100-year-old school

May 20, 2009

So the counselor at Ivers J. Norton Elementary School wrote to me about the school’s 100th anniversary celebration. Today, they’re honoring former staff members at the school in a small town in Western New York. I was asked to share some of my memories of the school, which I attended in the late ’60s. Here are a few:

We lived at 502 West Henley, kitty corner from the school. Some of my teachers were Mrs. Ellen Blessing, Mrs. Geuder and Mr. Schwabenbauer. Mrs. Mazza was the gym teacher.
The library was amazing to me, and one year, I read one biography from every letter of the alphabet. I also devoured the “Betsy-Tacy” books by Maude Hart Lovelace, Beverly Cleary books and pretty much everything else I could get my hands on. Mrs. Geuder (5th grade) was a great reader and read aloud to us every day–Caddie Woodlawn, Harriet the Spy, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Big Tree are some I still remember. Later, when I became a 5th grade teacher, I read to my students every day too.
When I was in Mr. Schwabenbauer’s class, I wrote my first piece of long fiction. The assignment was to write a story about a natural disaster. I remember considering a glacier but he suggested I go with something like a flood or forest fire. I filled an entire theme book with my story. I’m sure it was awful but he gave me an A.
When I was in third grade, I climbed over a chain-link fence in the back schoolyard, ripped open my arm and had to get stitches.
We moved away from Olean in the 1970s and enrolled in schools overseas. People told our parents we might be “behind” in the competitive private schools in Brussels and Paris, but this was definitely not the case! Olean schools prepared us well.
I’m currently a novelist with more than forty books published, including numerous bestsellers. My series of books known as the Lakeshore Chronicles take place in upstate New York, and feature a fictional town that has a lot of features in common with Olean!
What was your grade school like? How did it shape you into who you are today?
my alma mater
my alma mater

  • Susan, I think I’ve been reading your books for twenty years (and love the cover of Just Breathe, by the way) and never knew you were a Betsy-Tacy fan! I learned you were a kindred spirit in other ways. I just bought my plane ticket yesterday to attend the BT convention in Mankato in July. If you have never visited Mankato, you would enjoy seeing all the places in the books.

    I found a lot of great books in my grade school library in Boston, including Noel Streatfeild, Time at the Top, and Madeleine Polland. But the first grown up historical I ever read was Katherine by Anya Seton, which I found in the library of the girls’ school I attended in 7th grade. It was fabulous but I thought my mother might not approve so I hid it under my pillow – not the best hiding place! However, when she came across it, she told me delightedly that it was one of her all time favorites too, and we decided we needed our own copy. She had read it the summer of 1955 when it was serialized in the Ladies Home Journal.


  • I went to two grade schools during my childhood, still live in the town in which I was born. One of the schools is still open, also remember Alaska and Hawaii becoming states. My third grade teacher, Miss Allphin, turned my paper (I’m left handed) and so I don’t write overhand. This has helped me many times in my career in office work and accounting.

    All my teachers stressed spelling and reading and I did well in both. I’ve done lots of proofreading of legal documents over the years. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Neidhardt, also taught my Mother fifth grade. She drilled us on the states and capitols and rewarded us with caramels. At the end of the year we each got a candy bar in our report card.

  • I went to Melrose Ave. Elementary in Los Angeles (before Melrose Place days). I remember my kindergarten teacher, Miss Ballenger, and although I can see my sixth grade teacher plain as day, I can’t for the life of me remember her name at the moment. I recall my fifth grade teacher, Miss Colton, who sang opera and got permission to switch out whatever social studies curriculum was requisite for that year with studying Hawaii (pre-statehood; I’m OLD). And that was the only year I was a member of the chorus, simply because she was also the chorus teacher and there was no place else for those of us who couldn’t carry a tune to go.

    Back then, I though school was great fun, and I was the “perfect” student. It never really occurred to me that all the things we did were actually “Learning”. I never realized things didn’t come as easily for others.

    But times have changed. Back then, we were given all our school supplies. We didn’t have homework. Couldn’t take school books home. We still had recess twice a day plus organized PE.

  • Such beautiful memories!

    I movied around alot as a child but I got my start in the same school my mom and all three of her brothers went to. I even had one of my mom’s teachers! I was always called by my mother’s name in that class. I can still hear my teacher too. “Roma, will you stop day dreaming and pay attention!” Yeah, I had a lot of imaginary friends in 2nd grade. That is why I wrote stories of purple dragons with golden glitter that was magical. I still have them too!

    A year after my mom died (summer of 1990) my grandparents moved us closer to our other family members which landed me in Mrs. Clark’s class. I was in 4th grade at the time no, 5th grade, and she wrote fictional christain adventure stories and even got published. This is where I got the notion that wanted to be a published author too. I haven’t lost that dream. Infact I should get back to it right now! I’m playing hooky..hehe!

    It is not amazing to look back and see how much our teachers shaped our future for us, even before we ever knew. It does put a lot of things into perspective when you look back. Thanks for sharing your memories, Susan. They are ones’ only treasures.

  • Loved your school memories, Susan! My grade school was Manitou Elementary School in Tacoma, WA. Alas, it was torn down years ago and no longer exists.

    One of my fondest memories of Manitou is the small indoor play area, used when the weather was too bad for outdoor recess. The teachers would put polka records on the record player, and we kids would polka like mad. It must have been hilarious, because the teachers laughed a lot. They also led us in doing the hokey-pokey, and some other kind of dance where you formed long, snake-like lines and held onto the hips of the person in front of you, undulating and hopping around the room.

    How did this shape me into the person I am now? Well, to this day I love to dance, and every tine I hear a polka I want to laugh! *g*

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