What It Was Like Being an Eighth Grader
The Author at the Age of 14.
Attending Catholic Schools
While growing up in the 1950s, I was fortunate to receive eight years of a Catholic School education. I attended grade one through almost the end of grade four at Saint Mary's Help of Christians in West Allis, Wisconsin. After moving out to a farm, my parents sent me to Saint James in Mukwonago for grades five and six and most of seven. Finally, after mom and dad bought a farm near Burlington, I transferred to Saint Thomas Aquinas in Waterford to finish grade seven and then complete grade eight before entering high school.
In this article, I reflect on what it was like being an eighth-grader at Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. My memories encompass riding to school, attending morning Mass, school classes with a nun, classmates, and notable activities during the school year.
Riding to School
When my sister and I attended Saint James School in Mukwonago, we had school bus transportation to and from school. This wasn't the case after we moved to a farm one-half mile north of the village of Honey Creek. We were at a location eight miles north of Burlington and six miles west of the village of Waterford.
Mom and dad wanted to keep sending us to Catholic School. There was one in Burlington, Saint Mary's, and one in Waterford, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Since the neighboring farmers were sending their two boys to Saint Thomas, my folks elected to have my younger sister and I go to school in Waterford and not in Burlington. The Lewis kids, David and Terry, and my sister, Beatrice, and I would ride together in a carpooling arrangement. One week Mrs. Lewis would drive and the next dad would.
This carpooling arrangement worked well while dad was driving a car. In the late fall of eighth grade, however, my father got rid of his car and bought a used green panel truck. I remember it so well. The painted lettering on one side read "Meisenheimer." It had been used by a plumber and that explained why there were no seats inside other than for the driver. Dad had bought it because he didn't have a truck and needed a vehicle to transport feed and other things on the farm.
This green panel truck wasn't meant for carrying passengers, but that is what the four of us rode in when going to school. I remember trying to sit on a fender over the wheel. David and Terry tried squatting during the ride, but they still got their white pants dirty. Mrs. Lewis was furious and after a month or two, our carpooling arrangement was over. For the remainder of the school year, Mrs. Lewis drove us to school and dad gave her gas money.
Watching the Church Door during Morning Mass
Every morning before the beginning of classes, all students were expected to attend Mass. Mass was held in a small church on River Road across from the Fox River. My eighth-grade teacher and school principal, Sister Salutaria, appointed me as guardian of the church front door during Mass.
For my duties, I had to stand in the vestibule of the church and keep an eye out for stragglers who were approaching the church door after Mass had begun. Before these late students got to the door, I had to open and close it for them. If I hadn't done this, the church door would have slammed shut and made too much noise during Mass.
One of the pleasures of this job was getting to see my sixth-grade girlfriend who sometimes came late to Mass. Jeannie S was a cute blonde and I really had a crush on her. I am sure the feeling wasn't mutual, but just the same, my heart skipped a beat whenever I saw Jeannie.
In addition to watching the church door, I will always remember going to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month. Since we always had to fast before taking the Eucharist during Mass, Sister always made sure that we had donuts and hot chocolate in class after Mass.
My School Day and Classes
My school day and classes began at approximately 8:30 following the conclusion of Mass. The school was held in a two-story fairly modern building next to the church. The eighth-grade classroom was in a room on the second floor with windows overlooking a street.
Composed of 20-25 boys and girls, our class had daily lessons in religion, arithmetic, reading, writing, and social studies. Approximately twice a week, we also had music and art classes. Surprisingly, there was no science class, but no parents seemed to complain.
Sister Salutaria taught all of our classes. Our first class in the morning was always religion held from 8:30 until 9:15. Then, we had an arithmetic lesson. After a recess lasting from 10:00 until 10:15, reading and writing classes until 11:45 completed the morning activities.
We carried bag lunches to school and ate in the classroom. After I finished my lunch, I usually went to the playground behind the school and played either baseball or football with seventh and eighth-grade students.
After the bell rang at 12:45, we returned to the classroom for afternoon classes. From around 1:00 until 3:15, we had classes in social studies, art, music, and also were given time to do our homework.
Although it has been 50 years, I still have memories of many of my eighth-grade classmates. These boys and girls include Robert T, Richard S, Jerry H, Jerry S, Paul W, Bill D, Alan S, Bill W, Mary S, Rosemary S, Julia N, and Anita Y. My significant memories of some of these individuals are now detailed below.
