Herald JournalHerald Journal, Aug. 29, 2005

Memories of the one-room Meister country school

By Lynda Jensen

Sharing fond memories of students warming themselves by an oil burner stove, clapping erasers outside, and taking part in festive Christmas programs were part of a reunion recently for former students of the Meister Country School.

Meister Country School District 36, a one-room country school house, was disbanded in the 1970s, and its building northeast of Howard Lake taken down years ago.

But its memory lives on in the lives of 70 former students, some of whom traveled from across the United States to take part in the reunion.

“We had so much fun during recess playing “Annie Annie Over,” building snow houses and forts in the school yard, and playing softball in the spring,” remembered former student Carolyn (Vaughn) Custer.

“I still remember George Marketon singing ‘Oh Star of Bethlehem’ at the Christmas program. I thought he had such a beautiful voice,” Custer added.

Some recalled letters that were dropped off at the school during World War II by postal carrier Dick Klucas for teacher Mary (Berg) Westphal from her future husband, Will Westphal, who was a soldier in the Army National Guard.

“There would be a honk outside from Dick Klucas, and she would say ‘Burton, go out and see if there is anything,’” former student Burton Horsch remembered. “Sure enough, it would be a letter from north Africa.”

The students would wait for letters almost as much as Westphal did, Mary Westphal said. “The students would be anxious.”

Westphal remembers her students with great fondness. “They were good families and good kids,” she said.

Former student Gretchen (Luhman) Evanson remembers the “wonderful, fun” Christmas programs and the annual day when students cleaned the school yard, with a bonfire and picnic afterwards. Evanson resides in Washington state.

“Miss (Sylvia) May gave all of us chewing gum,” Evanson said. She also recalled the picnic on the last day of school “with all the ice cream we could eat.”

Former student Jeannie Lockwood Bowers remembers toasting cheese sandwiches on top of the oil burner on cold, wintery days.

“The old Meister School had no indoor plumbing,” she added. Students carried water by the pail full from the nearby Ted and Eunice Youngren farm, which was pumped from a windmill at the foot of the hill in their farmyard.

She remembers trudging a mile through snowy gravel roads in 30 below weather, too.

“Climbing that last quarter mile or so of steep hill at the foot of the Steve Meister farm could get a little rough,” she said.

Families that lived on the old Meister farm at the bottom of the hill were the Frank Stifter family, Al Sawatzke family, and Robert Sawatzke family.

Lockwood Bowers also remembers teachers Wesphal, May, and Lucille Rabens; all three of whom would often heat water to warm the hands of the frozen students.

May is the daughter of Alvin May of Howard Lake. Rabens later married an Epple from Montrose.

Every so often, the oil burner would go out and the students would be taken in by the Youngrens.

The school was named after Steve Meister, who originally donated the land for the school.

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