I WAS RAISED AT THE POOR FARM
-Continued by Cindy Cornwell
The following is a memoir written in 1986 by Carl C. Johnston, a reprint from the Old Fort News 1986, provided by The History Center, Fort Wayne courtesy of Marilyn Horrell. The memoir, which includes some recollections of Carl C. Johnston’s aunt, Gladys Marie Young of Fort Wayne, concerns his youth at the Allen County Asylum under the superintendency of Carl’s grandfather, William H. Johnston, who governed the institution from 1908 to 1920.
With the exception of one year, I attended the Poor Farm School from the primer through the seventh grade. It was a two-room school with stoves for heating and outside toilets and an outside pump. Aunt Adda taught the lower grades and A.A. Ringwalt taught grades five through eight. He was a great influence on older children, was eager to teach and had much to offer. He encouraged singing patriotic songs and saying allegiance to the flag. This, of course, was during World War I at a time when nearly everyone was behind the war effort and people with German names were sometimes mistreated. He admired Henry Stimson and talked about national affairs. We did exercises while standing in the aisle and practice deep breathing. He taught about the identification of trees and birds. He had the library on some shelves in the back corner of the room. Greek mythology was the subject of my favorite selections. Mr. Ringwalt had discipline problems with some of the bigger boys. Occasionally, he took a boy out in the front hall and paddled him. Some parents did not approve of his punishment.
One year his daughter, Molly Ringwalt taught in his place. My parents always told the teachers to punish us if we needed it, but one day Miss Ringwalt slapped me on the side of the head and nearly knocked me out of my seat. My mother was furious when she learned of it, but my parents made no complaint as far as I know. I do not recall the reason for the hard slap, but I have always thought that whatever the reason, it corrected the problem.
I remember a “lefty” Joseph Niswonger, who lived on the Sandpoint Road. When we had differences, I was never able to keep his left fist out of my face. Marguerite Price, as a second grader, was the first to make me realize how lovely girls can be. She had a sister Druzella. I saw Marguerite about thirteen years later at a skating rink. She had a family. I was still just a school kid. I liked Polly Schilling. Her sister Catherine was in a higher grade and her brother Adolph was younger. Delbert Keener was one of the best fighters.
Elmer Kaeck was probably the smartest of us all, but he quit school in the seventh grade. He later went to California. The last time I saw him he came to school during recess on a new bicycle and had new long pants sharply pressed. He delivered telegrams. We all envied him. His cousin, Delbert Kintz, had a radio receiver and transmitter in his father’s barn in Fort Wayne that impressed me very much. In later years when I was living in a fraternity at Purdue, I learned that he had lived in the same fraternity and was then working for an architect in Lafayette.
The Tracy and Ramsey families were represented by a number of children in the school. They and some of the other kids lived on Brooklyn Avenue, near Taylor Street, and had to walk to and from school.
One year Aunt Adda taught at a one-room school on the corner of the Bluffton Road and Huntington Road in an area now called Waynedale. I went with her. In good weather we used the buggy and on snowy days the sleigh. The horse balked when we met a car. Aunt Adda would unhitch the horse and put it in a barn owned by a farmer named Dahlman who lived across the road. His pretty daughter, Verdonna, was one of the students. My job was to help get coal and wood in so Aunt Adda could get the fire started and the school warmed up before the kids arrived.
But after finishing the seventh grade my parents moved to Fort Wayne and the Harmer School was my place to learn. New and shiny, at least to me. A big wonderful school and a chance to have classes in typing, Latin and gymnasium. Another wonderful teacher too, Mrs. O’Brien.
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