"The Wisconsin Years," from
My First Eighty Years (and then some!)
Lyle Arthur Seefeld
Copyright Ralph L. Seefeld and Carol
Howman. This book may not be reproduced or copied
in any manner without the written consent of Ralph L. Seefeld
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Chapter 12: Tomahawk High School (1919-1923)
In the fall of 1919 I began my freshman year at Tomahawk High School. My transition from eighth grader to freshman meant more than just a move to another room, it involved a new and different school format. The entire class were no longer taught all the same subjects, but students could choose some "electives," subjects they wanted to take! I think freshmen were allowed one elective subject, and I chose General Science. There were no designated study halls, and no lockers, so each student was assigned an old fashioned school desk in the auditorium, in which he kept his books and other supplies. Students were segregated by class and seated in alphabetical order. The freshmen occupied desks nearest the west windows. I remember exactly where my desk was, because from there I could look out the window and watch Tomahawk's new water tower being built two blocks away. (Right across the street from Lamberts' and less than a block from our house.)
The auditorium was right above the gymnasium where physical education classes met and where basketball games were played. This placed the "main" room half way between the second and third floors of the main building, with stairs leading up to the high school classrooms and stairs leading down to the grade school rooms. A desk on the stage of the auditorium was always occupied by a teacher, placed there to keep order in the room.
Way in the back of the room, almost to the back wall, was a small sheet metal cubicle which housed a motion picture projector. Once in a great while all the pupils were summoned to the "main room", the big screen which hung over the stage was rolled down, and we were shown a movie. (Black-and-white, of course, and silent, of course.) At other times, the projection booth was used by a few pupils (boys) as a place to sneak a few surreptitious puffs on a cigarette.
In my freshman year my subjects were: English (mandatory), algebra, which was, I think, also mandatory, taught by a Miss Kyle. Then there was some kind of history (boring, nothing but names and dates) and General Science, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although much of it seemed to be only a review of things I already knew.
Somewhere in this time period I sandwiched in a couple years of what was then called "manual training" and was really woodworking shop. It was located in the southeastern corner of the first floor, and today would certainly be called antique. There wasn't a single power operated tool in the place, the closest thing to it being a crank operated grinding wheel for sharpening tools. Mr. Lampert, who was also the boys' sports coach, was the manual training instructor. He taught us the rudiments of woodworking, like sawing, planing, chiseling, sanding, etc. I really didn't have any problems with this course, having used all the tools before in Dad's shop, sometimes under expert supervision. After learning to use the tools, each member of the class was allowed to build a piece of furniture of his own design. I built an oak book case with a book trough at the top in one class and in the other an oak pedestal which stood for years in our "parlor" supporting a potted plant. Ugly pieces by today's standards!
I spent the summer months between my freshman and sophomore years working on our Somo farm. Most likely this meant hoeing weeds in the potato field or spraying "potato bugs" with that unbelievably heavy sprayer.
In the fall of 1920 I began my sophomore year. The seating arrangements were still the same, except that our class moved to seats nearer the center of the room to make room for the new freshman class, which was considerably larger than ours had been. As a sophomore I took English, (which was a required subject in all four years) either another kind of history or "civics," I don't remember which. Anyway, they were both boring because the teachers didn't seem to know how to make the subjects interesting. And there was botany, which interested me greatly because I got to use a microscope. I also took another year of manual training (called shop in today's language).
In the fall of 1921 I started my junior year. Besides the mandatory English, I took another boring history class, and a much more interesting class in zoology. I don't think I learned much about animals, but again I enjoyed using the microscope! And I think it was in this year that I learned to type. Usually typing and shorthand had to be taken together, but this one year they offered typing without shorthand, and I took advantage of the opportunity. My typing instructor was Myra Bucklin, whom everyone thought was a tyrant, but who was really just an efficient, no nonsense teacher whose pupils later remembered her with respect, if not affection.
In May of 1922, I finished my junior year, and was looking forward (?) to a summer on the Seefeld Somo farm. Then suddenly I was offered a summer job working for a daughter of Eugene Field, the childrens' poet. She and her husband, William Englar, had a summer home on an island in the Wisconsin River, and one of my duties was to run their motor boat back and forth to the mainland. I worked there all summer, and again the next summer after graduation. There will be much more about this job in a later chapter.
Then in the fall of 1922 I went back to school as a senior. Besides the mandatory English I took another boring history class, and the most interesting of all, General Physics. That winter our class had some money left over from its various activities, so we decided to buy a radio for the school. We set it up in the Physics room, and it attracted a quite a few interested listeners. Also, that winter I built my own first radio. The next chapter has what is probably a great deal more than you ever wanted to know about both these radios. At the end of the school year, Miss Gronlund, my Physics teacher called me into her room, congratulated me for being the top student in her class, and presented me with a copy of the Physics textbook. I still have this book, which was published in 1915, and is therefore nearly eighty years old!
Toward the end of our senior year we were urged to think about the kinds of work we would like to do after graduation. I still remember what I thought up. It would involve some intricate mechanism, not very large, probably electrical, and would require extreme care and skill. Also at the end of the year, the seniors' grades were totaled, and I was surprised to find my average second from the top. This meant that, as Salutatorian, I had to stand up in front of a Maccabee Hall full of people and give a speech outlining the glorious futures awaiting the people in our class now that we had made it through Tomahawk High.
As for my future, I knew that I would spend the summer of 1923 working as handyman/boat jockey for the Englars. But beyond that -- blank.