Lesson Learned (October 15)

Louella Wentz Hansford grew up in the rural Mount Nebo Community, where she attended six years in a one-room school. Her elder sister by more than 17 years functioned like an aunt.  Also remarkable to who she is happens because her father, Harvey Wentz, served Upshur County Schools as our Truant Officer. My personal admiration for Lou comes from her superb leadership she continues to provide to the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1966.  She “herds cats” well. Surely that is a skill learned in a one-room school.

This week’s column is a continuation of the interview Allia Shaver and I did with Lou.

Allia:  Mrs. Hansford, you are gracious to tell us about your one-room school experience at Mount Nebo. This is vital to the larger oral history we are soliciting concerning over 25 one-room schools in Upshur County that are no more.

Lou:  I was trying to think of when I started Mount Nebo School. I am thinking it was 1954/1955 when I started. It was one through the sixth grade, and then in seventh grade, I came to Buckhannon to the Junior High.

Allia:  I am homeschooled now following the COVID-19 Pandemic, which includes computer learning online. Just a joke: I have a one-room school, too.

Lou:  My first-, second-, and third-grade teacher was Mrs. Mae Miller, and my fourth, fifth, and sixth happened to be Jack Baxa. He was married to Sue. St. Clair was her maiden name, and at the time when they married, her father Francis St. Clair was the Upshur County Schools Board of Education Superintendent. So, I only had the two teachers.

Allia:  Do you know who paid the teachers’ salary and how much they earned in 1953 and 1954, the years you began your schooling?

Lou:  Mount Nebo certainly has a great deal of self-governance, but we had a county-wide administration and operated as a West Virginia education system. I do not know the salaries.

Doc: I’ll tell you one story which is probably way beyond what students might know about salary. Beginning in the sixth grade, I began band class with Saul Fisher and Richard Lawson. And Mr. Lawson told us everything, I mean not just teaching band, but he would talk about life and give us wise advice. He told us teachers were getting a raise in salary. It would be a $1000 raise. So, his salary was going to go from $4,000 to $5,000. For starting teachers, the salary might begin at $3,000.

Allia:  Wow! The teachers could’ve been getting as little as $3,000 at the time, which is way low by any standard today.

Mrs. Hansford, much has changed from your school days, but some eternal truths might be the same. What life lessons were you taught that you still hold in your heart and mind today (Doc’s make it bleed) from the one-room school experience?

Doc:  Lou, here is an example while you are thinking. I heard this during my 12 years serving on the Upshur County Schools Board of Education visiting schools over and over again: “Honesty is the Best Policy.” So that would be a life lesson that the teachers and the principal are trying to get across to the kids.

Lou: Well, it is one of my life lessons. Honesty IS a good policy. I always try to be honest in everything I do.

A second life lesson that I learned from my teachers at Mount Nebo School, which I value in myself, is to be a hard worker. If I choose to do something, I want to give it my all, 100% or even more, to finish it.

Doc: I want to brag on you! In the Buckhannon-Upshur Class of 1966, upon my word, you work hard keeping our class organized. You plan our monthly luncheons and you keep in constant telephone contact with us. When somebody passes on, you tell us of the obituary and funeral arrangements.

Lou: Thank you.

Allia: It’s a big job. I look forward to more lessons learned, Mrs. Hansford. You have valuable contributions to share with us that will enrich the readers of our column.


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