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MailTribune.com
  • 100 years of life and lessons for local retired schoolteacher

  • Before the three boys graduated from the eighth grade at the one-room Derby School in the spring of 1940, teacher Ruth Kaye and her husband took her young charges to Medford for dinner and a movie.
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  • Before the three boys graduated from the eighth grade at the one-room Derby School in the spring of 1940, teacher Ruth Kaye and her husband took her young charges to Medford for dinner and a movie.
    "One of the boys had never seen a movie before," Kaye recalls of the flick, "Northwest Passage" starring Spencer Tracy. "Oh, they had such a fine time. They were nice farm boys.
    "I never had any serious problems with any of my kids," adds the Medford resident. "The big boys — the eighth-graders — they would come over to the 'teacherage' at night for popcorn. They were more like family than students."
    The "teacherage" was the little house where she and her late husband, Dick, a U.S. Forest Service employee, lived during the 1939-40 school year when she taught at the old school.
    The school, which still stands along the Butte Falls Highway, is now a private residence but it will always be a school in her mind.
    Like countless moms across this country today, Kaye, who turns 100 on May 19, will celebrate Mother's Day with her offspring. She and her daughter Glenda Kaye Thompson, 71, also of Medford, plan to have a pleasant dinner together.
    She is immensely proud of Glenda, whom she refers to as her "angel," and sons Glen and Bruce.
    But a full count of her "children" would have to include hundreds of former pupils in Canada and Oregon.
    "When I was just a little girl in Saskatchewan, my mother bought me a slate with a base to sit it on," says the retired pedagogue, who was born in the Canadian province in 1913. "My brothers were my students. I decided then that I wanted to teach."
    She began her career armed with a teaching certificate awarded after one year of post-high school study in Saskatchewan. Her first assignment was to a country school near Weyburn, a tiny town about 60 miles southeast of Moose Jaw. She was 18, teaching grades one through eight.
    After teaching for five years in that one-room school, she moved to Southern Oregon, where she earned a two-year teaching degree in 1939 at what is now Southern Oregon University. She later received a bachelor's degree in teaching from the school.
    Following a year at Derby, she later taught at the two-room Agate School in the White City area, and at Howard and Wilson elementary schools in Medford.
    After nearly 30 years as a teacher, having only temporarily stepped away from the classroom to raise three children, she retired at an elementary school in Union in northeastern Oregon in 1975.
    Built in 1915, the Derby school offered up to an eighth-grade education for the sons and daughters of local farmers and loggers.
    According to Southern Oregon Historical Society records, there were 24 students at Derby in the mid-1920s. That had dropped to 15 by the time Kaye arrived. She was one of the last teachers at the school where slipping enrollment forced its closure shortly after World War II.
    "I think my salary at Derby was $900 for the year," she says. "But I was only getting $500 a year in Saskatchewan."
    And that included helping ninth- and 10th-graders at night with their correspondence courses, she said.
    "That was too much for one person to do," she says. "I would teach all day, then start on the correspondence work that night."
    She has good memories of Derby, where water was drawn from a well and a wood stove provided the only heat. Wooden desks were lined up on the pine heartwood floor. Looming above the cloakrooms was the bell tower.
    Outside, just a few feet beyond the back door, stood a single-seater outhouse.
    "It was so refreshing to look out the classroom windows and see the mountains," she says of teaching in a country school. "I loved going for a walk with the students. Back then, we did things like looking for wildflowers, things they probably don't do today."
    There were no computers, no screens. Indeed, she never had to admonish students to turn off their electronic gadgetry.
    "Reading, 'riting and 'rithametic was about all we had time to teach," she says. "I taught a little geography but not much. You just made your own curriculum.
    "I always read to them for about 30 minutes after lunch," she says. "That was a favorite time for all of us."
    She stops talking for a moment as she recalls the old one-room school and her students of long ago.
    "You couldn't help but get close to your students in those days," she says. "We had some nice kids."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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