The backstory to this is that, for our recent 60-year reunion of the Reno High School Class of 1959, I was tapped as the standby Master of Ceremonies should the first man become unavailable, which was an early possibility. Happily, John Doyle, who was the de facto Voice of the Class for the 60 preceding years, was there so my services were not required. I did, however, prepare a few thoughts in case I was called upon. Not to let them go to waste, I’m posting them here. The theme was, that our class was pivotal in a couple of respects. This week we’ll look at one; another time, we’ll read of early Kindergartens in Reno. The lights at Hidden Valley now dim and here’s what I would have said. Sort of:
There were in Washoe County no fewer than 17 separate school districts until May 2, 1955. Reno and Sparks were of course the two bigger districts; north of town were the Bonham, Copperfield, Sutcliff and Spanish Springs. To the west, Verdi and Laughton, (later Lawton); to the south and east of Sparks were Glendale and Wadsworth and the tribal district of Natchez. To the south, Home Gardens, Galena, Brown, Huffaker and Franktown. The seventeenth was “Consolidated,” which I think was administrative, homebound, and what we now call special needs. In some enumerations Brown shows as Consolidated #2. And, I think the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten might have taken on a “district” status. Dunno. The new single county district occupied their vacated schoolhouse on West Sixth Street as its headquarters until 1962. It was green. It was the original greenhouse; where the current nickname came from, I have no idea…
So — what we had in the county were 17 sets of payrolls, buildings, school boards and officers, teachers, inventories to purchase and maintain, applications to the State Board of Education for funds — in effect 17 little businesses, separate yet all pulling in the same direction.
And from the standpoint of readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic, inconsistencies abounded. The smaller schools, which constituted the majority of the 17, were one-room school houses, where “grades” tended to lose their identity to age groupings – grades one and two meeting for a couple hours while grades three through eight studied and read, no doubt the older students assisting the younger ones. As the day progressed the teachers would group the older grades by set, through the end of the day, following the curriculum set by that district. And it must have worked, for there were in Reno and Sparks a heck of a lot of locally-educated men and women.
But following WWII, people started to move around, gentrifying the inner towns. A family with a child in Bonham might relocate to nearby Sparks, or another from Galena move into Huffaker. And there find that their curriculums didn’t jibe, and there were duplications of study, or worse, omissions. Another situation that existed after WWII, and we entering Mary S. Doten in 1946 noticed immediately, that a family who lived, say, around Milk Ranch might send their children to a family member or friend in a more urban district for the five-day school week, to then go back to the ranch Friday after school. Thus, many of our school playmates were gone, for weekend birthday parties and outings.
So, by legislative fiat, the 1955 Nevada State Legislature created the Washoe County School District – all assets, debts, real property, school supplies and personnel became the property of this grand new district, which as we’ve seen will make the whole county system operate more smoothly. Yeah…
I included this legislative act as pivotal mostly to our class, because we all came on that bright September morning of 1955, from our former intermediate schools Central, B. D. Billinghurst and Northside – to the great Brickpile on Booth Street, Reno High School – then four years old.
When we arrived and all met in the gymnasium, we discovered that the operation was running as smoothly as corrugated rat shit – no one apparently in charge had a clue what was happening nor where we were going next. But, having matriculated for eight prior years we attributed the cacophony to the first-day-of-school jitters, that would all go away
What we didn’t realize was, that the jitters were in reality the first-day-of-school-in-a-brand-new-school district, with teachers and staff unused to the new system – new rules – new people and faces, not infrequently a new hierarchy, with a once-seniority-blessed teacher now subservient to a person of lesser tenure, a result of the new district. Such beefs were many.
But – we didn’t know any of that – we assumed this fusterkluck was the way of life in our new environment. So life went on and some stability eventually fell upon Reno High School. But – the members of the Class of 1959 were the newbies, and we noticed it more than any, older or following us in later years.
The old Reno School District #10 had one rule in particular whch lent itself to this evening’s speech that I was crafting: That requirement, which I understand dated back to the turn of the 20th century, mandated that a male teacher, prior to taking over a classroom in the Reno District, spend a period of time which I could not determine, teaching in the remote districts in Nevada – let’s say in the Cow Counties. I did learn that this practice was adopted from one which was almost nationwide, a practice that guaranteed that male teachers would occupy classrooms in the various states’ rural areas.
And a strong argument to the system was that these gentlemen, having spent some time, usually a couple of school years, would bring back to their eventual urban postings a knowledge of their respective states – in Nevada, the agriculture, the livestock, the railroads, the mining, and so forth. And it worked.
Here, my words would have taken a new turn…I frankly used the preceding words and fact as a basis for what I wanted to convey all along to my classmates. I described a column reader of many years past, and quoted information she mailed me probably 20 years ago.
This reader wrote me periodically on lightweight vellum paper, using a fabric-ribbon typewriter – two or three sheets with impeccable grammar and composition, nary an error in the text. I endeared myself to her by responding with two or three sheets of vellum, using my Underwood Standard. She got a kick out of that.
She conveyed that she grew up in Rochester, a little mining community in Pershing County. Her father was a miner; her mother managed the mine company’s employee store. I quote one letter as best as I can remember it (I still have it somewhere):
“One new school year we had a new teacher. We learned that he had graduated last year from Stanford. Someone said that he was on the boxing team. He was quite proper, wore a suit and tie every day and his hair was neatly trimmed. He was friendly but a little stand-offish. He came to dinner often and was very entertaining but never took a drop of whiskey or wine with my parents, and left and walked home soon after dessert. And a few days later we’d always receive a thank-you card in the mail.”
This reader, whose name I never sought permission to use, passed away many years ago. Her family notified me, on, a fabric-ribbon typewriter using vellum paper. I was often asked why I wrote columns in the Gazoo for 31 years for free. Readers like these are the answer…
This post has grown long. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll learn who the mysterious, well-coifed teacher in Rochester, Nevada was…
Added Nov. 7: OK – confession time – this is a two-parter; part II will feature David Finch. MEANT TO INCLUDE THAT I’LL TRY TO WORK IN SOME FINCH ANECDOTES IF THE SENDER RELEASES THEM FOR PUBLICATION IN THEIR TRANSMISSION TO