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!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year's Snowfall

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

On New Year’s Eve Day, it started raining early here in southern Wisconsin. Then, as a cold front moved through, the rain changed to snow and by late afternoon, the trees were coated in snow creating a winter wonderland…not only briefly for the eyes as dusk fell over the land, but also for the mind. I wondered how long it would continue to snow. I wondered if the trees would hang onto their coats of snow through New Year’s Day. And I wondered how quickly the roads would be cleared so I could go photographing.

When I got up the next morning, the trees and bushes were totally coated in snow and it was indeed beautiful. I wanted to head out immediately to photograph, but the road I live on hadn’t been thoroughly plowed and neither had my driveway. So, I waited, impatiently, until around 10:00 a.m., hoping that the trees would hang onto the snow for a while longer. I decided not to go too far because the roads were still snow-covered and slippery. The hillsides along the road to Indian Lake County Park were a feast for the eyes.

I thought I would stop first at Halfway Prairie, which is across from the park. But as I approached, I could see that the road into the wildlife area hadn’t been plowed, so I turned into the park and immediately pulled to the side of the road. The view of the stone barn and stone house ruins at Halfway Prairie was beautiful from there.

I then proceeded to the parking area, stopping along the way to check out the view. In one direction, was Indian Lake, which hadn’t totally frozen over yet, so the middle of the lake was a deep blue.

In another direction, looking across the snow-covered landscape, I could see a barn that I had passed on the way to the park. It was nestled between snow-covered sumac bushes and a wooded hillside coated in snow.

I proceeded to the parking lot, parked the car, and then decided that I would attempt the long, steep climb to the top of the bluff. I had hiked to the top numerous times in my life, but never in winter. I wondered how slippery it would be. I hadn’t exactly thought this through, so I hadn’t brought a walking stick or cleats for my boots. But I started the ascent anyway. You can always turn around, right?

As I hiked up the hill, I saw a few other hikers, cross country skiers, and families pulling sleds and carrying snowboards. And I could hear the sound of laughter. The higher I got, however, the quieter and more peaceful it became and I was the only person on the trail for at least an hour.

As I reached the top of the hill and the trail leveled off, I could see St. Mary of the Oaks Chapel. According to the historical sign I had passed at the start of the trail, “the structure was built in 1857 by John Endres in fulfillment of a religious vow he made in return for protecting the lives of his family during a diphtheria epidemic. Aided by his son Peter, Endres hauled several tons of stone to the hilltop with an ox team.”

Beyond the chapel, the trail leading to the scenic overlook was beautiful and magical. It drew me down the trail and I photographed my way to the overlook.

When you reach the overlook, at any time of the year, it’s so beautiful that it almost takes your breath away.

You can see for miles from that overlook, but I was also drawn to pull the lake in closer. From there, you could see just how much of the lake was still unfrozen.

On the way back from the overlook, I stopped once again at the little chapel. I wanted a close-up with the wire fence and gate covered with snow. But the trail is pretty close to the gate and the hillside drops off quickly beyond the trail. So, I set up my tripod and began to carefully back up to the edge of the drop-off. I was so busy watching my feet that I didn’t watch my head. Before I knew it, I had bumped into a low-hanging branch causing lots of snow to fall off and land on my head, down my back (inside my shirt), and even inside my gloves. Oops!

I started my long descent down the hillside and was thankful for the steps and railings on the steepest part of the trail.

I continued to enjoy my peaceful hike down the hill and when I was nearing the bottom, two hikers approached and we had a short conversation in which I encouraged them to hike all the way to the top. The woman turned to continue hiking, but the man hesitated as he looked at a snow-covered bench. And then he stuck out his index finger and wrote “2019” in the snow on the top part of the bench. After they left, I decided that a photo of this bench was an appropriate ending to my New Year’s Day hike.

Happy New Year 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!