I attended Cambridge Elementary School for about half of my second-grade school year.
We moved to Cambridge during the summer of 1957. My mother had gotten a job at the Cambridge State Hospital. We lived several miles outside of town in a place almost ideal for a seven-year-old boy. It was an old farmhouse, about a quarter of a mile off the road. There was fallow farmland surrounding the house and woods, with a creek, behind the house, maybe an eighth of a mile away. I would go down to the creek and play with the turtles and other critters I found there. We had an electric pump for water indoors, an eight-party telephone line where our ring was two longs, a short, and a long, and an outhouse. An old hand pump was still there for a backup, but we didn’t use it much. We did keep a jug of water to prime it just in case. We had yellow-jackets in the attic; luckily, they didn’t seem to come into the house too much.
I didn’t have any friends to play with there. I remember there were a couple of kids who lived in a farmhouse about a mile or so away. So, Cambridge was a place where I learned to play by myself. My mom went to work to bring home a paycheck, and my grandmother did the housekeeping.
After a summer of being mostly along, I was excited to meet other kids at Cambridge Elementary School. I remember walking a couple hundred feet to the farm parameter road then down to the school bus stop at the paved highway. The school was an old brick building. I recall it had a huge school-yard for kids to play in. While there, we were playing tag and some kid tagged me too hard; I fell, hitting my shoulder and breaking my collarbone. The collarbone didn’t heal properly and was growing wrong. As I recall, they said in another few weeks the bone would grow out of the skin. Anyway, a month or so after the initial break I went into the hospital, had the bone rebroken and then set surgically. I think I spent most of my time at Cambridge Elementary in a sling.
That fall, my grandmother, Donna, was sitting in the outhouse when a snake came crawling out from down below. She freaked out totally. The yellow-jackets in the attic were bad, but snakes in the outhouse were just too much (even if it was only a garter snake). My mother got a job at Anoka State Hospital, and we moved to Anoka. Thanks to a journal found in the Donna Darling Collection, I learned that we were definitely in Cambridge by June 1957, so I know we spent the entire summer of ’57 there. I also learned that the house rent was $35/month.
We must have moved back to Minneapolis during the summer of 1956 because I don’t remember changing schools during the school year that year. We lived at 1221-½ Nicollet. It was an old hotel, right next door to Westminster Presbyterian Church, that had been converted to apartments. It had fire escapes on the front of the building that was really cool at the time. Once we popped popcorn and went out on the fire escape to watch the Aquatennial Parade go by. It turned about a half a block away (on 12th Street) but we could see it just fine from our perch on the 3rd floor. My mother told me that we lived in the same building a couple years earlier, but I don’t remember that.
I attended Emerson School, named after Frank Waldo Emerson, about four blocks away. I remember walking to school with a girl. I think we were the same age and just watched out for each other. On the walk to school, we crossed Nicollet Ave, one of the busiest streets in the city in those days. We only lived there for a couple months, as I recall. Then we moved to a place on Spruce Place, only about a block from the school.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School was originally erected in 1886. It was demolished and a new building was erected in 1925. An addition was added in 1926.[i]
A 1963 study indicated that the school attendance had 663 students in 1952 and only 223 students in 1963. The decline was mostly due to infrastructure changes in the neighborhood, particularly the building of Interstate 94 through the city. (I-94 runs 4 blocks to the west and 2 blocks to the south of the school.) Additionally, the report cites change of land use in the area.[ii] I had seen the shift over the years too. The apartment I lived in on Nicollet Avenue was demolished and made into a parking lot in the late 1950s. Likewise, the building we lived in on Spruce Place was torn down and a wing to Eitel Hospital was built.
The school was smaller than I remember. That same 1963 study indicates the school had 7 classrooms plus a Kindergarten as well as four special education rooms and one special use room for use by K-6. I guess things just seem so much larger when you are only six-years-old.
My Soup Disaster
One of my most traumatic school events ever happened at lunch at Emerson. I, like most kids in those days, brought my lunch. I had a new thermos and it was filled with my favorite soup – Chicken Noodle. I poured out about half of it and it was all broth, and that was okay. Then I poured out the second half of it and it too was all broth. I couldn’t get the noodles to come out of the thermos. I was frustrated and cried a bit. Why wouldn’t the thermos release the best part of my “Chicken Snoodle Snoop.” Finally, a teacher came over to me and was successful in getting the thermos to release the noodles. I only brought tomato soup after that.
