started grade school in the first grade in Norris City in August 1944 at age 6. School terms ran from late August until the latter part of May. We didn’t have kindergarten back then and definitely did not have Pre-K or Pre-Kindergarten as most schools have now.
Norris City Grade School had four classrooms at the time with two grades and one teacher for the two grades in each classroom. Besides the four classroom teachers, we also had a music teacher, an art teacher, a girl’s physical education teacher, a boy’s physical education teacher, and boy’s sports (basketball and baseball) coach, and a grade school principal.
With the first and second grades both being in the same classroom with one teacher, the first grade was put on one side of the room and the second grade on the other side of the room. In a way, you might say what we had in the first grade back then was a combination of what is now kindergarten and the first grade. We had a long sandbox built along the wall with legs on it to keep it off the floor; it was at about our waist level and the place where we played, especially on rainy days when we couldn’t go outside. The only playground equipment outside was a wooden merry-go-round which was low enough that we could move it with our feet.
I missed twelve weeks of school in the first grade with scarlet fever so bad that I almost died. My teacher, Zula Quillman, passed me on to the second grade and helped me catch up on what I had missed. I have never forgotten that kindness.
I had the scarlet fever sometime after my seventh birthday on December 29. The doctor told my mother when I was sick that I would not live to be 8 years old. I was sickly for sometime afterwards. I had nose bleeds, was anemic, and didn’t weigh very much. Later, my mother took me to an old Army doctor. He said to Mom, “He’ll make it, he’s a fighter!” He was right. I have gone through a number of serious surgeries since, and am now age 81 and still here.
The first day of May was May Day at school. I remember in the first and second grades going to the gymnasium where a pole was set up. Long streamers ran down from it. We would be paired off in couples – a boy and a girl. We would hold on to the streamers and dance around the May Pole. The boys didn’t like it, but the girls did.
What the boys liked on May 1 was “Barefoot Day.” This was the first day we were allowed to come to school barefooted. No matter how cold it was on May 1, the boys always wanted to come to school barefooted on that day, just because it was “Bare Foot Day.”
We brought our lunches to school in a brown paper sack or in a lunch bucket, since the school did not have a cafeteria. We walked to school, rode our bicycles, or were brought to school by our parents since the Norris City Schools did not have buses back then. It was Norris City Grade School back then, with country grade schools surrounding Norris City.
Then came the 1949- 1950 school year, and I was in the sixth grade. Nineteen country schools surrounding Norris City merged with the Norris City Grade School. The combined twenty schools made the school four times bigger with two teachers teaching each grade. The high school was moved to the new building along with the eighth grade students. The grade school classes for the first through the seventh grade took over all of the building now known as the “old Grade School” building. The original four rooms occupied by the Norris City Grade School, before the merger, were the four downstairs rooms on the north, older part, of the building.
At the time of the merger in 1949, bus service was added for the rural areas and a cafeteria building was built south of the gymnasium for the grade school. The kitchen part of the cafeteria is still standing, but the dining area has been torn down.
In 1949, the new school district became known as Norris City Community Unit School District (CUSD) No. 3. The names of Omaha and then Enfield were added as they merged with the Norris City District at later dates.
School was more informal back then, but we had good teachers and we learned.
I can be contacted at Edward Oliver, P O. Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or email me at email@example.com.