My name is Jennifer [Coffman] Rice; I’m the 6th generation of my family to be born and raised in Union City, on the Indiana side. This is one of a series of recollections about my hometown in the 1960’s and 70’s, and this particular account is about going to school.
When I first started school (1963), the plan was that you would attend the West Side Middle School for grades K-7, then go to the high school for grades 8-12. However, when I was in the first grade they started building the North Side Elementary School, which was designed to contain grades K-3. So I went there for second and third grade. Of course, the old West Side building is now the Hoosier Place apartments.
One thing that may surprise the students of today is that our teachers were always well-dressed in class. The men wore a full suit and tie, and the women always wore dresses. We, as students, respected the teachers; and if you were to somehow learn that one of them actually had a first name, you knew a deep secret indeed! You never saw a teacher in public with a cigarette, even after school, and you never heard them cuss.
Kindergarten – West Side Middle School / Teacher: Mrs. [Evelyn] Key
Starting school was very exciting, so even though I was only five I remember many things. If you lived in town you walked to school or were driven by your parents; you only rode the bus if you lived in the country. Then, when you were older and much cooler, you rode your bike. Kindergarten for us lasted half a day; you were considered either a morning or afternoon student.
My teacher was Mrs. Key, a kind older lady who taught for many, many years in Union City. As you looked at the front of the school, her room was in the far right front corner, in the basement. On the far left was the other kindergarten class, taught by Miss Bunger, who had been a teacher for so long that she also taught my older sister Jackie, and my mother! Later Roberta Bennett had that room.
Our room was large, with rows of big windows on two sides, since the basement was only half a floor below the ground. There were tables rather than desks in it. I especially remember the crayons we used, because they were large and chunky, and flat on one side so they wouldn’t roll away. On special occasions we got to fingerpaint at an easel, and they used a dry colored powder that was mixed with water. The paper was slick and you could easily glide your fingers around.
When it was time to wash your hands, there was a big sink right in the room. It was a half-circle “trough” that was attached to the wall, and several children could use it at a time. The water spouted out of a single head with several streams like a fountain, spreading water in a half-circle. If I remember correctly, the water was activated by pressing a foot pedal.
We didn’t eat lunch at school, but we did get a snack. It was always graham crackers and white or chocolate milk. The little carton of milk had a scored circle on the side that you punched out with your thumb for the straw. One of the things I looked forward to was when it was my turn to go with another classmate to get the crate of milk cartons for the class, because when snack time was over, we took the empty cartons to the boiler room. It was always an alluring, forbidden, almost dangerous place to my mind. There was a set of stairs that went yet further under the school, and we weren’t allowed to go down there. We could only set the crate down inside the door, and take a secret glance at the scary gray stairs.
The photo in this article is of my kindergarten class, in the 1963-64 school year. The picture was taken in the gym, on the same wall as the overhead bleachers. It’s interesting to note that all but 9 people of this class went all the way through school together to graduation.
1st Grade – West Side Middle School / Teacher: Mrs. Stork
Recess was on the playground behind the school; we got to go out and play twice a day plus after lunch as I recall. It was a large paved area, which was divided into the “boy’s side” on the right (east) and the “girl’s side” on the left, with mostly matching playground equipment. We had swings, teeter-totters, monkey bars (the boys’ was taller), slides, and two merry-go-rounds (one for standing, one for sitting). The boy’s side had some basketball hoops.
There was an outdoor water fountain on the wall by the east back door, and there may have been another one at the west door to the playground. It was a narrow white ceramic trough with multiple fountain heads along it so that 4 or 5 children could get a drink at one time.
Right in the middle of the playground was a huge tree that covered a pretty good area of the playground. It gave some welcome shade in the warmer months.
My mom used to get exasperated with me, because I loved the swings at recess. When I’d first start getting the swing going, it took a lot of pushing off on the backstroke. Consequently, I’d bang and scuff the toes of my new school shoes until they were totally beat up.
2nd & 3rd Grade – North Side Elementary School / Teachers: Miss Comer, Miss Howe
Ah, a brand new school! The West Side had been a very old building, one that served as my mother’s high school. In this new building, everything was clean and new. Plus, it was very close to home; I could see my house from the playground, and could walk to school.
I remember in particular the girl’s bathroom, because it didn’t have a door, just a curved entrance to block the view inside. And, unlike the West Side that had been designed for older students, these had low, kid-sized toilets and sinks.
It didn’t have an auditorium like the West Side, but there was a stage in the gymnasium, which they were always careful to call “the multipurpose room”. Sometimes a special program was given there, but rarely.
In the third grade one thing we got to do was to plant a tree for our class. We collected pennies and small change until we could buy a tree, and we actually took turns helping to dig the hole in the front yard of the school. I wonder if any of those trees are still growing there today?