What happened to School
I am surprised to learn that the school building is still there, 91 years later. Today it is “The Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center.” It provides a language immersion program for native English and native Spanish speaking students serving students Pre-K – 5th grade. Students learn to read and write in both languages.[iii]
I’m not positive why we moved from Hastings to Saint Paul, MN. I know that my mom was working as a nurse’s aide when we lived in Hastings and she was working for another hospital when we lived at the Capital Apartments in Saint Paul. I think she was a nurse’s aide at Gillette State Hospital for Crippled Children, but I’m not positive. My grandmother was working at the time also, but I don’t recall where. I think it might have been a laundry. My mom took a bus to work every day and I believe my grandma walked. The two of them tried to make sure one of them was home whenever I was home.
I don’t remember any great excitement about my first day in school when I began kindergarten at Scheffer Elementary. It was just something that a kid did. I do remember that the school was nearby, maybe three blocks away or so. I also remember it had a huge playground but there was something dark and foreboding about the school building itself. Of course, I walked to school. On most days, I walked with other children from the apartment building I lived in; sometimes I walked with kids from the buildings nearby. I don’t recall ever having a parent walking me to school. I don’t recall school crossing guards or anything like that. Kids just sort of took care of themselves in the mid-1950s.
That winter, somehow, I attracted the attention of a bully named Cynthia. I didn’t do anything to her, but in true bully fashion, she began rubbing my face in the snow whenever she saw me. I was in kindergarten and she was in second or third grade. Much bigger than I was. I grew afraid of Cynthia. She was the bane of my existence. I told my mother and my grandmother about it, but they both worked and neither were about to intercede. They talked with one of the neighbor kids, a fifth grader I think, who agreed to keep an eye out for me and step in if I was getting picked on. I think that worked for a while, but then I was walking somewhere alone and Cynthia spied me. She rubbed my face in the snow again. I came home cold and wet, the tears and melted snow indistinguishable on my face. I had been taught by my mom and grandma to never, never ever, hit a girl. My grandmother told me that this girl, who was acting like a bully and like a boy, needed to be responded to like she was a boy. She gave me permission to smack her. A few days later Cynthia saw me again, knocked me down and began mushing my face into the snow. I round-housed her with a big one in the face. She stopped for an instant, surprised, even shocked, then her face turned to anger. I had really angered her. I think I got the worst “snow mashing” of my life that day. She ground my face into the snow and ice with all her might. The good news is, however, that was the last time she pushed my face in the snow. I saw her many times before spring arrived and the snow piles vanished, but she left me alone after that.
Scheffer Elementry School
Scheffer Elementary was an old, forbidding beast of a school when I attended it in 1955. It was built about 1900 and felt old. It had large windows with a top portion that could be opened to provide ventilation in the summer. But in the winter, the windows were drafty beyond belief. I remember two floors but I don’t remember a top floor containing dormers. Scheffer was built without a gym, as was typical in its day, but did have a large playground outside. That playground was Como Playground, which was the first city playground created in 1903. Before Como Playground, parks were typically public squares and not active places for children. I only attended Scheffer for the one Kindergarten year, so I don’t have many recollections but, looking at photos activated a memory. Scheffer Elementary was demolished in 1970 and replaced by a Scheffer Recreation Center.
Other people recall the school’s bell as being significant. I don’t recall it. The school’s bell has been preserved and is now in the current Scheffer Recreation Center. The center of today has a baseball field, two softball fields, the center building housing indoor facilities.
A Memory Activated – Baking!
While I was researching Scheffer Elementary School I ran across an amazing photo that triggered memories. The photo was a St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press photo from 1950 of kindergarteners at Scheffer Elementary learning about baking bread. I saw the photo and gasped out loud, “Wow! I remember that.” I remember the tall paper chef hats and making bread. Before I saw that photograph, I would not have remembered when or where it happened but I would have remembered having had a very similar experience. It is so fantastic to see the photo. Thank you, Minnesota Historical Society, for allowing the photo to be shared.
The City of Saint Paul is planning and designing a new Scheffer Recreation Center to replace the existing 1970’s building. Yikes! Talk about something making you feel old. Not only has my first school been demolished and replaced, that replacement building is undergoing replacement and should be gone in the next couple years. It is so ironic that the next generation Scheffer Recreation Center, planned for 2018-2019 will have a gymnasium, a walking track, and other sports features that the original school did not have.
Research the Capital Apartments that were behind the Capital during the 1950s.
Internet: Saint Paul // Departments // Parks & Recreation // Design & Construction / Current Projects // Scheffer Recreation Center Project – (see: https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/parks-recreation/design-construction/current-projects/scheffer-recreation-center-project – accessed 23 Jan 2017. Also see CAC Meeting #2 Presentation.
