by Kent O. Stever, Ph.D.
One perfect summer eve while visiting in-laws, I decided to take a walk.
I started in the blocks of Goodview on the outskirts of Winona, and soon found my way down Fifth Street—passing Cheer’s Barber Shop and Liquor Store. Angling around the parked trucks of Kujak Trucking Company on the corner, I stopped at the Dairy Queen on the west end of Broadway—home of the trademark “Curl on Top.” The DQ has been operating in the same small space since long before the Blizzard was born.
Heading nowhere in particular, I soon found myself licking a twist cone on the streets of my old Sunday paper route. As a boy, I delivered a paper route for the St. Paul Pioneer Press that was centered at the West End Theatre on High and West Fifth streets—where tickets for a Saturday or Sunday matinee “show” were 12 cents. With an additional nickel tacked on by Pa for good behavior, I got a Holloway sucker to last through half of the Geronimo or Gene Autry show.
Tires on the bricks of West Fifth caused a rubbery rumble in the hot night as cars passed me outside EB’s Tavern. Those bricks had been in place since the late 1800s—about the time horse-drawn streetcars were extended out that way. The West End Hotel, Libera’s Grocery, and EB’s tavern were all there then. A couple of blocks over on Wabasha Street were the Winona General Hospital, the Lutheran church of my Christmas and Easter youth, and the school of my history and dreams—Madison. On this summer night as I walked down Wabasha, I was back there as a boy—playing baseball, finding my way in early for school patrol, swinging on the bars in the back lot, or handing out prizes at the “Fish Bowl” of the evening school carnival.
In my wanderings, I found myself in the middle of my old school and home neighborhood. For seven years in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Madison was my life, my everything. From the Dick and Jane readers of grade one to basic algebra of grade six, I was immersed. Along with others in my family (3 of 4 in the family in the same school at the same time), we set a record at Madison for ALL having perfect attendance and no “tardies” in the same year. We must have loved the environment.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the history of this school that meant so much to us.
This school of my youth had been built about the time the bricks were laid on Fifth Street. In 1874, bids were let. With add-ons for third-floor finishing, trees, ground improvements, and classroom seating all accomplished by the end of 1875, the “Jewel of the West” stood facing Winona’s finest street for the grand sum of $24,845.00!
In 1882, a riverboat captain, William Woodin, who built a cabin only two blocks from Madison, commented, “Steamboaters all like Winona.” A near neighbor to him and to Madison had a family afflicted with dysentery in 1883, causing the death of two of the children. Physicians blamed it on “poor water and the too-free use of new potatoes.” The newspaper reported that there were some “Bad Boys” in the Madison area. A group of 12- or 13-year-olds decided to build a shanty as a “club” that overlooked the sawmill (probably near the steamboater!).
They were often truant in order to outfit their shanty with pictures and stolen furniture. They probably used the money ($3-$4) stolen from Miss Tawney’s room at Madison in 1886 to buy supplies for “the boys’” hostel. Some sixty-plus years later, a couple of Madison boys (in my class) burned down one of the boathouses along the river from which they had been stealing. They may have been descendants of the early “bad boys.”
It was getting to be a bit late as I slowly crossed the playground behind the building. That was where I shot hoops, played tetherball, swung high, and skated after school. I practically lived all summer at the playground and occasionally had eight cents for a bottle of Pepsi at Deilke’s Grocery at the corner of the playground. I passed the store hundreds of times as I went to school and back twice a day for seven years. As I stood at Deilke’s corner, I looked across the street to discover that Mrs. Pahnke was out in the warm night with her small dog. I crossed the street and approached gently, since it was a dark night and it had been more than twenty-five years since she had last seen me. I called her name and identified myself and was soon in conversation. In a fashion of the many after-school visits to her home, to David’s room—and to our “fort” in the cellar, she accepted me with ease. It was a glorious reminiscence in the soft light of the street lamp.
On the Wabasha Street corner in 1900, the Madison Meat Market flourished next to the Kindt Grocery, with Mr. Bergemann at the helm. Mr. Schumacher (a favorite of ours) succeeded Bergemann and smoked his sausages in a small, tall, wood building behind the shop. Delicious smells drifted across the street to the playground to give olfactory pleasure to pupils at “recess” time.
In 1886 there was concern over the use of a basement room at Madison for class use. The director objecting to that use (Mr. Stewart) also declared at the school board meeting that algebra at the high school was “a superfluous study” and should be eliminated. In spite of these “superfluous” thoughts, the 1890s became boom years for Madison. There wasn’t sufficient room in the school for large gatherings for school entertainment, so programs were held at “the packed” West End Hall, located on the second floor of Libera’s General Store at Fifth Street and Ewing.
By 1915, the PTA was active, encouraging “all women to bring their sewing” to the 3:45 p.m. social/meeting on November 8. That same year the playground apparatus of teeters, swings, and slide we so enjoyed was installed. In 1919, Madison parents were astir, perceiving a crisis in the education profession with quality teachers leaving due to low salaries.
From the school, I wandered homeward—a couple of blocks from the back door of Madison to my home of fifty years ago on Grand Street. As I wandered, I could name every neighbor and isolate every apple and pear tree in backyards from which we stole in the middle of the night. I took a moment to stand under one of the four known catalpa trees in a three-block radius that provided beautiful flowers in springtime and twelve-inch “whips” for us to carry in summer.
