Itasca County, Minnesota
4.24.2022 [archived ~ previously published 5.7.2018]
Garden School was located in Oteneagen Township, just west of what is now Hwy. 6, about ¼ mile south of County Road 37, on County Road 125. I didn’t find much information on the school, whose land it was on, when it was built or if an updated school was constructed, but I do have a couple of good stories. Based on sketchy records it was in operation from the late 1910s to mid-1930s.
The first mention of it from my files is a letter to the editor written the first week of March 1920, in response to discussions of the Deer River school board. Julius Venne, who it appears had four children attending school, wrote, “Does the school board believe that we are not as anxious to have our children educated as are the parents of the Deer River children?
The Garden school, with an enrollment of 20 pupils, about 25 next term, would make a fairly good wood shed. It is a sort of Sears, Roebuck knockdown garage about 20 feet square. On cold windy days drafts can be felt almost anywhere along the walls and the children shiver in their seats.
No well is provided; across the road is an open well where rats, mice, or most anything else can drown their sorrow and where germ may flourish. That is the water provided for our children. The old tin pail and tin cup, that the board of health in every modern city has condemned, is being used…
School has been closed since February 13th, and from all appearance, will be for the remainder of the term. Last year we were served the same way. The excuse is made that no teacher can be secured…
The farmers are becoming restless, and some are agitating the reorganization of the district, with Deer River left out.
After a few more back and forth letters, Venne brought his concerns officially to the school board. Apparently, there was talk of having the rural Deer River schools a separate district, and it was voted on in a special election the following year. According to the 8-13-1921 issue of the Itasca News, the independent school issue was voted down.
Taito Mattila, born in 1914, attended the Garden school for all eight grades. His parents, Victor and Lydia, and his brother, Sulo had immigrated from Finland in 1910, to northern Minnesota, where Victor homesteaded on 160 acres in the Oteneagen community. They were not the only Finnish family, and many were pleased that some teachers were fluent in English and Finnish.
“When I went my first day to school I didn’t know a single word of English. We never talked English at home. I was very fortunate, we had a Finnish teacher. She helped us along and explained in Finn what each word meant till we got started. In fact, my first three grades I had Finnish teachers…I started talking English after starting the first grade. [Taito’s Stories – Taito Mattila]
Norvin Korpi, who went to school at Garden at about the same time, stated, “I learned English from older brothers and sisters. We spoke Finn at home most of the time but the kids when they started going to school then we I could speak English pretty well.” [Interview was done by Elmer Mattila with Norvin Korpi in 1997]
The Finnish teachers lived at Alex and Lily Kohonen’s who were about a quarter of a mile from Garden School. The non-Finnish teachers stayed at Andrew Niemela’s because Mrs. Niemela was American-born and she knew the English language. The teachers who lived at Niemela’s walked to school, a mile and a half. Some of the teachers were: Ragna Knudson, Elsie Launa, Helmi Lofroth, and Fannie Niemi.
One of my sources for this article was a family history filed at the Itasca County Historical Society. Taito’s Stories ~ A History of Taito Mattila’s Family, was compiled by Louise Heine Mattila, and Elmer E. Mattila in March 2000. Taito attended Garden School from about September 1919 to June 1927. He has many memories of those years, but two I thought particularly interesting was about fellow students Herman Korpi and Elmer Davis.
Porcupines in the Outhouse
“There was a funny experience at school when the teacher would go and inspect the toilets to see how they were. She would go after school to look at the boys’ toilet. This one morning, she wanted to know which one of you boys has a pocketknife. Only one kid in school had a pocketknife, and that was Herman Korpi. She took it away from him. She said that he’s been carving the toilet seats. And all us kids said, ‘No, it’s when the boys relieve their bladder, that once in a while it sprays on the boards, and porcupines go in there and chew the boards.’ The teacher wouldn’t believe it. When she went home, she was staying at Kohonen’s, she was telling them what happened, and that she took Herman’s knife away, Kohonen said, you better give it back, that’s true, it’s porcupines that have been chewing.”
Elmer’s Bad Day
“They did some remodeling around the school house in the summer time…Elmer Davis was running around the schoolhouse and stepped on a board with a nail in it. It went right through the top of his foot. Of course the board broke, but the nail was there. You could see it right through the top of the shoe. So we ran over to Steve Madden’s. He came over there with pliers. He was going to pull it out, and Elmer wouldn’t let him. So, I ran over to Toivo Erola’s and got him with his Model T. He got that started, and we took him to see Doc Miners. He was above MJ Bakers Store, where he had his practice. I asked Elmer Davis this winter , ‘How did we get you upstairs?’ He said he doesn’t remember, but we got there. He said, ‘That was quite an experience. Dr. Miners, he pulled that nail out, and grabbed the shoe off. Then, he put a yarn on some kind of a needle, he dipped that yarn in some kind of medicine, and pulled that through.’”
Field Day 1927
I think there was always a healthy competition between neighboring schools, not only academically (spelling and debate) but also athletically. Especially in the spring when everyone was anxious to get outside. In 1927, the Deer River School District seized the opportunity for fun and games, instituting organized athletic events and a way to recognize rural schools, including, of course, Garden.
To Hold Playdays in Rural Schools ~ Itasca News 4-14-1927
“A number of rural school field meets have been planned for rural schools of District Six. The district has been divided according to geographical location in eleven sections and a meet will be held in each section, according to plans made by the superintendent, the rural supervisor, and the rural teachers…
There will be contests in various athletic events such as pull-up or chinning, balancing, running races, running high jump, running board jump, tug-of-war, sack races, three-legged races, etc. for boys and girls and their teachers…
Section 3 was West Oteneagen, Garden, Kennedy and Poplar Grove schools at Kennedy on May 6.”
Three out of five students from Garden School were chosen to represent the section 3 sub-division at the final meet. They were: Martin Korpi, Nels Korpi, and Vivian Venne. Garden also had three of five alternates: Edith Korpi, Taito Mattila, and Harold Hellman.
The final field meet was held in Deer River on Friday June 3rd. There were over 50 students participating and Martin Korpi placed 3rd in the running race in the boys under 75 pounds category. In complement to the visitors, local businessmen financed a free matinee at the Lyceum theater following the awards ceremony, for rural students and their parents.