Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Detour to Grand Marais

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At the end of June in 2010, Joann and I were starting to head for home from a marathon photography trip to northeastern Minnesota, when we visited the Toimi School. Toimi was settled by Finnish pioneers and the school is the only remaining building.

The school was built in 1913. As the number of students increased, an addition was needed. At the same time, an apartment for the teacher was also added.

After the addition, the school had two classrooms, a library and the teacher’s apartment. One classroom was for grades one through four and the other was for grades five through eight.

The school also functioned as a meeting place for the whole community with dances and meetings being held there. In 1923, the Toimi Town Hall was built just across the road and community functions moved there.

From a high of almost 100 students, enrollment began to decrease until the school was closed in 1942.

After the school closed, it was used as a storage building for the U.S. Forest Service fire fighting supplies and then as a garage for the Lake County Highway Department.

In 1977 a full school reunion of former classmates was held. This was the first public event at the school since its closure in 1942.

In 1991, ownership was transferred from the Lake County Board of Commissioners to the Toimi School Community Center Committee and restoration work began. Since the building had been used by the Forest Service and then by the county, the building was still structurally sound. The building has been totally restored to its former glory.

We left the school and headed for highway 61, which follows the shore of Lake Superior. On the way we discussed whether we should take a detour and go north to visit Grand Marais where I had several historic locations marked to photograph. We decided we didn’t know when we would get that far north again, so we’d go on this trip.

Since it was summer and vacation time, there was a lot of traffic heading north, and it was slow going. It was also foggy with intermittent rain showers.

When we finally arrived at Grand Marais, we decided to head to the northern edge of town to visit St. Francis Xavier Church. It is the only building remaining in what was the town of Chippewa City.

Chippewa City was an Ojibwe community of about 100 families located near this site. Jesuit missionaries held services in residents’ homes until the church was established in 1895. To raise money for construction, local women held basket socials where area lumberjacks bid heavily on handmade birch bark baskets filled with home-baked goods.

Jesuit priests served Chippewa City until 1905 when Benedictines from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, became responsible for this territory. They, like the Jesuits, made only monthly visits until 1933, when Father Oswald Johannes became the resident pastor.

For a time, he alternated Sunday services between this church and the newly-constructed St. John the Baptist Church in Grand Marais. A declining congregation forced St. Francis Xavier Church, the last remaining building in Chippewa City, to close in 1936. Its religious functions were transferred to the Grand Marais church. Although empty for decades, this church remains an important example of the state's 19th century Indian missions. It was restored in 1970-1974.

After visiting this historic church, we came back into Grand Marais to find the Bill Bally Blacksmith Shop.

The building’s original owner was Sam Bally, who relocated from Bayfield, Wisconsin to Grand Marais in 1903. He was a blacksmith with the Cook County Manufacturing Company until he opened his own shop in 1911.

After Sam’s death in 1922, the shop was taken over by his son, C. Albert. And, in 1946, the shop passed to William. William “Bill” Bally died in 2010 in Grand Marais.

Since its founding, the Bally Blacksmith Shop has been the only blacksmith in Grand Marais. It has chronicled the history of the city from horse-drawn, lumber camp equipment to motorized commercial fishing rigs, to tourists’ automobiles and snowmobiles.

The building is now maintained by the Cook County Historical Society, which bought the building from Bill’s widow in 2013. The building is host to the Annual Bally Blacksmith Shop Demo Day where you can tour the building as well as see demonstrations of blacksmithing.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This week is Catholic Schools Week. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, "National Catholic Schools Week is the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. The theme for National Catholic Schools Week 2019 is ‘Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.’”

During the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, the older kids in our family attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School in the small town of East Bristol, Wisconsin. This school was built in 1905 and our mother and her siblings also attended school there. The school served grades 1-8, with two grades in each of the four classrooms. There was also a small library. The school building was similar in size and design to this old school in Rock Springs, Wisconsin.

