As students returned to classes in Marion County, it might be difficult for them to visualize the first day at a one-room school house, but for Rex Siebert, it was a place full of memories.
Siebert, 89, attended Morning Star School from first through eighth grades—just as his father before and his sons after him.
“My dad (Lloyd) went to school there and my grandmother (Angeline Siebert) was the Sunday school teacher there,” he said.
“Back in those days, people didn’t travel further than they had to.”
Although Marion County was founded in the 1860s, Siebert wasn’t sure when Morning Star School first opened or when it closed its doors for the last time.
Anita (Hett) Brookens of Marion was also a student for three years at the school and, she too, said she has fond memories of a simpler life.
Brookens said she recalls the school closing in the fall of 1961 as the number of students continued to dwindle.
“My experience started as a first-grader,” she said. “I went to school there for three years before it closed.”
Because it was a country school, Brookens said, they only went to school eight months out of the year, unlike town schools where students went nine months.
“We were out one month earlier so that the boys could help do farm work,” she said.
Brookens said her older brother, Mick, attended all eight years at Morning Star.
“My teacher was Frieda Hett, who was a distant relative,” she said.
“Some people in Hillsboro might remember Frieda’s family, who all lived together on a farm,” she said.
Sister Gertie worked at one of the local banks and she also had a sister, Lucy, and brother, Oscar.
The original structure is still standing, but has fallen into disrepair and will soon be gone forever.
Brookens said there were two outhouses, one for boys and one for girls.
While most of the furniture and accessories in the building have long since disappeared, she did say the original blackboards are still mounted on walls.
Siebert remembers some details about the outbuildings around the property as well.
Most of the time, he said, he would walk to school, which wasn’t too far from where he lived.
“Larger families would take their children to school by horse and buggy,” he said.
“There was a small barn with three stalls in one corner of the school and sometimes my dad would let me ride horseback to school.”
During colder days, the stalls would provide shelter for the animals, but most of their care was the student’s responsibility.
When Siebert was a student, a rock coal shed was one of the outbuildings, but in the late 1950s, Brookens said they had forced air heating.
“We didn’t have running water,” she said, “but there was a pump at the northeast end of the front steps into the school.”
About 20 students attended Morning Star, he said, and although he couldn’t remember his teacher’s name, Alice Claasen was listed as the instructor in 1932.
Elementary teachers in one-room school houses wouldn’t always be instructing all eight grades. For example, teachers might have 10 or fewer students in five grade levels.
Brookens said her teacher would work one-on-one with students at each grade level in math, reading, arithmetic and spelling.
Jack Goentzel and RoseAnn Richardson were a couple of her classmates.
As with most country schools, Morning Star was a place for the community to hold meetings, programs or get-togethers when classes were not in session.
Like most young people, Brookens said recess was a favorite time for her, and the school had playground equipment to include an “awesome merry-go-round.”
Students hug their coats and stored their lunch boxes in what was once the foyer area of the building, she said.
Located about seven miles east of Hillsboro on 190th Road and one mile south on Pawnee in Wilson Township, Morning Star School was one of many one-room schools in the county.
According to information about country schools, by 1918, more than 405,000 students attended schools statewide with almost 148,000 enrolled in one-room school houses.
The shift away from one-teacher schools, though, started in the 1930s, and they were nearly non-existent by the 1970s.
The state currently has 293 districts, 10 of which enroll fewer than 100 students.