By LARRY BRADSHAW
Growing up in Kansas in the ’40s and ’50s, I attended a one-room country school for eight years. Pleasant Valley School, near the small-town of Harper, Kansas, had around 20 students, all eight grades in one room.
The school was a beautiful little red-brick building built by the Mennonites before the war. It featured a steeple with a bell which the boys enjoyed ringing every morning.
We began every morning with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. I still remember 1954, the year we added, “under God,” to our recitation.
Pleasant Valley was a bit of a misnomer since Southern Kansas is almost perfectly flat. The school was across the country road from the Mennonite Church. After school, students would walk across the road for Bible stories, arts and crafts and religious instruction. Even in those days the school board didn’t want to confuse secular and religious instruction.
The older boys stoked the pot-bellied stove which kept the school warm during the cold winter days. The school recess included basketball played on a grass yard adjacent to the school. Recess was often a challenge due to the wind.
“Kansas,” means people of the wind. The school is just a few miles from the place where Chief Black Kettle signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty with the United States bringing the Plains Indian Wars to an end in the 1860s. My grandfather told me tales of nomadic bands of peaceful Native Americans who would travel through that area in the 1890s. The Chisholm cattle trail came through that area, and you could still see “wallows” where cattle and buffalo had rested.
Pleasant Valley School was located near the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, which when it came in the 1880s, opened a whole new world to the wheat farmers in our county.
Pleasant Valley school, left, and Pleasant Valley church. Photos submitted by Larry Bradshaw.
Looking back, I am amazed how the teacher was able to meet with each grade every day for a time of recitation on the front row of desks, while keeping all the other grades busy.
I must admit I listened with some interest to the older grade discussions, especially when they talked about what passed for sex education in those days.
The prevailing hair style for girls back then was pigtails, and the boys thought it was funny to dip their hair in the little inkwells on top of our desks.
We competed in softball and basketball with other county schools. Some of the other teams were amused that we had girls on our teams. At times, there just weren’t enough boys to make up a team.
The little red brick building closed in the 1960s, and it was used to store bales of Alfalfa from nearby farms.
It was a simpler time in those days, but I feel fortunate to have attended school and developed a love of learning at this little building on the Kansas prairie.
Larry Bradshaw is a retired Mass Communication professor from ACU