.

The school had other outbuildings as well; a pair of matching outhouses, one for girls and one for boys, and a barn.

MaryAnn explained the need for the barn, “Well, a lot of kids rode their horses to school and some of them had a buggy.”

District 6 educated students in the 1st through 8th grade and MaryAnn estimated an enrollment of about twenty students during her time in school there.

She outlined how her teachers organized classes during the day.

“Well, we usually . . . started with the 8th grade and [sometimes] there was a lot of time for that. And then, as they went down the grades, the older kids helped with the littler kids. That was not unusual at all.”

MaryAnn explained why lunch was one of the few things about school she didn’t like.

“[W]e had to go home because we were so close by. We didn’t like it because all the other kids got to bring lunch, but we had to go home. We had — half an hour — to go home and eat and then we could go back to school.”

Recess occupied the other end of her school experience spectrum — a favorite activity.

“We always had recess. [We would] usually play ball or “pump-pump pull away“. . . we used to play a lot of things. We used to play a lot of ball. I threw the bat one time and it hit the teacher on the wrist. It broke her watch. I’ll never forget that.”

She also remembered the two most special events of the District 6 school year.

“We had a school picnic [in the spring.] And then we always had a Christmas play where everybody got up and sang. We had to put curtains up.”

MaryAnn had two teachers during her time attending District 6. They must have been strong, self-reliant, women because of their responsibilities for the twenty students in their charge. As MaryAnn described them, they clearly cared about their young charges and had the patience and skills necessary to deal with broken watches, coal dust, lunchtime spills, schoolwork questions from 1st through 8th graders, and the occasional need to overnight with MaryAnn’s family when winter weather shut down the roads.

Miss Ellen Lenz was her first teacher. MaryAnn chuckled as she remembered the bond Miss Lenz formed with her students.

“She lived in an apartment downtown because [we] kids used to come and visit her once and a while. I don’t know if she wanted us to or not, but we’d go and visit if we were in town. She always was glad to see us.

Mrs. Agnes Hebert, who lived with her family, including three girls, in a large house next to the Redwood River on North 4th Street in Marshall, was MaryAnn’s teacher through her upper elementary grades. Mrs. Hebert took a special interest in MaryAnn, perhaps thinking that a girl about to enter her teens who had just lost her mother and had no sisters at home might need some “mothering.”

MaryAnn shared some memories of Mrs. Hebert, “Her husband ran the barber shop here in town. That was about the time that my mother had passed away and they had quite a few kids. I think they had five. Anyway, she would have me come in and help her out. I was into my teens, but a lot of times they would just have me come in and stay there for a while.”

MaryAnn had a ready answer when I asked her what she enjoyed most about attending her country school. She said, “It was just like a family. You knew everyone that was there.”

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview pressllc@gmail.com.


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