The Sisters of the Divine Savior staffed St. Joseph’s school and, in fact, inspired three of our mother’s sisters to join the convent. The nuns wore black habits and were fairly strict, but I think they had to be. With two grades in each room, there were close to 50 students being taught by each of the four teachers. And while they taught a subject that was suited to only one grade, the other grade had to keep quiet (no small management task for these courageous nuns).

When anyone misbehaved, they were either banished to the cloakroom for a while or sent to stand shamefully behind the piano that was in the corner of the room. Unfortunately, I have a vague memory of having to stand behind the piano once. I’m not sure what the offense was, but it was probably for talking while Sister was trying to teach. With that many kids in one room, our desks were very close together. And we sat in alphabetical order by our last names, so Ruth and I were both sitting next to our cousins.

In spite of a few memories like that one, most of my memories of attending St. Joseph’s School are very good ones. Thinking about that piano in the corner reminds me of one of my favorite classes – music. We had these large hard-covered songbooks that had so many good songs in them. I remember enjoying singing so much and found myself singing these songs often when I was away from school. This was one class that could be shared by both grades in the room. And how talented those nuns were to be able to teach all the subjects they did for two grades, not to mention being able to play the piano.

I also liked our weekly visits to the small library, which was a long narrow room between the two upstairs classrooms. There were shelves of books on both of the long walls, and a window at the other end. It was barely wide enough for two people to stand side by side to look at the books on the shelves. And only two or three kids could go in at one time, so you had to make your choice quickly. You were only allowed to check out one book for the week.

In front of the window, there was a podium where an older student managed the checkout process. You handed them your book, they took the cream-colored card out of the pocket attached to the inside of the book cover, and then they had you sign your name to the card. There was a series of books called Teenage Tales that were very popular and only 7th and 8th graders were allowed to check them out. I waited (impatiently) until I got to 7th grade so I could also read these books.

We started each school day with Mass in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which was next to the school. Because we received Communion during daily Mass, we had to fast beforehand. That meant bringing something for breakfast to be eaten after Mass. When we got back to the classroom, a square metal crate was brought in. It contained cartons of white milk, which cost a penny each. On Fridays, there was also a crate of chocolate milk, which cost two pennies per carton. Breakfast for us usually consisted of two pieces of cold buttered toast and I always looked forward to Fridays when I could have it with chocolate milk.

At lunchtime, we walked single file past the church to the church hall building. When you entered the hall, the steps led upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs of the church hall was used for church functions and wedding receptions. It was also used infrequently for school activities. At the far end, there was a stage that was used for school plays and music programs, including an annual Christmas program. One of my favorite things, though, was Lenten movie time. The nuns would set up a movie projector and screen, and the floor was filled with folding chairs. Once a week during Lent, we watched movies about the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

School lunches were served downstairs in the hall, which was filled with long tables and folding chairs. You stood in a long line and when you reached the front of the hall, you grabbed a tray and walked past the serving window where the ladies of the parish put things like scalloped potatoes and buttered carrots on your plate. Or a favorite (for some reason) of two slices of fried Spam, mashed potatoes with melted butter, and corn. On Fridays, when Catholics couldn’t eat meat year-round, we had tuna casserole or fish sticks. Meals were fairly simple and repeated regularly.

We would, of course, rush through lunch so that our recess time was longer. During warm weather, we played on the playground equipment. There was a set of swings and a big slide for the older kids and another set of swings and a smaller slide for the younger kids. My cousin, Judy, and I have fond memories of swinging as high as we could swing and giggling our heads off. There were also teeter totters, monkey bars, and a merry-go-round along with two ball diamonds where there were always games being played.

In the winter, when conditions were right, there was a skating pond where one of the ball diamonds was located. We brought our skates to school with us and spent our lunchtime recess skating on the pond. And remember how I called the nuns courageous? Well, some of them would don a pair of skates and come out and skate with us, in their habits, of course. What fun!

