If it’s true, everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten, you probably learned it from Mrs. Scott.
Many well-wishers attended the 95th birthday celebration in honor of Mrs. Mary Scott at an open house Sunday, January 24, at Park Place in Milbank. For 45 years, Mary taught abc’s, wiped little noses, and played Simon Says. She also taught sharing, listening, and taking turns.
She had not grown up knowing she was destined to become a teacher, but in 1938, the country was at war and deep in the Depression. Mary had just graduated and was faced with an important question, “Do I get married, become a nurse, or become a teacher?” Hundreds of kindergartners- all of them now grown up- know the answer. Mrs. Scott, as she later became best known as, chose teaching and enrolled in college in Aberdeen.
She lived with a junior high instructor, while attending college classes, and cooked meals for her. She paid 50 cents a week for a sofa to sleep on and a dresser to house her belongings. “It was good,” she said. “I even had a friend who lived upstairs with the music teacher.”
Her training lasted one year plus six weeks of the summer. After she completed her education, she took a job at a country school outside of Milbank. “It was west up the hills,” she said. “The schoolhouse was old and dilapidated. One window light was broken out and a piece of cardboard was wedged in to fill it. I had to build the fire each morning and someone carried a pail of water for drinking and washing our hands.”
Mary was paid $65 a month to teach 13 pupils of all grades. She boarded with an older couple for $20 a month. She packed her lunch, which usually contained a sandwich made with something she tried for the first time – store-bought bread, two Oreos, and an apple or orange. She made the journey to school on foot each day, rain, snow, or shine. “One day we had a tremendous blizzard and I got stranded alone that night in the school. “It was terrifying,” she said, “but the kids all made it home.”
The next year Mary moved closer to the school, but still had to walk a mile each way. She earned $70 to $85 per year during her nine years at the country school. Gene Leddy had Mrs. Scott as his second grade teacher. ” I remember she was very intent on teaching spelling and gave gold stars for perfect papers,” he said, “and on the last day of school, she took us all on a picnic.”
Mary then transferred to Corona and taught the lower grades. Two years later the Milbank school asked her to come teach in town. After some convincing, she accepted the job and relocated to Milbank. She ended up staying for 34 years, teaching both first grade and kindergarten. The Koch School building was built her second year there and she still remembers the thrill. “The room was beautiful and I had such a good time,” she said. “The new toys were amazing, I especially liked the child-size kitchen set. Sometimes I still think about it and wonder what happened to it.”
During those days, her wages rose from her first teaching job of $65 to $5,000 and class sizes grew from one classroom with 13 to 30 students to two sessions with 25 to 28 students attending half day kindergarten. “There was no curriculum so I made my own. We had reading, science, and numbers. Manners were always taught.”
When Mrs. Scott reflected on her students she said, “There never was a bad one.”
She said she feels children have lost some of their creativity. “Kids today expect to be entertained,” she explained. “They don’t amuse themselves and use their imagination to have fun. She enjoyed the times when children built tree houses, played with sticks and balls, and used their mind to paint a picture of the story she was reading to them.
She said she treasures her friends and memories and recalls most of her students. One boy she had in country school was always late. He would announce “here I come” as he walked through the door. “But he always knew who was building a new house, where to find worms, how many leaves were on the trees, and when to blow the fire whistle.”
If you encounter Mrs. Scott today, you see she really does embody the phrase “95 years young”. She is spry, youthful, and aware. She has read thousands of books- not all of them aloud to children- and continues to satisfy her passion for reading. She checks out six books at a time from the public library and returns them for more. She also keeps her mind sharp by doing crossword puzzles and putting jigsaws together with her fellow residents.
Of course, in the span of 95 years, Mrs. Scott has seen a lot of change. Without hesitation, she cited “electricity” as the invention that had the biggest impact on her life, and although things rarely stayed the same for long, one thing remained steadfast- her love of God. When asked what she believes are the most important things in life, she replied, ” Go to church, learn about God, and have respect for all people.” Great advice for kindergarteners and former kindergarteners.