• Category Archives SCHS Blog
  • School District 7, 100 Years Ago

    By Jim Froemming


    My grandmother, Esther Eul, began teaching in District 7 in the fall of 1917. It was a one-room rural schoolhouse with 18 students. As a child, I remember her talking about teaching out in the country. It was not until I made a trip to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul to see its World War I exhibit, celebrating the 100-year anniversary of America’s entry into the Great War, that I realized it was also 100 years ago that my grandmother became a teacher. Two of my nieces are elementary school teachers and I thought it would be great to share with them my grandmother’s years of teaching, but first I needed to learn more myself.

    Much of what our family knows is due to the foresight of my uncle (Esther’s son), Thomas Kokovikas, Jr. In 1964 he taped an interview of his parents, which included questions to my grandmother with regard to her time as a rural school teacher. Recently, my brother painstakingly transcribed the tape, but because of the softness of my grandmother’s voice and the sound quality of the tape in general, we were not 100% sure of some of her answers or spellings of names. However, with the help of the Minnesota Education Department‘s Annual Reports at the Minnesota History Center library, literature and plat books at the Stevens County History Society (SCHS), U.S. Census and ancestry records and records provided by the U of M – Morris Archives Department, we were able to confirm most of her answers, including the years she taught and the names of her students.

    In this article my grandmother’s words are shown in italics.

    “[In the fall of 1917] I went to District 7… they called it Mich District School at that time. Then I went out there and taught one year and then the 2nd year they said to me, “Don’t you want to come back and teach?” And I said, “Well if you want me.”  They wanted me back.  So I signed.  Then when the school board had a meeting, they voted me in right away.  And that was the 2nd year and the 3rd year they voted me in again.”


    Shortly after statehood in 1858, Minnesota allowed county commissioners to establish smaller “common school” districts in each township. A typical township west of the Mississippi River is a survey township, an area six by six miles square.   Each county numbered its own districts, starting with #1, in numerical order as they were organized. The number of school districts proliferated because the general idea was to not require a child to walk more than approximately 2 miles to school.

    By 1917, Stevens County, with its sixteen townships, had 69 school districts (one added in 1919 and another added in 1928). In 1917, the only graded school districts were in the five towns of the county, all others were ungraded, rural one-room schools.1

    Based on a 1923 study done by the US Department of the Interior, by 1920, there were 271,147 school houses in the continental United States, of which 187,951 were one-room schools. In Minnesota there were 9,077 school houses, with 7,668 of them being one-room schools.2  Teachers were needed for all of these one-room schools. The Morris High School ran an advertisement for its Normal Department for a number of weeks in the fall of 1915:3


    No doubt this caught the eye of my grandmother, who was in the first graduating class of St. Mary’s High School on June 18, 1916 and took summer teaching credits at the West Central School of Agriculture in 1915 and 1916. The Normal Department was on the second floor of the new Morris High School building, built in 1914. She enrolled in the Normal Department the fall of 1916 and graduated with a Teacher’s Certificate on June 4, 1917, along with five other students, including her best friend Mary Just. This allowed her to teach in the rural schools.

    The term normal school originated in early 16th century France from the école normale. The French concept of an école normale was to provide a model school with model classrooms to practice the standards or norms for teaching.4

    Some of the school records of District 7 for the 3 years my grandmother taught1:

    No. of Pupils Teacher’s Wages
    For the Fiscal Total Enrollment Enrollment by Ages Average Mo. Total
    Year Ending Boys Girls TOTAL 5 to 8 8 to 16 16 to 21 TOTAL
    July 31, 1918 12 6 18 5 13 0 18 $60 $475
    July 31, 1919 14 5 19 6 13 0 19 $65 $515
    July 31, 1920 13 6 19 5 14 0 19 $80 $605


    Note:  $80 per month in 1920 is approximately $1000 per month in 2017 dollars (BLS CPI-U, All items in U.S. city average, all urban consumers).

