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Column: Teaching has a grand tradition in the region

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — Things have been moving at a fast clip. We have come to Veterans Day, and there still are things to be said for Columbus Day. That was a month ago.

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What about Columbus Day?

Well — there might have been something written to recall Columbus Day, 1892. That was the 400th anniversary of the day Christopher Columbus stepped into the New World. 1492-1892. Worthington chose that day to dedicate the awesome castle school it built on the block opposite the Nobles County Library. One thing neglected in memories of that school is the third floor, where many young girls enrolled for teacher training after they were graduated from high school. Their dream was to teach in one of the hundreds of country schools that filled the countryside.

The principal of that teacher training program was famous in Worthington at one time. Julia Hyland. Julia left her estate to St. Mary’s church — and so St. Mary’s came to have Hyland gymnasium.

There was a constant need for more teachers, and there were teacher training facilities all through the area. Windom had one, besides the one in Worthington’s castle. I was reminded of this a week ago when we recalled Clara Liepold of rural Heron Lake, who made herself an authority on southwest Minnesota wildlife and plant life. It was Clara Liepold who made a great effort one year to save a small blue heron.

Mrs. Liepold, who also once filed a homestead claim in Montana, took teacher training at Windom. She rode a train to Windom every Monday morning and returned by train to Heron Lake every Friday afternoon. Her first teaching job was south of Storden. The attraction was that the little red school south of Storden had a stock of hard coal. Other schools around had soft coal or wood. Clara remembered, “I could put a bucket of [hard] coal in the stove in the evening. That kept fire all night.” There was warmth when you arrived back at school on a cold morning.

There is frequent talk these years of ESL — English as a Second Language. Teachers must deal even with students from distant lands who come to classes with no knowledge of English, or only small knowledge. Clara Liepold knew that experience. Teachers across southwest Minnesota have dealt with immigrants and language barriers through all our region’s history.

“I taught everything in English,” Clara remembered. She began teaching with a cluster of Norwegian speakers. She moved on to schools with German speakers. She began by teaching nouns — pointing to objects and naming them. Chair. Desk. Chalk. She taught boys to make hatchet handles and hammer handles with coping saws. No language necessary.

Clara had other teaching problems. By grace of the school board, the Lutheran kids, Germans and Norwegians still working on English, got out of school several weeks each year to attend confirmation instruction. America entered World War I and schools taught classes six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Young men were going off to war and young boys were needed for farm work. By attending Saturday classes, they finished off a school year in eight months.

Regina Phillips of Worthington, who taught for 56 years, was another teacher who dealt with kids speaking foreign languages. Miss Phillips took a job at Minneota, where she worked with the children of Icelanders. Iceland has a population of 320,000, but it has its own language. Good morning is “Gooan daginn” in the Iceland communities. Regina remembered, “Those Icelanders are so big — oh, my — they just towered over me. All of them.” She noted, “Minneota is the second-largest Iceland community in the United States. I was there for 12 years.”

Regina Phillips was one of the last horse-and-buggy teachers in Minnesota. Each morning she would go to a barn and hitch her horse to a single-seat buggy. Sometimes by the light of the fading moon, but more often in the dark, she rolled along country roads to her country schools.

Clara Liepold did the same — but Clara rode in style. Clara had a handsome Hambletonian named Daisy. A Hambletonian is known as “The Father of the American Trotter.” When Clara went to teach, there was a cloud of dust.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.