Memories still shine brightly for one-room Sunnyside School

By Linda Emley

I spend many hours researching most of my history stories, but this story came to me and I didn’t have to do anything but sit back and read all about it because Lorna Dooley Oliphant did the research for me.
A few weeks ago, Lorna came to the museum with a stack of pictures and papers. She told me they were having a “Sunnyside School” reunion June 30 and she thought it would be fun to share some of the stories about the good-old days of a one-room school house.
They will be meeting at the Elkhorn School from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and I’m sure there will be many smiles and more stories shared at this reunion.
I never attended a one-room school but I’ve always been fascinated by the stories I’ve heard about our local “country” schools.
We have a room at the museum that was created to look like a “country” school, and many times I’ll hear stories from people that attended one of these schools while giving a tour. I know it’s not the same as actually being there, but it’s fun to share these stories with others.
I always tell everyone that in the early days the teachers couldn’t be married. So when your favorite teacher got married, she would either teach in a bigger school in town or be a stay-at-home wife. This changed in the early 1950s and married women could teach the rural country schools and even got to take their per-school age children to school with them. My mother, Betty Lou Martin, took my brother to school when she was a country school teacher. While talking to some of the former “Sunnyside” school students, I heard that Ardis Driskill was their teacher and her son David got to attend school with her, too.
We have files on many of the country schools in our genealogical library at  Ray County Museum. While looking over these files, we found that the parents of the school children were always the school board members. I’ve seen several people get tears in their eyes when we show them these records and they see their father’s name on the yearly school report. These schools were truly a family affair and lifetime bonds were made by the students who shared their school days together.
The country one-room schools were first through eighth grade. There was always an eighth grade graduation and if you went on to high school, you would have to go to one the “towns” like Richmond, Lawson, Henrietta, Hardin, Orrick, Rayville or Stet. For many rural children, this meant you had to room with someone in town and only visit your home on weekends.
In 1906, Otis Chandler was elected the first Ray County school superintendent. He served Ray County for 44 years and was known countywide as “Mr. County Superintendent.” I’ve heard more than one student say they were scared of him, but I never heard any good reason why. One teacher told me that he would sometimes stand outside their classroom windows and listen to see how you were doing as a teacher. He was a short man and had a hard time looking in the windows.
The 1973 Ray County History book has several pages about the country schools. It has a school map from an unidentified year that shows 91 different school districts in Ray County.
I plan on sharing some stories on many of the country schools later, but this story is dedicated to all the students who attended school at “Sunnyside” between 1895 and 1959.
For anyone who has a Ray County plat map, this school was located in district 57, township 52, Range 29. It was originally named the Nichols School because the Nichols family owned the land where the school was created.
On Oct. 12, 1894, a widow, Mrs. Mariah Nichols, and Charles and Rachel Houchers received $70 for land that was purchased to be used as a school. Rachel was Mrs. Nichols’s daughter. In 1912, this school changed its name to Sunnyside, but no one knows for sure why it was changed. Many rural schools kept their original family names.
So what was it like to attend school at Sunnyside School? In 2009, there was a Sunnyside Reunion and many former students shared memories on a form they filled out for the reunion. I really enjoyed reading over these stories. Several mentioned the day that their teacher fell asleep and Kenny Coats managed to slip across the room and move the clock forward so they could all go home early. It worked well for that day, but I want to know if the teacher thought they were all an hour late coming to school the next day.
I talked to Leroy Cain and he said that one of the fun things about a country school was that everyone stood up for each other. If something happened, no one ever “sold out” their fellow students, so I assume Kenny Coats never got “sold down the river” for giving his classmates and extra hour or two of daylight.

The student body gathered for a Sunnyside School photo in 1901. (Submitted photo)

The student body gathered for a Sunnyside School photo in 1901. (Submitted photo)

Leroy also said that it was amazing how much you picked up from the lessons of other grades because all students got to hear what other classes were studying. It’s hard to imagine those poor teachers trying to teach eight different levels of each of the classroom subjects.
I found a 1956 school yearbook and it was interesting to see a random year in the life of Sunnyside. The Board of Education was LeRoy Johnson, Dan Marriott and Floyd Hightower. Mrs. Ardis Driskill was the teacher. There were for students in eighth grade, one of whom was Kenny Coats
I looked at his picture and by the look on his face, I could tell he was up to something. There were three boys in the seventh grade, three students in sixth grade, only one student in fifth grade. Fourth grade had four students, third grade had five students and the whole second grade was one little girl named Nancy.
The first grade had two students and there was even a picture of David Driskell, the one and only preschooler. That makes 24 students, counting David.
Some of the other memories were, “Spin the bottle in the old road, playing baseball against the New Garden school, box suppers, school plays and a picnic on the Hightower farm.”
Loren Oliphant told about the time when some of the boys crawled under the school and found a nest of snakes. She also recalled breaking her arm when she fell off the teeter totter and trying to climb to the top of the flag pole.
Loren mentioned a spanking she got in second grade, but I don’t think it was for climbing the flag pole. Yes, Loren, I remember getting a spanking at school one day, too, but I don’t remember what it was that I did or didn’t do that caused my spanking.
I talked to my friend Cheryl Norris Marrant and she only went to Sunnyside for first grade but she had some fun memories. Cheryl lived close to the school and when she was preschool age, she always wanted to go play with the big girls while they were at recess. They would walk across the road and take her to the playground with them.
Cheryl said after several warnings, her mother gave her a spanking and her recess days were over. After she got old enough to attend school, recess was still one of her favorite times. She told me a story about when she was twirling someone’s baton and it ended up in the outhouse. Oh yes, the good-old days of the school outhouse.
Cheryl said it was actually a two-room schoolhouse but they only used one room. I assumed it was because they only had one teacher, but after reading the school memories, I found a few more details about the second room. Lena Fern Cain-McGinnis-Penny said that on rainy days,they played in the old room and you had to be careful not to fall in the holes in the floor. So now I need to find out when the first room and the second room were built.
Someone else mentioned playing “Red Rover.” Now I can relate to that because I got to play “Red Rover,” too. I always dreaded the words, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Linda Come Over.” For those too young to remember, when you heard your name called, you had to run across to the other side and try to break though the human chain of your friends holding hands.
If you didn’t break the chain, you became one of “them.” If you did break the chain, you got to pick someone to take back to your team.
And finally one student said their teacher read a few Bible verses each morning and then they started the day with a prayer. Times have changed.
The last country school closed in 1971 and ended a way of life that had been a part of Ray County for many years.

Have a memory for Linda? You can reach her at or see her at the museum.

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