    All of the rural school districts in Stevens County had women teachers. Back then it was accepted practice to pay women teachers much lower wages than men.   From a PBS online Teachers Series discussing this era: “… Still, women flocked to teaching.  Not only were they grateful for the salary, however meager; they also welcomed the independence and sense of purpose teaching gave them. No doubt some regretted having to leave their homes and earn their own livings.   Many assumed they would teach only a few years until they married.  But many others welcomed the escape from a life of drab labor, isolation or frivolity. Teaching gave women a window onto a wider world of ideas, politics and public usefulness. …”5

    The History of Stevens County by Edna-Mae Busch in the SCHS bookstore indicated that after the original District 7 schoolhouse building was sold, 24 years after the district was first organized in 1876, a second building was built in its place.6  The schoolhouse was located on the NW corner of Section 28 of Rendsville Township. The school director of the district in 1917 was Matt Mich, who coincidentally was the grandfather of a classmate of my uncle’s at St. Mary’s High School.

    According to the Threshing Bee website, in the 1970’s the Donnelly Commercial Club (which later became the Donnelly Community Club) moved the second schoolhouse to the Threshing Bee grounds, where it currently sits. The schoolhouse is open to the public each year during the 2-day Threshing Bee celebration, the Saturday and Sunday on the weekend before Labor Day weekend. I never imagined that the schoolhouse would still exist.

    “The first year [I stayed] at the Laudenslager’s, but in the 2nd year she was going to have a baby in the wintertime, so I didn’t and the house was small and then it would be crowded, so I asked Gina Johnson [Pederson] if they could. They said, “Yes I could come and stay there.”  So I went and boarded and roomed for 2 years there.  I didn’t have to walk very far [to school] about ¼ of a mile. [Any concern with weather?] Yeah, but I only lived, up and down the hill.

    Oh, yes I had to start the fires in the morning, so when I arrived there wasn’t any fire. What do they call big belly stoves? Potbelly. And I would cut my own kindling.  … and I got the coal bags in the wintertime from dad.   Oh, I had about 21 kids – the Waller’s, Olsen’s, Schueller’s, Pederson’s, Dornquast’s, Kruize’s and the Laudenslager’s. 

    Mrs. Olsen used to walk clear down to the school about a mile and ¼ and tell me to come up and have coffee with her.  So, pert near every afternoon I was invited to come for coffee.  Mrs. Olsen used to come out on the corner and say, “Come in teacher and have coffee and cake.” I had a real good time… [they] were real good to me.”

    Comparing with US Census and ancestry records, the following would be the names of her students.   The ages shown are from the 1920 census.7


    Name Age Name Age
    Dornquast, Pederson,
    Sidney 11 Alfred 15
    Viola 8 Laura 11
    Kruize, Schueller,
    William 10 Raymond 11
    Berend (Ben) 7 Frances 10
    Laudenslager, Edmund 9
    Ernest 17 Walter (Rangel) 7
    Earl 14 Dorothy (Dora) 6
    Carl 10 Waller,
    Marvin 6 Hazel 16
    Olsen, Raymore 14
    Ida 13 Hiram 13
    Conrad 11 Orval 10
    Elmer 8
    Victoria 6


    With the help of the SCHS this fall I was put in contact with Harry Kruize , the chairman of Rendsville Township and one of the organizers of the Threshing Bee. Normally locked, except for the two-day annual Threshing Bee, Harry agreed to meet my sister and me on a beautiful October Saturday to open up the schoolhouse for us. Fortunately, it had rained a lot in the weeks before so Harry was not out harvesting. Harry invited his uncle, George Pederson, to join him to give us the “tour” and share their memories of the school. George was instrumental in getting the schoolhouse moved and preserved. An unexpected outcome of my research was that my grandmother taught both of Harry’s parents (William Kruize and Laura Pederson) and George’s sister (Laura) and her 1st cousins (the Waller children). Also, in her second and third years my grandmother boarded with George’s aunt, Gina Pederson Devick.


