Home News Local News Keating school hosts reunion
Keating school hosts reunion
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
Mary Lou Wirth gingerly touches the black-and-white faces of past Keating School students, reciting the names she remembers as her fingers move over the photo.
"Oh, this is it, this is the year," she says. "This is the bunch I went to school with."
Wirth, 69, attended the one-room Keating School in 1944 and '45.
On Friday, former Keating students gathered to swap stories and compare memories at the first-ever school reunion.
A school opened in Keating valley, located 10 miles east of Baker City, in 1864. The school has been open off and on ever since, and its location moved all around the valley. The current schoolhouse opened in the 1950s.
Keating is one of about 10 one-room schoolhouses still in operation in Oregon, said Gene Evans, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education.
The description for these schools is "single room, K through 8, single teacher, multiple grades," he said.
Most of these tiny rural schools are scattered throughout Eastern and Southeastern Oregon, he said, and the two classic examples are Brothers Elementary located 40 miles east of Bend (its enrollment is five students) and Double O Elementary in Harney County.
Most of these schools have 15 students or less; Keating has 18.
"It's a real holdover from the pioneer past," Evans said. "All it takes is a family to move and the school closes. It's really a function of population."
The current Keating School is more modern than the one-room schoolhouse in "Little House on the Prairie," and features several classrooms and a cafeteria with a stage.
Kindergarten students spend most of their time with teaching assistant Debbie Radle and students in grades 1 through 6 work with teacher Kathy Shaw.
Wirth couldn't help but compare the present school's playground a grassy hill with swings and a play structure to her school's yard, which was located just across the road to the east.
"We didn't have grass, we were just playing in the dirt," Wirth said with a laugh. "We didn't have any swings, we played baseball and we played tug-of-war and the boys chased the girls."
But the stories she tells with a grin on her face involve the discipline tactics of teacher Grace Guyer, who taught at Keating for 30 years, from the 1930s to the '60s.
"If the boys chewed gum, she'd set them up on a stool and make them chew a whole package of gum," she said. "If they stole our ribbons, she'd just cover their hair with ribbons and barrettes."
If the girls were victims of pigtail tugging, Guyer plopped the guilty party on a stool and plunked a cone-shaped dunce cap on his head.
"Some of the girls got in trouble too, but it was mostly the boys," she said.
Aside from keeping the kids in line, these former students all agree that Guyer was quite the educator.
"Grace Guyer was the best teacher I ever had," Wirth said.
Guyer's daughter, Betty Endicott of Baker City, sorted through her mother's possessions to find a collection of old class photographs for Friday's reunion.
Endicott, 67, attended Keating for her third-, fourth- and half of her fifth-grade years.
"I talked her into going to Baker. I hated the roads," Endicott said.
But her mother cherished that 15-minute commute from their home in Baker City.
"That was her fun time. She said she could forget everything and just drive," Endicott said.
Chary Mires, 64, belonged to the first class ever to set foot in the current Keating School.
"I was in the fifth-grade the year that it opened," she said.
Prior to that, Mires attended the Goose Creek School at the eastern end of Keating valley, one of three tiny schools in that area.
The trio of schoolhouses were condemned in the 1940s and the students consolidated to the "new" Keating School that's in use today.
Mires said she had 30 to 40 classmates when the schools combined, with Guyer teaching grades 5-8 and Helen Pearson instructing grades 1-4.
Pearson taught at Goose Creek prior to moving to the new school, Mires said.
"Grace Guyer and Helen Pearson were two of the best teachers I ever had," Mires said.
And at Goose Creek, Pearson was more than just the teacher.
"She was not only the teacher and janitor, she was the school bus driver," Mires said with a laugh.
Pearson drove a two-seater Model A Ford, she said.
"She picked up 11 or 12 kids in that car the little ones sat on the big ones. We were stacked like cord wood in there until we got to school."
Times have changed. Students no longer ride their horses to school, check their muskrat traps at lunchtime or have to haul in firewood during the blustery winter months.
But the essence of a one-room schoolhouse remains within the walls of Keating Elementary.
"They develop a sense of community and the older kids really help the younger kids," said Shelli Powell, president of the Keating parent-teacher organization.
Shaw said "looping" what happens when students have the same teacher from year to year plays a big part in teaching multiple grades.
"You never wonder what this kid can do because you know them," she said.
The curriculum involves teaching the same concepts to everyone, such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and gearing information to the individual grades.
"You're working on a common theme to different levels," Shaw said. "I can change the difficulty level for the different grades."
Keeping all lessons confined to a single room also helps reinforce the information.
"You can't teach anything without everyone listening too," Shaw said.
And, she said, occupying the same room with the same classmates each year develops big brother/little sister relationships between the students.
Mires still remembers that student-to-student interaction from her Keating days in the '50s.
"If you were in the third-grade and you got done with your reading assignment, you'd go listen to the first-graders read," she said.
It didn't end with vocabulary either older pupils often assisted younger students with activities and assignments, just as they still do today at Keating.
"They say you never really learn something until you teach it," Mires said.