JANESVILLE—The photo snapped in December 1959 captures the independent spirit of a one-room school.
Five children, some wearing sombreros, flank what appears to be a well-behaved donkey inside Cox School in the town of Fulton.
They are practicing for an upcoming Christmas program depicting Joseph and Mary at the stable.
“Students were thrilled to be working with a live donkey and didn't mind being upstaged by it,” remembers RoVera Schieldt Stearns.
The former student doubted her teacher was as excited because she had to worry about the animal possibly stepping on children's feet or relieving itself during the second act.
Stearns submitted the photo to Clark Kidder, who included it in his 2014 e-books about one-room schools.
The Janesville author just finished “A History of the Rural Schools of Rock County,” which consists of six volumes and 1,400 pages. The series is available on Kindle at Amazon.com.
“The book was a huge undertaking,” Kidder said. “When I started the project, I didn't realize the county had more than 150 one-room schools.”
Anyone who attended the schools or who had parents or grandparents who did will especially appreciate the photos and memories of teachers and students.
Dorothy Reddy, who taught 44 years at the former Hubbell School, recalled what happened when she went on her honeymoon.
“The substitute teacher built such a roaring fire (in the wood stove) it burned half the Hubbell School down,” she wrote.
Each volume includes lists of pupils and teachers of the schools and a history of the Rock County Normal School and its graduates.
“The book is really an effort to record important information before it is lost,” Kidder said. “I've gathered a lot of fantastic photos as well.”
A long-time lover of history, Kidder dedicates the books to his aunt Mildred Kidder Yahnke, who taught at three one-room schools, and his kindergarten teacher, Geraldine Anderson.
Yahnke encouraged him to compile his family's genealogy when he was still a teenager. Anderson, who taught at Milton West Elementary, was Kidder's long-time mentor.
Eventually, Kidder wants to print the volumes as a traditional book.
He works full time at Grainger in Janesville as a customer service representative and has a passion for history.
Kidder, who lived in Milton for many years, also has written books about Marilyn Monroe and orphan trains, which brought children west in the 19th century to find homes.
“I love history, I love to research, and I love to write,” Kidder said. “I guess it's in my blood.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.
ORPHAN TRAIN FILM FEATURED AT BELOIT FILM FESTIVAL
In addition to writing and compiling a 1,400-page history of one-room schools in Rock County last year, Clark Kidder co-wrote and co-produced his first documentary.
“West by Orphan Train” is based on the book he wrote about his grandmother Emily Reese Kidder, who rode an orphan train to Iowa in 1906 at age 14.
From 1854 to 1929, leaders of a New York-based society sent homeless and abandoned children from New York City and Boston to farm families in the West.
The film debuted on Iowa Public Television in December.
Locally, “West by Orphan Train” will be shown at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Hendricks Center for the Arts at the Beloit International Film Festival.
“I have wanted to do a film like this for 20 years,” Kidder said.
His late grandmother's story is central to the documentary, but Kidder also interviewed two living orphan-train riders.
“We begin with a general history of orphan trains,” he explained. “We also begin with my grandma and come back to her story every so often.”
He partnered with Colleen Bradford-Krantz in making the film, which features an original song about his grandmother and original instrumentals.
“An unbelievable amount of work goes into such a project,” Kidder said. “It will probably be my one and only film.”