Memories of SD 564

In 1953, our family returned to Thief River Falls from a small town at the center of North Dakota. We had moved to North Dakota to allow my father to accumulate seniority with his railroad job. Younger railroad workers with little seniority could be bumped (by more senior workers) for the jobs they were bidding for. The move to North Dakota allowed my dad to work the hours he needed.
I was very happy when my parents decided that it was time to move back to Thief River. The school system in North Dakota had been different and while my fourth grade had been easy, my fifth grade class had been a struggle for me. School was no longer fun and I had lost interest in schoolwork. I was very happy then to be back in Thief River Falls, but was not looking forward to going to Northrop school for the sixth grade. Mr. Phil Beadle, my new sixth grade teacher, would change all that. I not only remember Mr. Beadle well, I remember the classroom as if it were yesterday. I also remember where many of my fellow classmates sat during that year. I believe the reason for my clear memory was the happiness that Mr. Beadle brought to our class. By the end of that year, he had rekindled my interest in school, especially in reading. I regard his teaching as a pivotal point in my education. Without Mr. Beadle I believe my interest in school, and ultimately my view of life, would have been completely different. Everyone has had a favorite teacher. Ask any of your friends who their favorite teacher was and you will get a name and many anecdotes about how this person had a profound affect on their life. We all want to feel understood and recognized for our thoughts and skills. I can truthfully say that I experienced that feeling more than once in my years at school in Thief River Falls. Those teachers, who touch our lives, have more affect than we realize.
When I reflect back upon memories of Thief River Falls, the first thing I think about is the wonderful teachers we were privileged to have. I sincerely believe we had a unique combination of dedicated professionals at all schools in Thief River Falls. While writing this letter, I spoke with a close friend who had been in the same sixth grade classroom. His memory was similar to mine. He said, "Mr. Beadle was a great teacher."
Who was your favorite teacher?
Dick Jahr
LHS Class of 1960
Remembering Miss Thora Skomedal
Remember kids eating paste during art in grade school; playing tug-of-war; vacuum tubes in radios; when the school playgrounds had only a teeter-totter, a slide and "giant strikes"? Remember "Cops and Robbers," "Cowboys and Indians," when all the male teachers wore suits and neckties, and most of the female teachers were single, and they wore dresses and silk stockings? Remember when being sent to the principal¹s office was nothing compared to the fate that might befall a student when he or she got home? Remember that?
It’s doubtful that Miss Thora Skomedal ever found it necessary to send one of her students to the principal¹s office because, for the most part, her students had the utmost respect for her, and there was seldom, if ever any, misconduct in her classroom. And you must remember that in those days students were much more respectful of teachers than they are today. If there were ever a legendary teacher in the Thief River Falls school system, Thora Skomedal would be near or at the top of the list. Thora’s teaching career began in 1915 and ended with her retirement as an English teacher at Lincoln High School in 1966, a span of 51 years.
Thora had a distinguished and varied career as an educator. She taught in rural schools for five years after graduation from Lincoln High School and Teacher Training in 1915. After that, she earned a degree in Education from Bemidji State College. She served as principal in several schools and later taught for two years at an American Indian school near Bemidji. She would look back on that as one of her most gratifying assignments, a "fun" experience that she thoroughly enjoyed. Among the gifts she received when she left that school was a wooden pail of walleye, some maple sugar and a basket of wild rice.
In 1939, she won the position of Marshall County Superintendent of Schools, which she held for eight years. Following a short stint as superintendent at Rutland, N.D., she began a 19-year career as a teacher of English and speech at Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls. She was one of two English teachers there, but in midterm of that first year the other teacher broke a hip in a fall and resigned. Without asking, the local superintendent told Miss Skomedal that henceforth she would be responsible for all the English classes. She had 164 students in all. Writing was required in many of the classes, so Thora had many papers to read and grade.
Thora was always known as Miss Skomedal to her students. Many of those students would consider her the best teacher they ever had. She had a way of challenging her students to defend and expound on their position on a topic. Her favorite query was "You don’t really believe that, do you?" Thora loved teaching, and she was especially fond of classical literature, which was an important part of her English class. When she read Shakespeare, she was in another world. She had her students read Chaucer and Milton, and in their senior year, they were required to read four plays by Shakespeare. Another requirement for her seniors was to write a term paper with footnotes, I might add on a subject of their choice. Caryl Bugge (Class of 1955) was perhaps the most laudatory in her remarks about this teacher. Caryl believes that going through Thora Skomedal’s English class was an excellent college preparatory experience.
Several former students remembered having to diagram sentences in her English class. Those students of English who would find this to be an onerous exercise are happy to know that it has not been in vogue as a "pedagogical device" for many years. However, I suspect that after successfully completing Miss Skomedal’s English class, you knew all there was to know about nouns, verbs, pronouns and predicate nominatives. And you would never again dangle a participle or split an infinitive.
Miss Skomedal sometimes showed a funny side. On one occasion, she brought a car into a garage for some repair. A day or so later, she called a shop to ask if they had finished the job. They knew nothing about it. Later, she got a call from another repair shop asking when she was going to pick up her car. She had forgotten where she left it! One day during school hours, an announcement came over the loudspeakers asking the owner of the car that was blocking the street in front of the school to move it. A couple of her students looked out the window and recognized the car as Thora’s. When they called it to her attention, she replied, "I know it, it won’t start!"
After Thora retired from teaching in 1966, she went to work again. She and her sister both lived at the family homestead with their three brothers. The two ladies talked about how nice it would be to share the homemaking duties, thereby lightening the load for each of them. Sadly, Thora’s sister died a short time later, and once again, Thora would be left to do a job by herself. She would be the homemaker for three brothers, one full-time hired man, and, during busy times on the farm, an additional one to three extra hired hands. At 69 years of age, she became the housekeeper, cook and baker, laundress and gardener for this family. And a big garden meant lots of
After her last brother died in 1981, Thora continued to live in the stately old family home for several years. About 1990, she developed health problems and was confined to her bed at home. A niece became her caregiver for 2-1/2 years before it became necessary to place her in the CNC unit of the local hospital. She remained there for another 2-1/2 years before passing away on March 25, 1995, just a few weeks short of her 98th birthday. It’s interesting to note that several weeks before her death, she read her last book. It was "River of Champions," the story of the 1956 Prowler State Hockey Champions, written by Mary Halvorson Schofield. Mary was a former student of Thora’s. and was happy to have visited her in the hospital before she died. It was a heartwarming experience for both of them. Other former students kept in touch with Thora throughout life, even until her last Christmas in 1994.
Thora’s last five years must been extremely difficult. It was a sad way to have life’s journey end for one who was so active during a very long and fulfilling life.
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