    To be able to walk into “our grandma’s” classroom and to see the desks, the blackboards that encircled the room, the pictures of Washington and Lincoln hanging on the walls, and how the sunlight filtered into the room and shined on the desks was an incredible feeling. This would have never been possible if it was not for people like Harry and George, both District 7 alumni, who cared enough about the importance of the past.  I cannot express enough gratitude for them caring about their (and my family’s) past. As the Minnesota Historical Society emphasizes with their slogan – History Matters.

    As much as my grandmother enjoyed her teaching she did not return for a fourth year: “Then after that [third year] in the summer time I went collecting bills for my dad [Christian Eul’s Standard Oil delivery service] and I happened to come into the Candy Kitchen. And theywere looking for a girl to wait on tables.”

    My grandmother took that waitressing job that summer– perhaps you could not take the city out of the girl.  Three years later she married the proprietor of the Morris Candy Kitchen, my grandfather, Thomas Kokovikas, Sr., and Miss Eul became Mrs. Kokovikas.

    In 1958 District 7 was renamed District 2153. On October 11, 1960, the district and 15 other common school districts voted collectively to consolidate with Morris ISD 769, although the precinct District 7 was located in voted against consolidation. 8  The consolidation became effective July 1, 1961, and the last school year was 1960-61. After that consolidation, there remained only 5 rural districts in Stevens County. In 1967 the Minnesota state legislature determined that a school district should have both an elementary and secondary program. Those districts that only had an elementary program were given until 1971 to merge with a district that provided K-12 education. During the 1970-71 school year all but 3 of the 446 school districts in Minnesota had a full elementary and secondary program. Nationally, the 187,951 one-room schoolhouses that existed in 1920, were down to 200 by 2014.10

    In the August 20, 1974 issue of the Morris Sun there was a wonderful ad provided by the Morris State Bank, with the title “Country School,” that gave me a sense of what these schools meant to the students, teachers and communities who were a part of them:

    “The one room schoolhouse is gone, but the things we learned there – good sense and decent ways of treating people, love of land and love of life – are still with us.   And they always will be.”



    Notable events from 1917 to 1921:


    • April 6, 1917: United States declares war on Germany, enters World War I
    • May 18, 1917: Congress passes the Selective Service Act giving the U.S president the power to draft soldiers
    • March 4, 1918: Start of the Spanish influenza pandemic in the United States
    • October 11, 1918: First reported case of the “Spanish” flu in Morris
    • November 11, 1918: Armistice signed at Compiegne, France marking the end of World War I
    • January 16, 1919: The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified beginning the era of Prohibition (of alcohol) in the United States.  (repealed in 1933)
    • August 18, 1920: The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified granting women the right to vote.
    • September 16, 1920: Wall Street bombing in the Financial District of Manhattan.



    1Annual Report to the Superintendent of Education, State of Minnesota by the Superintendent of Schools of Stevens

    County, Form 8-A, Section 1- Pupils, Teachers and Text Books.

    2 Abel, J.F. Consolidation of Schools and Transportation of Pupils, Bulletin, No. 41. Department of

    the Interior, Bureau of Education.  1923.

    3 Normal Department advertisement. Morris Tribune. Sept. 10, 17, 24 and Oct 1, 1915.

    4 Hanchu, Steven. The Kansas State Normal Years:  1863-1923. Emporia State Research Studies 49(1), 2013.

    5 PBS.org. Only A Teacher Series: Teaching Timeline.   PBS Learning Media.  2017

    6 Busch, Edna-Mae. The History of Stevens County. Self-published, 1976.

    7 Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920-Population,

         Rendsville Township, Stevens County, Minnesota. January 7-17, 1920.

    “Consolidation is Approved.” Morris Tribune, October 14, 1960.

