Rural Schools ~ Bass Lake, Whitefish Lake, Little Sand Lake and Wirt

2.26.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.16.2017

It appears there were four rural schools in the Bass Lake area of Wirt township before North Elementary school opened in 1955. All of them were in the Deer River School District, but one. According to Don Rydrych, author of The Farm Homesteads of Bass Lake, Minnesota, the Bass Lake school was on the corner of Bass Lake Road and highway 27.  This 160-page book is filled with delightful stories about Don’s personal memories, as well those of others who grew up in the area spanning several generations.  The book is in the reference library at the Itasca County Historical Society (ICHS). 

Whitefish school was established six years later, on the northeast end of Whitefish Lake, to accommodate more school age children in that neighborhood.  When it closed, students were transported to Little Sand Lake.  Eventually students from the area were bussed to the two-room school at Wirt which was in the Grand Rapids School District.

Bass Lake School 1919-1928

The school was located on land owned by Vaclav and Anastasia Komarek, and the first teacher was their

youngest daughter, Anna.  The Komarek’s had immigrated from Austria in 1907 and were in Chicago in 1910, where, according to the census enumerator, several of the adult children were employed as “buttonhole makers” for a tailor.

Imagine how proud Anna’s parents were ten years later when she had a teaching certificate! Miss Komarek was at Bass Lake when Stan Hynek started school and he remembered her well.  Stan was born to Vaclav and Antonia, but like many in the area didn’t speak English.   He explained, “A lot of them couldn’t hardly talk English at all.  In fact, when I started school, if it wouldn’t have been for the teacher being Bohemian, I’d probably had a tough time.” [Interview conducted by Elmer Mattila in 1996]

Don Rydrych explained that his mother and her brother had morning farm chores and were sometimes late for school, but that “Ann Komarek was an understanding and well liked teacher who made allowances for farm life.” 

The surnames of children who attended Bass Lake include: Bartos, Ciskovsky, Dtrina, Dubsky, Hruby, Hynek, Jirik, Johnson, Kaiser, Marsik, Onracek, Rydrych, Smolik, and Stejskal.  The school was closed in about 1928 and students were sent to Whitefish school a couple miles south.

Bass Lake school was a community center when it was a school and remained so when the school had closed. There were picnics and meetings, as well as frequent dances in which traditional music and costume were encouraged.

Whitefish Lake School 1925-1932

The Whitefish Lake building was somewhat smaller than Bass Lake and there were fewer students, but it was nearly filled when those from Bass Lake community joined them.  The school was on the homestead of the Ondracek family, and that is where teachers boarded.  Elsie, the youngest Ondracek child, enjoyed walking to and from school with the teacher, and no doubt her older brothers lent a hand in getting a morning fire started.

Stan Hynek also attended Whitefish Lake and when prodded by Elmer Mattila, recalls some mischief he and other boys got into. “When we were in Whitefish school, Ondracek’s had sheep.  The kids got the ram in this closet to ‘treat’ the teacher.  It ended up on her on the desk!  I can remember some of the bigger boys bringing snakes in there, putting snakes in the desk drawers.  Junk like that.”

Besides the Onracek and Hynek children, other students who attended were from the Hruby, Jirik, Smolik, and Town families. In 1932 the Whitefish Lake school closed, and the students were transferred to Little Sand Lake school.

Little Sand Lake School 1910-1940

Little Sand Lake school was actually the first of these four schools to open.  Don Rydrych, son of Jerry and Stephanie (Dubsky) was a second-generation Bass Lake area student.  He started first grade in 1936 when Miss Julia Haataja was the teacher.  Don remembers that the spring weather was sometimes made getting to school a real adventure.

“The school was seldom closed for bad weather, but the bus route was sometimes blocked in the spring by high water.  My dad would haul the students to the George Stangland farm and when high water covered the road we would transfer to a wagon and horse team driven by George who would take us to school the last three miles.  He would then be waiting with the horse team and wagon after school to meet the bus.  We loved the horse rides which only lasted about a week each spring and we would sometimes be late for school.”

Wirt School 1914-1957

Wirt was in the Grand Rapids School District.  The school opened in fall of 1914 with Miss Gertrude Shook as the teacher, but it wasn’t until 1941 that the children from the Bass Lake area were bussed to Wirt.  When they arrived, Mrs. Ida Carver was the teacher for the older grades, a position she had already held for nearly ten years. 

Mrs. Carver loved to relay the story of her first year at the school.  She rang the school bell, and was quite surprised to count 45 students filing into the building!  The then, twenty-two-year-old Miss Ida Fitzsimmons was just a bit overwhelmed and requested help.  Finally, in November, the school district sent Zona Knutson, another young teacher to instruct the younger grades.  Miss Fitzsimmons taught in the front of the schoolroom, and Miss Knutson used the entry hall.

A much needed two-room school was finally built in 1934.  Ida married Arthur Carver in 1939 and continued teaching at Wirt until 1957 when North Elementary School opened, and the Wirt school closed.  Mrs. Carver moved with the students to the new building where she taught and served as principal.  She retired in 1975 after forty-two years of teaching.

In 1994, WIR staff Sandy Gunther visited with Ida Carver and wrote the following about her long teaching experience.

“…During the winter, she had to keep the school warm with wood heat and clean the school herself.  Lessons were given in 10 minute sessions.  Having all the grades in one room had its advantages.  If students had trouble learning they could listen in on the younger grades’ lessons.  If a child learned quickly, they would listen in on the older children’s lesson.  The older children were also able to help the younger ones if they were having problem with their assignments.” 

1 Comment

  1. youngv2015 says:

    My grandma Olive taught at a one-room school. I love the photos!


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