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School Daze by Bill Rutherford

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Helen Larson, Meda Bessey, Blake Phillips, Joyce Bowers, Ross Oxley, Mr. Soami, Marie Long, Mr. Piersall, Gladys Hill…….What do these names have in common? Well, if you guessed that they, among others, were all former teachers at the town’s grade school, you may move your desk to the head of the class.

In years gone by, as you entered town from the north, the first two buildings you saw were the Red and White Store (now Headwaters State Bank) on the right, and the Presque Isle Grade School, that massive concrete block building, on the left side of the street (currently the site of the “Heritage Cottage).

Built in 1939, to replace the old wooden schoolhouse, it was originally named the “Winegar State Graded School”, and after the town’s official name was changed in the 1950’s, it became the “Presque Isle Grade School”.

The two story building consisted of two classrooms (the “Little Room”- grades 1-4; and the “Big Room”- grades 5-8), a lunchroom, library/office, kitchen, bathrooms, gymnasium, and boiler room (aka- “secret smoking room” for a few teachers and many students…). The classrooms had anywhere from three to six students in each grade, and many of them benefited from the fact that they were able to listen to what students in the grades ahead of them were being taught, so that when they got to that particular grade, they might already have a basic understanding of the subjects.

Over the years, not only did the children of our town receive a top quality education there, the school was also the site of many community events. Basketball games played against neighboring towns, various school plays, an annual “talent show”, and town meetings were all held there. Oh, and if you died, and you weren’t Catholic or Lutheran, your funeral service was most likely held in the school gym.

During the 1960’s a joint decision was made to consolidate the schools from Presque Isle, Winchester, Boulder Junction, and Manitowish Waters. The new school, located at County Hwy’s “P” and “K”, named “North Lakeland Elementary School” was completed in 1970. Once the town’s children began attending the new school, the old building became the town’s library and housed the town offices.

In 1994, because of changing federal regulations regarding access to the building, the town decided that time had come to retire this fortress of learning. Carl Wolter, owner of Wolter Sand, Gravel & Excavating, was given the task of demolishing the structure, and said that the school had been built so strong that he had “a heck of time tearing it down”. Eventually, the land was used for the Heritage Cottage, Presque Isle Library, Community Building, and an athletic field.

Yes, the building may be gone now. But for those of us who learned to read with “Dick and Jane”, memorized the multiplication tables, practiced how to write words instead of printing them, studied the geography and history of our country, got that annual visit from “Smokey the Bear”, exchanged valentines, and made lasting friendships, the Presque Isle Grade School remains a fond memory.

For a collection of 20 more of Bill's essays on Winegar/Presque Isle read his book:

WINEGAR Reflections, Shelbyville, KY: Wasteland Press, 2016.

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