By Tom Hintgen

Country schools sprinkled the rural Otter Tail County landscape

Otter Tail County Correspondent

At one time, Otter Tail County’s 289 rural schools were the most of any county in Minnesota.

Many kids who grew up on farms formed their basis for life while attending one-room schools. They learned the basics with reading, writing and arithmetic (the three Rs). Penmanship, particularly the Palmer method with rhythmic motions, was emphasized in the years following World War II.

Photo provided by Donna Ohe
The Dayton Hollow School was located in Buse Township, south of Fergus Falls.

Some members of the Fergus Falls High School Class of 1966, as they approached their 55th class reunion in 2021, recalled their attendance at the Dayton Hollow School south of Fergus Falls.

“Sharyl Auseth, Les Pederson and I came to ninth grade at the old junior high (Washington School) after attending Dayton Hollow School from grades one through eight,” said Jim Rasmusson, Fergus Falls High School Class of 1966.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the enrollment at Dayton Hollow School ranged from 16 to 24 students,” Rasmusson said.

David Stock, also a member of the Fergus Falls High School class of 1966, grew up in the town of Western (later known as Western Township), located in the very southwest corner of Otter Tail County. 

The Stock families had several social outlets in Western, mainly the District number 56 school that housed first through eighth grade. 

“It was much like a home school today,” Dave recalls. “When I was in second grade, eight of the 14 students were Stocks, and the teacher was my father’s sister. The other kids, the Ewerts and Jorgensons, have been life-long friends. The Munsons moved to California that year, and we never saw the kids again.” 

He says that the biggest school event was the annual Christmas program. 

Hans Ronnevik, Fergus Falls High School Class of 1963, grew up on a farm near Carlisle along with his brothers Richard and Rolf and sisters Ruth and Mary. Their parents were Jorolf and Alice Ronnevik.

Ronnevik has many grade school recollections from his eight years in Carlisle Country School District 286.

“I started out as a young 5-year-old first grader in the fall of 1951, in the big brick schoolhouse that had all eight grades,” Hans recalled. “My first teacher was Miss Delores Muth and she was my teacher through third grade.”

Then came Mrs. Jean Piechowski in fourth grade, Miss Alma Baumgartner in fifth and sixth grades, and Mrs. Harry Fretland for seventh and eighth grades. 

There was no kindergarten in those days.

“The seventh and eighth graders really seemed big when we started out,” Hans said. “And, we looked up to them almost in awe.”

After a couple of years there were too many students for the one-room school building. A second building, a white schoolhouse, was purchased by the school district and moved onto a lot just west of the original brick building. 

More memories

of rural schools

Memories of rural schools in Rush Lake Township were printed in a book, “Rural Schools of Otter Tail County” which was published by the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Here are memories from Laura Gilloley who taught classes at the District 13 school in Rush Lake Township:

“The older children were more than willing to help the younger ones,” Hans said. “We often had little groups studying in the library while I was teaching in the classroom.

“The spirit of camaraderie is one of my most pleasant memories.

“It was a characteristic of rural schools which I wish could be duplicated to a greater extent in our graded schools of today. There was a genuine feeling of wanting to help one another.

“The school was theirs, and they shared responsibilities with the teacher.”