The Madison neighborhood was my paper route, my playground for years. Day and night, I slammed the screen door on the back porch of home and headed out across Madison-area blocks to ever more adventure. Every step across imprinted sidewalks created by cement artisans of the 1900s was a step toward excitement with school pals at the playground, or to new learning.
Madison was in my bones.
In 1897 Miss Jessie Brammer became the new principal for the kindergarten through 8th grade school. She continued on for many years – a possible run of nearly forty years. Jessie was the founder of the Madison PTA. She was also instrumental in bringing in some of our favorite teachers, who themselves had long runs at Madison—Fern Kinzie, kindergarten; Mildred Kjome first grade; Ruth Kottschade second grade; Grace McLeod (1926), third grade; Genevieve Carroll (1936), fourth grade; Neva King, fifth grade (1944); and Orloue Nordby in sixth grade.
Miss Grace Kissling, our music teacher and next-door neighbor, appeared throughout the years at Madison, as early as 1919. She taught us how to make “bean-hole” beans in the back yard. A very nice picture of many of our favorite teachers was in the paper on September 15, 1953—including the single male teacher, Ev Mueller. Ev taught me the jump shot in the school gym—and later became Asst. Superintendent of Winona Schools.
Jessie Brammer was dedicated to children making a difference in the world. She led Thrift Stamp sales efforts that helped the WWI effort. She organized a letter and packet writing activity that went to “Our Soldier Boy” (one of many) somewhere in France. And often a return letter of thanks and gracious appreciation was received.
Miss Brammer encouraged 400 children at Madison to become members of the Junior Red Cross in 1918. It was a “patriotic group” to “aid in the readjustment and alleviation of poverty after the war.” Her efforts continued over more than 25 years. Letters were received from English children sending thanks for Christmas packets received after WWII (1945).
This writer participated with classmates in the late 1940s to create and send CARE packages overseas to war survivors in Europe.
Miss Brammer also shepherded the changeover from an eight-grade school to a six-grade school. This probably coincided with the opening of the new Madison School in 1933. Plans and a referendum were considered for the building in November 1931, furniture was bought in 1933—along with dirt, grading and tilling of the grounds.
A story in the newspaper (with pictures) called the school “acclaimed as one of the best in the northwest” when it opened eighteen rooms at a total cost of $176,000.00. Although purchases included teacher desks, kindergarten furniture, and seating for the 500-seat gymnasium/auditorium (with opera seats), there was not sufficient money to keep everything flowing in the heart of the Depression. The district had to cut the salaries of all janitors by 10%.
Miss Mary McIver carried on as principal (1941–49), following the dedicated Miss Brammer.
The Cub Pack of Boy Scouts was formed at Madison in 1944; organized by the school and led by elected officers. I was soon a member. James Kroner led the very active Boy Scouts in 1950.
Miss MacIver, who presided over 315 students in 1945, coordinated the Cub Scout Supper in 1947, the evening X-rays in 1948, the Summer Roundup in 1949, and all aspects of curriculum and guidance throughout every day. Verdi Ellies was named principal in the early 1950s, continuing the tradition of excellence.
At the Annual Madison Fun Frolic in 1952 (admission 40 cents, with 1,000 in attendance!), the Cub Scouts had the Fish Pond and the Boy Scouts the pop stand. The principal coordinated the very popular “Cake Walk.” Verdi was Cake Walk leader, assisted by long-term school secretary Marilyn Neitzke. She knew those of us well who occupied the long hard bench outside the principal’s office, awaiting our turn. Mr. Ellies was a gracious and caring leader, the first male to serve as principal of Madison.
In my case, esteemed teachers and principals have been easily named —and remembered. When a kindergarten classmate and I were recently asked by a young adult (at the funeral of my great-grandmother, a Madison grad) how we could remember teacher names from so long ago, we quickly and mutually responded that they were a part of our lives. They stepped up and made a difference—and “looked out for the wants of the child’s nature.”
The teachers, principals and janitor (Bill Groves) of Madison made a daily impact on our lives. They reinforced the expectations of parents and went beyond to create a more global perspective in each of us—through Boy Scouts, School Patrol, academics, behavior, and the Junior American Red Cross. They followed the tenets laid out in a Madison, Wisconsin, conference in 1884 which suggested: “This course should be so planned that at whatever stage the pupil leaves it he will have received the best preparation for life possible in the time at school. The wants of the child’s nature must also be considered broadly in planning the course.”
We were not only considered, we were included in building the structure of the school and of our future lives. To a person, we “graduates” of Madison, from our 93-year-old great-grandmother to this wizened grandfather to a 12-year-old great-grandson of today, the spirit of Madison has spoken to every one. We were fortunate to be a part of the building processes of school and life.
Walking west, I followed the familiar bus route of Howard Street (“Lake Line”) past Thorne’s Grocery at Dakota Street, until I ran out of Madison territory.
My walk took the better part of a late, quiet, and beautiful evening. I had suggested to my wife that I was going for a walk. She didn’t know that it would be a marathon. I never did run out of memories and sensate pleasures. Ah—the mood, the remembrances, the smells, the quiet night sounds, and the goodness of life in West Winona!
After several hours—and only moments before my wife was to send the Goodview constable out looking for me—I appeared on the western fringe of Winona. As with this essay, I had simply taken a walk down memory lane—having not a care in the world.
Kent Stever enjoys sharing his personal research on Winona. His thoughts of life in Winona come easily for him at his lakeside home in Lakeville. It is his hope that some of his ramblings will add to the history of Winona —and offer a legacy others can share—of Winona’s many fine schools, teachers and neighborhoods. He invites your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.