I often see articles and blogs that remind readers to write about their own life. Something that several suggest is to write about schools that you have attended. Most people have a few schools, but I have 15 schools that I have attended. It is more of a book rather than an article or two. Looking back, I have attended seven elementary schools, one junior high school, three high schools, and four colleges. So, I thought I’d examine the school’s history and see what I can remember of my attending.
1955 – Scheffer Elementary, St. Paul, MN– Kindergarten.
1966 – Billings Senior High, Billings, MT – part of 10th grade.
1967 – Mumford High, Detroit, MI – part of 11th grade?
1968 – Graduated from Osseo High School
1974 – Chapman University, Orange, California (Navy PACE)
1976 – Chaminade University, Honolulu, Hawaii (Navy PACE)
1981 – Anoka Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids, MN
1984 – Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
For each of the schools I attended, I plan to look at the school’s history and see what memories I can jog loose about me and my attending that school. My guess is that most of the elementary schools that I attended are now gone.
————- Disclaimer ————-
 If you had asked me before, I would have said I attended Schaeffer Elementary. Researching for this article I learned it was Scheffer Elementary. I double checked my DD Form 398 – Statement of Personal History. I indicated Schaeffer on mine when I completed it in 1968. Also, the form only included spaces for five schools; I had to continue on another page.
 I will need to look closer at this school. For some reason. I think I went to Central High in Billings but a quick Internet search indicated that would be a Catholic school. I am sure I attended a public school when living in Billings.
[Last fall, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings suggested thinking about your fifth grade memories. The time is often a pivotal point in a person’s life. I was speaking with my friend Aauriane about her fifth grade experiences and suggested she write about it. Here are some of her memories.]
Fifth Grade Memories
By Aauriane Veleda
Fifth grade was a year of new beginnings and explorations for me. Fourth grade had introduced me to the concept of men being teachers and I loved Mr. Kruger dearly but he left us mid-course of the year for health reasons. Soon fifth grade followed and not only did we begin changing rooms for subjects this year, but I had three male instructors! This year we had three subjects – math, English and everything else was in home room. Mr. Long was my homeroom teacher but he also taught me science and history. I was one of those kids who loved to learn and for Christmas I asked for microscopes and biology sets – things you used to be able to get through Sears catalogs. Mr. Long fostered that learning and let me bring my biology set to school. He taught me dissection before and after school. I fell in love with science even more and thanks to Mr. Long’s love of history and artistic expression, I was learning about the American Revolution through drawing and coloring maps, costumes, uniforms and books. It was when I decided I loved to learn even more! Mr. Locke was my math teacher. He was ok, but I decided I did not like math, much less fractions. However, he got me started in math to the point I did it well, even though, I still don’t like it today. Mr. McLaughlin was my English teacher – with a thick Irish accent. I don’t remember much about him or that year. I remember Mr. Long the most. I still appreciate all he did for me and he didn’t have to – he loved to teach and went above and beyond for those who wanted to learn.
The fifth grade brought another first – a boyfriend. Up to this point, boys were boys and some were friends. We had a huge sand pit outside our classroom door and a few of us went there early, on dry mornings, where we would have long jump competitions before class rooms were opened. I wasn’t always the farthest but I did win a few and I was the only girl willing to get dirty and have fun and match the guys. During this time one boy – Kenneth O’Brian – decided he liked me and I liked him because he was sweet and brave – he wasn’t afraid to talk to me. And he wanted to hold my hand. He was my first boyfriend, and officially so, because he asked if he could be. I received my first kiss from him. He wasn’t anything extraordinary, in fact he was a bit heavy set with freckles and red curly hair. His kisses were wet and sloppy, but quick. I told my mom he was my boyfriend and she giggled. Then she had to meet his mom. But we were taken to each others house to visit and be boyfriend/girlfriend. Nothing more than an occasional kiss and hand holding ever occurred, but lots of affection and gifts. He made it known I was his girl and he defended me. I thought this was a new and neat concept I had never considered in a guy before. He started me on the path of understanding relationships. At the end of our fifth grade summer, right before sixth grade, Kenny had to move. I never saw or heard from him again. I wonder how he turned out?
The only other things I remember from this year is a baby sister, lots of carnivals and fairs as mom was on the committee for events and a sack race and three-legged race on May Day events the school held for us and we all got to go outside and have fun. I don’t think they do these anymore. I learned to be on time and walk between classrooms as our middle school was all portables and multi-storied buildings and we had to find out way. My fifth grade was preparing us for the bigger schools to come. Our classes were in the very back and furthest portables so we walked the furthest, but we were also made to be aware we were the big kids on campus and we had to watch out for and help the smaller kids. This made us feel large and in charge. I didn’t realize how much I remembered of 5th grade but it was a good year!