    9  History of Consolidation, School District Consolidations-83rd Minnesota Legislature.  house.leg.state.mn.us

    website. 2003

    10 Lessons to be Learned from a One-Room Schoolhouse. CBS News Sunday Morning. Jun. 1, 2014.







  • Stevens County Bands by: Hannah King, Curator

    Stevens County and the surrounding area were home to a variety of bands at the turn of the 20th century. Participating in a music group, whether it was a choir, orchestra, or brass or cadet bands, was a popular, socially acceptable hobby. Both Victorian era attitudes and Lutheran beliefs valued music. Luther believed that “music is God’s greatest gift” that “all Christians would love and regard as worthy.” Victorians saw music as an intellectual, refined activity that could be a relaxing diversion for the rich and a source of pride and respect for lower classes. These two systems came together perfectly in late 19th century Minnesota.

    The Kongsvinger Symphonia Band is one of the better documented groups in our collection. The band was connected to the Kongsvinger Free Lutheran Church in Rendsville Township and existed from about 1907 to 1924. The band put on concerts and played for community events. Originally directed by Reverend Abs from Hancock, it was later directed by Adolph Sherstad. Sherstad was a farmer in the Donnelly area, but also an avid self-taught musician. Sherstad played solo and first chair cornet for 23 years in the Kongsvinger and Morris Municipal Bands. He was a paid soloist with the Morris Band, and often performed in the Eastside Park band shell. Our Collections Spotlight this month features Sherstad’s cornet.


    Other area bands from the time included:

    • Hancock Orchestra, formed 1892
    • Morris Cadet Band, formed in 1896 under the direction of H.B. Lund
    • Modern Woodmen of America, Morris Camp No. 3184, Hodges Township
    • Morris Boy’s Band
    • Alberta Band
    • Cyrus Band, Cyrus, Stevens county
    • Little German Band,
      also known as the Little Thirsty Four
    • Mark Pomeroy’s Band,
      Big Stone County
    • Ortonville Boys Band, Big Stone County
    • Fairfield Big Four Band,
      Big Stone County
    • Windom’s Little German Band, Cottonwood County
    • Grove Lake Band, Pope County
    • Merry Farmer Boys Band, Langhei Township area, Pope County


  • 2017 Horizontal Grandeur

    Our tenth annual Horizontal Grandeur Juried Fine Art Exhibition is in full swing!

    As always, this exhibit is open to all artists from the United States or Canadian provinces with prairie.  The 2017 adult division includes 78 pieces from 44 artists.  In honor of its 10th year, we added a youth division with 50 pieces from 37 artists aged 5 to 17.

    Since the opening reception on June 22nd, there has been a steady stream of visitors for the exhibit.  Remember, there is a People’s Choice Award for both the youth and adult divisions.  Vote for your favorite pieces when you come to the museum or place your votes online at the Horizontal Grandeur Facebook page by”liking” them in the Youth and Adult albums!  Some of the art is also available for purchase.  Award winners will be announced after the show closes on November 10th.

    Museum Hours:
    Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
    Weekend hours available by appointment.

    Horizontal Grandeur is made possible by its sponsors!

    A big thank-you to all this year’s sponsors:
    Federated Telephone (Acira)
    Big Stone Therapies
    Dental Depot
    Chokio Review
    Pedersen Funeral Home
    Bank of the West
    Morris Lumber
    Law Offices of Fluegel, Anderson, McLaughlin & Brutlag, Chartered
    Edward Jones: Kent Swenson

  • More About Barn Quilts

    Approximately 80-90 people attended the “Barn Quilts and More” event, sponsored by the Stevens County Historical Society at the rural Morris home of Ward and Carol Voorhees on Sunday, June 25 to see the unveiling of their barn quilts. Barn Quilts are large wooden panels painted with a design from a single block of a cloth quilt, and mounted on a building.

