Lesson Learned (September 10)

Truant Officer Harvey Wentz

Early in the process of listening to the oral history from students who attended closed Upshur County rural public schools already feels like panning for gold and coming up with big nuggets. My intention for a book espousing the merits of small, rural public school education has been to collect stories from all 25 closed schools by the Upshur County Board of Education during the 25-year tenure of Robert L. “Bob” Chamberlain, MD. The good doctor told me this startling fact in his twilight years. My mind set to puzzling about what has been lost in our central Appalachian mountain community. Consolidation can be both good and bad! 

Many of these schools closed before the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1966 graduated. I set a self-imposed challenge to find out about community schools with very unusual names that garner up mystery—High Germany, Carpenter, Zickefoose, Tallmansville, Excelsior, etc. Collecting memories allows me the wonderful privilege of reconnecting with my lifelong friends and classmates. One special friend is Lou Wentz Hansford, who organizes our monthly lunches for the Class of ‘66.

She tells us much from her detailed memory about Mount Nebo School, where she studied for six years beginning in 1954. More will be written about her rich recollections; however, her story about having the truant officer for a father is low-hanging fruit. 

Here is her tale as told to Allia Shaver, journalism student:

Lou: During my elementary and secondary years in the public school system, my dad, Harvey Wentz, was what they called a truant officer for the county. The truant officer’s real professional title is Attendance Director. My, my. A truant officer went after kids that did not go to school. So, of course I was always teased that “You can’t skip school cause your dad is the truant officer.” I had a big target on my back. That was one of many good-natured teasings that I got clear through school from the 1st through the 12th year. Perhaps being in the limelight helped me as I only missed three days of school those twelve years. However, my sister only missed one. My goal competing with her became to only miss one day. Nobody wants to be considered a weak sister, but alas, I missed two more.

Allia: Mrs. Hansford, you are to be congratulated, for you met a big challenge only missing three days of school in twelve years. You set a high goal for yourself.

Lou: I pretended, well, I had only gone to school one or two days and they were teaching the ABC’s. I already knew them, so whenever I went home that evening I told Mom that I don’t have to go back because they’re teaching the ABC’s and I already know them, so there is no reason for me to go back to school. But then of course they made me go back. But later, which was not too much later, I would pretend that I was sick so I would have to go home. Mom and Dad caught on to that. I guess I was nervous about school so I had an upset stomach which made me feel sick, but I just didn’t want to be there at that time, so I came home. But Mom and Dad found out about me and took me back to school. After that, I liked school and continued to like it through high school.

Doc: Here’s an expression—when we were kids, if you were upset about something and an adult reminded you not to be so upset, they might say, “Quit your belly aching.”

Allia: Was there a library?

Lou: We had a small library in our school. I remember that if there were evenings that I didn’t have homework, I could go and select from certain shelves in the library in our school. The teacher signed them out and I would be responsible then for bringing them back. In the summer, my dad had to go around to every school and check off the books that were in that school. They had a number inside of the cover like C12 and I would read that off. I was very fortunate that I got to go with him to help him. I was paid by my dad for doing that and helping him. So, most of the time, I read the numbers off and he marked them. There were a lot of books in some of these schools.

Doc: So, you got to visit most of the rural public schools in Upshur County?

Lou: I did. We were able to take our lunch with us. Mom would pack the lunch boxes and Dad seemed to be one that always wanted to go high on top of a hill somewhere and eat our lunch. I remember people saying that if you went to lunch with Harvey Wentz, you went to a high hill somewhere before you had your lunch, yes. Mom would always pack our lunch with special things in it, so Dad and I had a really good time.

Doc: That’s a special story. That’s very sweet, isn’t it? 

Allia: Father and daughter time.

Lou: And I was a Daddy’s girl anyway.

What a special Lesson learned from Louella Wentz Hansford remembering the deep and abiding love and respect she has for her father, Harvey Wentz, the truant officer. In future weeks Allia’s interview shares more insights from Mount Nebo School. There’s gold in them, thar hills!


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