STERLING – Byers, Highland and Sand Ridge were three of many one-room, wood frame country schools where rural Whiteside County students learned their “three ‘R’s” and more.
The schools have long since closed, but memories of those days remain and are fresh in the minds of a trio of centenarians who once taught at them.
Margie Carlson, Arlette Steinert and Dorothy Stone – who all turned 100 in August – were surprised and honored Thursday during a meeting of the Whiteside County Retired Teachers Association at Wesley United Methodist Church.
“I was like, ‘Who is this party for? Who are they honoring,’” Stone said, “because I don’t feel 100 years old.
“But it was so wonderful to be honored.”
State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, and Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Assistant Regional Superintendent Chris Tennyson read and presented congressional commemorations from Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin to the trio. After they received a standing ovation from the nearly 40 members in attendance, they each were presented with letters of well-wishes from Gov. J.B. Pritzker on their 100 years.
“It’s nice to have someone appreciate the service that we gave to the community,” Steinert said.
Each began their school days inside one-room houses before and during the Great Depression.
Carlson grew up near New Bedford in Bureau County and attended Whittington School northwest of town. The 1937 Manlius High School graduate earned her teaching degree at Northern Illinois University and taught the first few years of her career at Highland School, which stood on the southwest corner of Mill and Blue Goose roads north of Tampico.
She later taught in Tampico and retired after more than 40 years.
“There are just none of those schools left,” Carlson said of both her first assignment and her grade school.
Steinert and Stone have known each other for 85 years. Stone still drives and picks up Steinert in her 2004 Dodge Caravan to come to the quarterly meetings.
Getting to know the other two was just as much fun as being honored, Carlson said.
“I enjoyed being with these ladies,” Carlson said. “It’s been real nice.”
Steinert grew up west of Erie and attended West Sand Ridge School on Cordova Road. Stone was raised north of Erie and went to Byers School on Elston Road between the Erie-Albany Blacktop and Benson Road. They graduated from Erie High School in 1937, were roommates at Blackburn College in Collinsville and Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, and started their teaching careers at the same schools they attended as children.
“She’s the nearest to my twin,” Stone said. “I’m 20 days older than she is.”
Teachers in those days did more than just teach: They made sure the school and grounds were kept neat and clean, ordered supplies when needed, and performed routine maintenance work. Heating their buildings came down to either a match or a pair of sticks.
Many rural schools in Whiteside County consolidated into larger township schools after World War II – Woodside School between Agnew and Round Grove was the last to close in 1969. Both Steinert and Stone taught for about the same number of years. Steinert, whose son, Gary, served as the county’s regional superintendent of schools until 2011, retired from Fenton Consolidated School and Stone from River Bend Elementary in Fulton in the late 1970s.
Byers still stands proudly, but has since moved to a nearby farm. West Sand Ridge has since been razed.
The schools may not have lasted 100 years, but their beloved stewards have.
“I never thought I’d live to be 100,” Stone said.
“I never expected to live this long,” Steinert added.