    The purpose of this event was to introduce the general community to this art form, with the hope that enough people would be interested in having a barn quilt made for their place of residence or business. If enough people do this, a Barn Quilt Trail can be organized, which can then become a tourist attraction.  There are currently over 120 Barn Quilt Trails in the US, 7 of them in Minnesota.

    Barn Quilts usually have a story associated with each quilt, or have a special meaning for the owners.  Cindy Heffner from Eagle Bend, who made the Voorhees Barn Quilts, explained the meaning behind each one during the afternoon program.  These Barn Quilts are easily seen from the highway, but Voorhees encourages anyone who really is interested to stop in any time and view them up close.  He would be happy to chat about Barn Quilts in general or theirs specifically.  He can be contacted at 320-334-2079.

  • Making the Prairie by Hannah King, Curator.

    How do we define the prairie? And how does it define us? At their most basic, prairies are defined as extensive areas of flat or rolling grassland. The open and expansive views of our area were formed by glaciers moving through the area, which also contributed glacial debris like stones and boulders, as well as creating many lakes. The last glacial period ended about 10,000 years ago. As glaciers retreated, melting ice filled in many of the depressions left behind. Rain and snowmelt help replenish these glacial lakes and “prairie potholes.” The glaciers also moved and deposited other materials, which left us with the soils found in Stevens County today. Most of the soil in the area is till, a mixture of materials ranging from fine clay to large boulders. Parts of the county also have lacustrine deposits, which are materials that settled out of glacial lakes. The deposits tend to be sandy and gravelly near where the lakeshore was and have more clay near the middle of the lake. These areas tend to be very flat and level.  Different kinds of prairie are home to a variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubbery.

    People followed the glaciers. Rock art and mounds show that the first people arrived in Minnesota at least 5,000 years ago. When European settlers arrived, they found the land inhabited by Dakota and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) peoples. Human habitation had relatively little impact before the arrival of settlers when indiscriminate killing of bison nearly drove the animals to extinction. Around the same time, famers began plowing large fields, which destroyed many acres of prairie. Prairie can be made into one of the most intensive crop producing areas in North America, so very little land was left in its natural state. The availability and fertility of land in Minnesota meant that for decades the main industry was agriculture. Since so much of the land was in constant use, there was not much opportunity to develop large cities and tall buildings, which kept views in Stevens County open even as more people arrived in the area. The landscape, whether agricultural, or built, is still heavily influenced by the prairie that has been replaced.

    Today, many people realize the need for a greater balance between nature and people. Prairie restoration kits, programs, and companies abound. Crop and prairie residue is used as biomass fuel by UMM and the West Central Research and outreach Center. Artists inspired by the prairie share its beauty, perhaps stirring appreciation for the natural landscape in someone new. The openness and richness of the prairie shaped the lives of the first waves of people who came to Minnesota. Later people changed the prairie to suit human needs regardless of nature’s rhythms. Perhaps we are heading toward a time of equilibrium, when people can still make a living off the land while also respecting it.



  • Congratulations, Kate!

    Superior Industries in Morris recently hosted a nine-week Dale Carnegie  course.  The course stressed the Five Drivers of Success which are: Self-confidence, People skills, Communication Skills, Leadership skills, and Reducing stress and worry. There were twenty-three participants including our Director, Kate Sauers. Tasha Rohlfs of Fargo, ND was their able leader.

    They held a graduation ceremony at Superior on March 15. Each participant was required to give a two to three minute presentation. The participants invited their supervisors to attend and the supervisors actually awarded the certificates. Ward Voorhees, Chairman of the SCHS Board is seen awarding Kate’s certificate to her.

    The last item on the agenda was having the participants cast secret ballot votes for who they thought should win four additional awards. The awards were for Highest Award of Achievement, Human Relations Award, Biggest Benefit Award and Business Application Award.  We are proud to say that Kate won the Highest Achievement Award.