One other fond memory I have is a day of prayer in the Catholic Church called Rogation Day. It is a special day set aside around the time of spring planting to pray for the crops. On this day, all the school kids would line up behind the priest and altar boys and we would walk up to the cemetery and back while praying for the crops. Being a farm kid, this seemed very important to me. Below is a picture of the road we took up to the cemetery. It was gravel then, and I loved the sound of the gravel crunching beneath our feet as we walked and prayed. I probably also loved being outside rather than in the classroom!

We left East Bristol in the summer of 1968 and, as it turned out, that year was the last year the school served grades 7-8. In 1970, after the sisters were withdrawn from the school because of their declining numbers, the decision was made to close the school. It was the end of an era for St. Joseph’s parish. In 1993, the school was demolished. Before demolition, school items were for sale. If I had known, I might have tried to get my hands on one of those songbooks or a copy of Teenage Tales! The good news is that the convent where the nuns lived is still standing.

A couple years ago, we visited the site of the school and found a brick memorial there featuring the cornerstone of the old school. A bronze plaque reads, “On this site stood St. Joseph's School, erected in 1905. It was closed in 1970 and razed in 1993. This monument is in memory of the students who attended and a tribute to the sisters who taught here and served this parish.”

And speaking of a tribute to the Sisters of the Divine Savior who taught us at St. Joseph’s School, we feel that we owe them so much for the excellent education we received from them. After initially publishing this blog post, my sister Phyllis reminded me of the solid foundational skills we gained from them in reading, phonics, spelling, writing, and sentence structure, no matter how much we complained about the endless sentence diagramming! So, thank you, Sisters!

Happy Catholic Schools Week and Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hurricane Creek Mine Disaster

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the spring of 2014, Joann and I were on a photography trip to Kentucky. One place we wanted to visit was a memorial to a mining disaster that occurred back on December 30, 1970.

Forty-eight years ago, 40 miners left their families to work in the Finley coal mine at Hurricane Creek, outside of Hyden, Kentucky. Just after lunch, an explosion rocked the mine. Thirty-eight miners were inside the mine.

One miner, A. T. Collins, was the lone survivor of this tragedy. He was just returning to the mine when the explosion occurred and was blown back over 60 feet. He is honored with a plaque on the statue of a miner at the memorial. The plaque says, “A.T. Collins, 1923-2007, Survived by his wife Dora, four children, six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He worked as the beltman. He was the lone survivor of the tragedy and was blown over 60 feet out of the mine.”

The memorial consists of 16 gates along a winding path that leads to the full memorial. On each post is a bronze miner’s hat representing one of the miners who was killed.

The hat above honors James Minton, Age 27, survived by his wife Geraldine, and his daughter, Sondra, two years old. He was a veteran, having served in the Army for three years. He performed in musical groups on many occasions. He lived in Manchester.

Honoring Lawrence Gray, Age 30, Survived by his wife Nancy, children, Charlotte, 9, Wade, 7, parents, Ballard and Ollie Gray, three sisters and three brothers. He lived on Elk Creek in Clay County. He worked in the mines at least ten years.

This helmet, honors Howard Couch, Age 34, Survived by his wife Daisy, four children, Phyllis Jean, 10, Berna Dean, 7, Charlene, 5, Eva Carol, 2, and his parents, Will and Elsie Couch. His twin brother, Holt was also killed.

Honoring Theo Griffin, Age 28, Survived by his wife Martha, and daughter, Sandra Carol, 6. He lived on Paces Creek in Clay County. He worked in the mines for four months. His brother-in-law, Jeff Spurlock was also killed.

At the back of the memorial is a long row of plaques with information about each of the miners who died in the explosion.

As you walk along reading the plaques, you see that many last names are repeated. For example, brothers Arnold and Armond Wagers were both killed in the explosion. Another Wagers is listed along with them, but doesn’t include any possible relation.

All in all, 65 children were left without fathers at the end of the day. Thirty-eight families were changed forever.

The most interesting thing about this memorial, besides its size and detail about the men who died, is that it sits at the site of the sealed mine.

The whole time we were at the memorial, we were the only ones there. It was a very serene place to spend some time honoring these men who perished just trying to make a living for their families.

If you get a chance to visit this or other memorials, we encourage you to do so.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!