How can I forget Robert T? He was a thin black-haired boy who often played cards with me in the classroom when it was too wet or cold to play ball outside. Robert "affectionately" called me smudge pot or "smudge." I should have felt angry and insulted, but I just ignored the comment. He probably called me that because I hadn't washed completely clean before coming to school. I probably smelled like cows, too, because every morning I would help mom and dad in the barn before going to school. Most of the time, I didn't bother or have the time to take a bath or shower before changing into my school clothes.
I will remember Richard S for his ducktail haircut. Rick always called himself "sexy Rexy." His father ran the Rivemoor Golf Course outside of Waterford.
Jerry was one of the "athletes" in our class. He always sat in the back of our classroom next to Paul W and Jerry H. Jerry misbehaved so badly one day that Sister Salutaria took him to the front of the class and boxed his ears in front of everyone. Jerry later became the quarterback of the Waterford High School Wolverines who we played when I was on the Burlington High School football team.
Jerry H was very interested in baseball and football. He got together the boys in our class to play football and helped to organize the Saint Thomas Aquinas flag football team. I remember playing one game against Waterford Junior High. When I attended the University of Wisconsin, I noticed that Jerry H was on the Badger Freshman football team.
I will remember Bill W because he used to always sit and joke with the girls during lunch hour. Never did I see him play ball with the boys.
Mary was the smartest girl in class and played the organ in church. She threw a Halloween Party in her home in 1957 which I attended. This party will be described later in this article.
Activities during the 1957-58 School Year
As an eighth-grader at Saint Thomas Aquinas School from September of 1957 until June of 1958, the following five activities are especially remembered.
1. Class Discussion about the 1957 World Series
Since our school was only 30 miles outside of Milwaukee, it is quite obvious that almost all of my classmates routed for the Milwaukee Braves to beat the New York Yankees in the 1957 World Series.
After the Braves were victorious over the Yankees in the deciding seventh final game of the World Series on October 10, I can remember Sister leading a discussion in class about Milwaukee's victory. She read newspaper articles from both Milwaukee and New York sportswriters. It was very interesting to hear how the New York writers looked down upon the small market Braves and their fans.
2. Halloween Party
From the beginning of 1956, I started to take a great interest in rock and roll music. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were two of my favorite singers, and by the summer, I was watching Bandstand Matinee hosted by Jim Lounsbury on WGN-TV out of Chicago. I loved watching the kids dance on Bandstand and hoped that I too soon would have the chance.
I didn't have to wait that long because Mary S invited me to a Halloween party in her home around October 30 of 1957. Many of my classmates and especially girls were at the party. I can't recall whether coming to the party in costume, but I do remember almost breaking a classmate's arm as I tried to twirl her doing the jitterbug to the tune of "Wake Up Little Susie" by the Everly Brothers.
3. Trip to Marquette University Medical School
On a Saturday in February of 1958, Saint Thomas Aquinas seventh and eighth-graders made a trip by school bus to Marquette University Medical School in Milwaukee. I vividly remember being in the Anatomy Department laboratory and talking to medical students who were doing dissections. From this experience, I decided to become a doctor.
4. Marquette University High School Entrance Test
In March or April of 1958, I was strongly urged by Sister Salutaria to take the Marquette University High School entrance test. Sister regarded me as one of her best students and felt that an education at Marquette High would be excellent preparation for college.
Mom and dad also thought it was a good idea for me to take the entrance exam. After brief coaching from Sister on pre-algebra and other math topics that would be on the test, dad took me to downtown Milwaukee on a Saturday morning to sit for the test. The exam lasted two or three hours and two weeks later I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted for admission to Marquette High.
Unfortunately, the problem was that Marquette High was 30 miles from home and my parents couldn't pay the tuition or afford my commuting costs to and from school. Dad met with the Saint Thomas Aquinas Church pastor, but the church and school were unwilling to give us any financial support. Consequently, I wound up attending the public Burlington High School for four years.
5. Seventh and Eighth Grade Class Trip to Washington D.C.
Toward the end of May of 1958, I took part in a school trip to Washington D.C. We left Milwaukee on an early Friday afternoon traveled by train by way of Chicago to Washington D.C. After arriving in D.C. at 7:00 on Saturday morning, we spent Saturday and Sunday touring historical sites in the Washington and Northern Virginia area. We arrived back in Wisconsin on Monday morning. I was very fortunate to go on the trip because a local businessman paid my travel expenses. Mom and dad just couldn't afford the $55. Please see the link below for a description of my trip.
My Eighth Grade Class Trip to Washington D.C.
- A 1958 Class Trip to Washington DC
In 1958 my eight grade class made a weekend trip from Wisconsin to Washington DC. We toured the U.S. Capitol, White House, Mount Vernon and learned very much about United States history.
© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn