Stories from Sheffield S.S. 13: Starting School in 1938

Jerry Ackerman, Bert Wagar, & Madeline Marlin Snider

Sheffield S.S. #13 class photo from 1950.
Tallest in centre is Rita King. In front of her is Doug King. In front of Doug is Ronnie Higley.
On her right are Marguerite King, with Fern King in front, alongside Tom Higley.
On her left are Jacqueline Higley, Mary King, and Gerry Higley. Bob Wagar is missing - as usual!
[This article ran in the April/May 2016 issue of The SCOOP.]

Jerry Ackerman:

I really wanted to go to school. But I couldn't. My brothers were born in June and July, while my buddy Bert and I were December babies. We had to wait eight months to be old enough. Bert's sister Gwen was in school, and he had two younger brothers to play with. I didn't. I wanted to learn what my brothers were talking about.

Although I didn't know it then, our house, two ramshackle logger houses pushed together with clapboard on a sandy hill, was special. Besides a family Bible, we had BOOKS. Also magazines and novels my aunt sent to Mum. One of the books really interested me, "33 Lessons in Flying". This was something I could dream about learning. Then maybe my brothers would want to hear that I knew something they didn't. And maybe… someday I could fly, just like a bird. Let's see what I'd need: Good Eyes (yes, I had that) and Lots of Education (not yet, but I was more than willing.) So, I learned to read.

I learned something else, too, and that was how to think about numbers. Sure, I could count - how many cows to round up, and with my dog's help, bring them home for milking, and how many times my uncle would let me win at checkers before wiping me off the board (three). But when he opened that huge book that came in the mail from Eaton's, and pointed to two different items and asked "Jerry, if we send for two of these and one of those, how much money do we have to send ?", I would have to figure it out myself. We couldn't afford to send for even one item, but I did learn that numbers have meaning. That's been useful every day of my life.

At school, I was disappointed to see there weren't any books, just readers that were passed down from grade to grade. However, I saw a very big advantage - I could listen to what the next grade was learning. I managed to finish Grades 4 and 5 in one year, and Grades 6 and 7 a year later.

Looking back, I have to credit my aunt for what she sent to Mum, and my uncle for letting me challenge him at checkers, and that Eaton's catalogue before we sent it to the privy.

Bert Wagar:

Jerry and I were the same age and he had a few things over me, but one thing I had over him was walking to school. Sheffield S.S. 13, (King's School) was located at Fifth Depot Lake and was twice as far for him. Quite a long way in winter.

The little white schoolhouse was set back about 50 feet from the California Road and gave us a fine playground and baseball diamond. Beside the school was a mountain of bedrock where the children scratched their arms and legs and sometimes broke some bones. There was a swamp on the left side, where Jerry and I would "squirrel our way" toward home, seeing how far we could travel before touching the ground. The school had a shed at back where wood was stored and the bats spent their daylight hours. Those bats did not want us to disturb them. Further back were the outhouses - girls on the right, boys on the left. An obstacle course in winter, but in the springtime, you could hear the bullfrogs croaking.

There were two rows of desks facing the teacher, who stood in front of the blackboard behind the teacher's desk. We didn't know exactly what the drawer in the desk contained (until it was too late). When Jerry, my brother Floyd, and I stopped to pick some apples on our way home, Effy Clark told Mr. Ferguson we were stealing, but we had been told it was okay. From that desk drawer came a long hard strap. We were each whacked three times on each hand. Because we considered ourselves innocent, and that an injustice had occurred, we stole the strap and chopped it into three pieces.

A funny thing happened in school with our next teacher Miss Marlin. Just a few minutes before classes ended, she said, "Now, I want you each to write a poem." What? Write a poem? How? "It's easy,” she said. "Just like this: I knew a boy, his name was Bert, and every day he changed his shirt." Everyone broke out laughing. We knew that none of us had more than one shirt.

Madeline Marlin Snider (teacher from 1942-1944 at Sheffield S.S. 13):

I remember all the details that Bert wrote, and it’s indeed true that Jerry was the youngest student I ever passed from Grade 8. When I went to teach there, I was 17, scared and worried, but I took a summer class in Toronto and was 18 by September 1942. I found the kids and parents were wonderful, so I took summer classes for the next three years.

I stayed with the Sniders and went back to Croydon on weekends. Mary Snider (my future mother-in-law) was a wonderful cook. Her husband Emerson worked away on construction and his health was not well enough to work the farm. Their son Ken had taken responsibility since Grade 8. They also had a younger daughter, Irene.

I always had a lot of work to prepare at night. Even though there were only 10-12 students, usually all eight grades were represented. I walked a mile each way every day except when snow or rain. Then Ken drove me.

The School Board consisted of Wilbert Clark, Emerson Snider and Elliot Wagar. Ken used to go with them to the meetings at the school.

At the end of three years, Ken decided he had had enough farming, and we had become engaged. We were both 20, got married in Enterprise, with the reception at my parents' home (Murney and Verlie) near Croydon.

We moved to Brantford and have spent the last 70 years here. After three children, I went back to supply teaching and got my Honors Degree in English from McMaster. The last 20 years I taught a gifted class of children.

Ken retired from Massey Ferguson and we live in a retirement home here in Brantford. Last August we celebrated our 70th anniversary with three children, their spouses, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

And it all started at that schoolhouse at 5th Lake!