    Kate tells us that this course has impacted her personal and work life in an incredibly positive way. “My biggest benefits are improved communication with my co-workers and more confidence,” added Kate.


  • Scandinavian at Heart

    Scandinavian at Heart

    by Hannah King, Curator

    SCHS Collection

    Back in September, Minnesota artist Lucy Tokheim visited the museum to give a presentation about her work and her new online exhibition. Though Lucy herself is not of Scandinavian descent, she is inspired by the traditions she saw practiced in Minnesota and on a visit to Norway. Lucy’s enthusiasm was contagious and we decided to create an exhibit focused on Scandinavian arts and crafts. Stevens County and the surrounding areas are filled with wonderful artists that practice traditional forms of painting, dancing, and sewing. However, we also wanted to invite contributors who do not have a Scandinavian background or who are reinterpreting traditions in a new way, much like Lucy. This spring, Scandinavian at Heart will feature a thought-provoking mixture of historical artifacts, modern traditional pieces, and imaginative interpretations of Scandinavian and Nordic art and history. The exhibit will have painting, rosemaling, illustration, pottery, beading, carving, and weaving. Pieces are inspired by the art and stories of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. Our artists come from different ethnic backgrounds, but all have been steeped in the Scandinavian culture that is so common in the Midwest.

    Scandinavian at Heart will open Thursday, April 13, with an opening reception that evening from 6-8pm. We will also have our own Norwegian version of a sip and paint night! Local artist Clarice Dieter will show participants how to create a rosemaling pattern. Watch for the date announcement soon. We hope everyone can come out to enjoy the exhibit, whether you are Norwegian, Swedish, or just Scandinavian at heart.

  • Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    by Hannah King, Curator

    More Norwegians live in Minnesota than any other state in the U.S. Just over 20% of people in Stevens County have Scandinavian ancestry. Many of us grew up with Johnsons, Andersons, and Olsons and came to love treats like sandbakkel and krumkakke. How did the Midwest, and Minnesota specifically, come to be the center of Scandinavian American culture?

    Minnesota has been an immigration destination since the early 1800s. Norwegians began to flee overpopulation and poor farming conditions in the mid-1800s. They first settled in Wisconsin and Illinois, both of which had rich and plentiful farmland. From there, they moved west into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Other Scandinavians and Nordic immigrants followed suit. In 1850, Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer wrote, “What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.” That dream essentially came true, with many important historical figures, cultural practices, and even regional dialects influenced by Scandinavian immigrants.

    Governors Knute Nelson, John A. Johnson, Floyd B. Olson, John Lind, and Adolph O. Eberhart were all of Scandinavian descent. The strong presence of cooperatives for everything from fuel to telephone services is largely due to Scandinavian influences. The same can be said for the widespread nature Lutheranism, agricultural communities, and hotdishes.

    Even the way people speak in the Upper Midwest has been affected by all those Scandinavians. Linguists have given the regional accent that you hear in Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakota, western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa its own name – Upper Midwestern English. Most residents in these areas know that things like the long ‘o’ (such as in Minnesooota) and the phrase ‘uff da’ aren’t something you hear elsewhere. However, even our phrasing is different. The Upper Midwest is the only area in the U.S. where people say ‘come with.’ John M. Spartz, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “come with” construction, said the phrase is basically a direct translation from the German and Scandinavian languages — languages once spoken frequently in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin during a period of heavy German and Scandinavian immigration. “I would say, ‘Come with,’ and people would look at me like I’m crazy,” Spartz said. He added that it sounded to the person like he had not finished his sentence. People in Minnesota and Wisconsin also sometimes use the word “borrow” when they mean “lend.”

    It turns that all Midwesterners, even those who don’t have a drop of Norwegian blood, still carry the mark of Scandinavian immigrants who started to arrive over 150 years ago. Throughout this newsletter and upcoming exhibit, we’ll be exploring Scandinavian culture and heritage. We hope you come with.