Friday, December 26, 2014

Memories of Christmas Plays and Mischievous Students

District 19, Morris School, was established in 1871. The first school meeting was held March 6, 1871 in the home of James B. Morris. Morris School was also known as Wreford School. Morris is located on East Lyons Creek Road almost two miles from US-77.  The limestone school is still there and is private property.
James Morris donated the property for the school, and a limestone schoolhouse was constructed. There is double front door flanked by two windows, one on each side. There are four windows on each side of the schoolhouse as well. The district boundaries which bordered the Smoky Hill River changed four times and in April 1962 when the district disorganized students were split between County District School Joint 80 and Chapman.
While we don’t have much information on the schoolhouse itself, we do have a number of interesting school memories.
Don Dibben, who attended the Taste of Geary County Bus Tour in 2010, remembered, “one night there was a parents’ meeting and at least some of the children were playing outside. They got the idea to have some fun by a few of them standing on each side of the road would pretend to be holding a rope across the road whenever a car would come along. . . there were a lot of screeching brakes during that escapade.”
One of Angela Dietrich Irvine’s favorite memories was the really wonderful plays. “We might not have had a lot of kids but by golly we put on plays that were really something! Our mothers helped out and sewed costumes—circus spectacles, Native Americans, and Christmas extravaganzas that featured Santa, a sandman, and ‘we little fairies’.
“The Christmas programs were always attended by not only parents and grandparents, but literally every resident in the Wreford area attended for a fun and social evening. After our Christmas play, everyone shared cookies, hot chocolate and coffee, and Santa would make an appearance before evening’s end.”
School Pageant: Back Row including elephants: Unknown, Richard Baird, Janice Witt, ? Spittles, Doris Allen, Carol Dietrich, Phillip Dietrich, Unknown, children in front unknown.
There was a greater sense of community in the rural schools than can be found now in huge school districts. Angela remembered, “I found out as an adult that parents brought gifts in advance as well as provided extra ones for those children whose parents might not be able to afford [it]. I’m sure this was coordinated by the teacher; it’s just how people cared for one another in those days.”
Carol Dietrich Brown remembers from her days at Morris School that there was no indoor plumbing.  There were two outhouses, boys on one side and girls on the other. “There is no way to make a winter bathroom visit—a good thing.” Imagine having to race across a freezing schoolyard to a freezing toilet to do your business. Bladder control was a must if students, and the teacher, wanted to avoid frostbite in uncomfortable places.
The bathrooms at Morris School were two-seaters, and if students were lucky they could get another student to go to the bathroom with them. Carol said, “Currently our national emphasis on washing hands to prevent disease—makes me wonder how we ever washed our hands [after going to the outhouse]—it is still a mystery.”
There were multiple generations of Dietrichs that attended Morris School, but of particular pride was Eva Dickson Dietrich who carved her name in the limestone. According to Carol, “it was hard to think of her doing such mischief,” but there was proof, literally carved in stone.
While we are sure the students at Morris School worked very hard, many of the memories we have collected about this district center around extracurricular activities. There was a two story swing set on the grounds, an “OSHA horror story” according to Brown. She remembers that the students all played together. The eighth grade boys were fond of standing on the swing set with their feet on the edge of the seat, usually spanning a first grader who sat in between. They would have pumping contests, “to see which eighth grader could go the fastest and the highest while the first grader hung tight with fear.”
We’d like to thank those of you that shared your memories of Morris School, and the others as well.  These personal stories are what bring the schoolhouses to life for future generations. If you have memories of a rural school you would like to share we would love to hear from you. Please write your story down and send it in by email to or mail it to 530 N. Adams, Junction City, KS, 66441. You can also stop by the museum and we’ll record your story for you.