9.4.2022 [archived ~ originally published 3.8.2018]
How old is the teacher? This is a question that Bernard ‘Bud’ Anderson and his school chums at the Max rural two-room school wondered about Miss Lillian Hunter. “It was kind of a joke, she would never tell her age, she was quite an elderly person already. They thought her age would come out when she went to the land office to prove up on her land, but when they asked how old she was, her answer was 21 and over! So, I never did find out how old she was.” [Notes from B. Anderson, throughout the article, are from Itasca County Historical Society Archives and There’s No Place Like Max (2007)]
The township of Max is northwest of Deer River off Highway 46. The community of Max, according to the 1916 plat map, is in section 20, between Round Lake and the lower part of what was then called Squaw Lake. The 2014 plat map shows Max to be three miles to the east of this location, on the border of sections 23 and 26, where county road 4 makes a sharp turn to the north. If you traveled the roads before about 1999, you would know this as the Max Mercantile.
Max Log School
In 1907, the Max school, part of the Grand Rapids School District, was erected on the east side of the lake. The one room building was constructed from white pine, hewed on both sides and moss stuffed between; and heated by a box stove. The water pump and outhouses were, of course, outside. Miss McHolland, the first teacher came up from Minneapolis. She did not seem to mind the north woods as she was boarding with the Frank Vance family and still teaching in 1910.
Ina Gustafson started first grade at the school in 1908, and her teacher was Miss Oberg. The Gustafsons were part of a group of seven families that came north from Menagha, Minnesota to homestead in Itasca County. They traveled by horse, with a double box lumber wagon containing furniture and household items, as well as a pig and a few chickens. The men drove the cattle. It was a trip an arduous of about 150 miles and included a stop at the Cass Lake Land Office to file on homesteads. Besides the Gustafsons, were the families of John and David Hamalainen, Matt Martin, Emil Kananen, Oscar Kokkanen and Paul Hyttinen.
According to an interview conducted by Melvin Krueger in the 1960s, Ina (Gustafson) Peltola, who lived on the west side of the lake, remembers that “she rowed a boat across the lake twice a day in fall and spring and used to skis on the ice and snow in winter. She attributes her good health through the years to daily exercise during her elementary years in school. One day her mother had to go with her to ward off the wolves with a pitchfork.” [A History of Consolidation of Squaw Lake Schools by Melvin Kruger]
School district records indicate that in 1911, Miss Dora Brackin was paid $45 a month for the sixteen children in the school. This included eight boys and eight girls, from the Martin, Niska, Stejskal, Wolfe, and Hamalainen households. Each family had at least three school-age children, so we do not know where she boarded. The enrollment fluctuated, then climbed steadily.
Bud Anderson started first grade in the log school, but discussion on a new one had already begun. Some students, like Bud, lived further than the two-mile radius the district tried to follow. “When I first started school, a fellow by the name of Jacob Sweedman, hauled some of the students to that school by horse and buggy, and in the wintertime of course it was the sleigh.”
Max Two-Room School
In 1919 a new two-room school was built and ready for occupancy at the September start date. It was about a mile southeast of the old location, on a graded road. According to 2014 plat, this would have been located on the property now owned by Rodney & Evelyn Oja, on the west side of Highway 46, about ½ mile south of the County Road 4 intersection.
At the start of second grade, and closer to home, Bud walked to school. His father, Albert, had come to the area fifteen years earlier to homestead, with his friends Pete Oslund, and Albert, John, August and Alfred Setterberg. When he had proved up, he married Esther Bergquist from his home community west of the Twin Cities. She requested he make the small homestead cabin larger, so he returned alone to complete the task. In the meantime, Esther, now pregnant, prepared things for their new baby and a new home. In February 1904, Esther and infant Bernard traveled by train to Minneapolis, then Duluth and from Duluth to Bena. It was another thirty miles by sleigh.
For many years, the teachers boarded with the Anderson family, and Bud noted the advantages, “the extra help he got from them certainly improved my studies.” When he was in about fourth grade, the teacher got a radio for Christmas. “It was the first radio I can remember. It was one of those old time ones that had 3 dials that you had to coordinate in order to get the music or whatever it was to come in, because it was very sensitive. It used to be more noise than anything else, but it was the first radio that I know of that was in our immediate area.”
Bud’s sister Elinor was born on May 5, 1925, and he relates, “she was named in honor of one of the teachers who had been staying with our family and teaching at the Max school.” I had hoped to verify this tidbit of information, but the records between 1918-1926 are incomplete.
Back to Max School
Like Bud, Peter Broquist went to both the old and new schools. And he also taught at Max! Andrew and Caroline Broquists immigrated from Sweden to Meeker County with their infant son in 1903. Following Caroline’s unexpected death, Andrew’s mother moved to northern Itasca County to care for his two young sons
After finishing at the rural school, Peter probably attended high school in Grand Rapids, and then a one-year normal school program. After passing the State Exam, as that was the requirement for teaching in the rural schools in the 1920s, he would have been ready. He was the teacher at Max school for at least two years, 1926-27 and 1927-28.
It was 1931 before both rooms of the school were used. The enrollment reached 51 in 1947, and the following year the 7th and 8th graders were transferred to Round Lake. In 1952 the school closed, and pupils were transported to Squaw Lake.
So, how old was Miss Lillian Hunter? Of course, I followed up on that. She was born in Minnesota in about 1867. Shortly after 1905, she and her brother moved to Ardenhurst. Lillian was about 45 years of age when she proved up her homestead!