The Old School House- Kornelsen School Memories

Look at the size of this class! 40 grade three students and I’m one of them, second from the end, in the second last row, on the right. We didn’t have professional photographers coming into our little white schoolhouse in Steinbach to take our pictures and so our teacher Mrs. Kihn arranged us in orderly rows on the school’s front steps and snapped this photo of her large class and had copies made for her students. She signed the back of each one of the forty photos in the beautiful cursive script she’d taught us…………..

June 21, 1962- Best Wishes M. Kihn. 

I was in Steinbach this week to have lunch with a friend and noticed this street mural painted by an artist named Davey Penner. It shows the tall, black-roofed clapboard building where I went to school in grades 3 and 4. 

 

Kornelsen school was built in 1911 when the town’s citizens decided that rather than just having private church schools taught in the German language the community also needed a public school where English was the language of instruction. 

The school was named after Gerhard E. Kornelsen (1857-1933) photographed here with his wife Anna.  Gerhard had been a teacher in a Mennonite school in Russia and continued on with that profession in Steinbach when he joined some of the first immigrants to settle there. His son Gerhard G. Kornelsen who was born in 1878 was also a teacher in Steinbach for a time, but eventually resigned because he didn’t have official teaching credentials.

Miss Mary Kornelsen, a daughter and granddaughter to the two Gerhards who’d taught in Steinbach was the principal of Kornelsen School when I attended there. She was also the grade one teacher and had my younger sister Kaaren in her class.

Miss Kornelsen had taught in the Steinbach area for many years and after she retired she even wrote a book called Give Me This Mountain about her teaching career. 

Ms. Toews was my grade four teacher and we were the last class to graduate from the kindergarten to grade four Kornelsen school in 1963. In 1964 the school was torn down to make way for Steinbach’s new Civic Centre. As you can see our class is about half the size of our grade three class. I imagine some students had already been sent over to Southwood School where I would also go the following year. In this picture I’m in the last row third from the right hand side. I’m surprised but I can still recognize and name sixteen of my fellow students. 

I have some vivid memories of Kornelsen School. The years I attended 1961-1963 were at the height of the Cold War and of course the Cuban Missile crisis was in October of 1962.  We used to have drills where the town randomly blew a siren that normally went off only at noon. Some days when that happened we practiced hiding under desks. Other days we had to hurry home as fast as we could. Older students were always in charge of younger ones. I was assigned to make sure my little sister Kaaren got home safely as well as a girl named Cathy who lived right along the route to our house on the #12 Highway. 

In grade three we made a recipe book for our mothers for Mother’s Day and in grade four I memorized the poem The Song My Paddle Sings by Emily Pauline Johnson and recited it with great passion on parents’ day. I can still recite that poem. Math was the bane of my existence but Mrs. Kihn made that easy because she had tins of colored pegs we could use for counters and I remember Miss Toews staying after school with me one day and working with me at the blackboard till I had mastered long division. 

I remember a yo-yo expert coming to do a show for us on the school yard one noon hour and all of us going home to beg our parents for money to buy a yo-yo at the Steinbach Five Cent to a Dollar Store.

I liked going over to my friend Penny Peters’ house to play after school because her family lived in the upper story of the Tourist Hotel which her parents operated and her Mom would bring us burgers and fries from the restaurant kitchen for supper. 

What next? I’d love to hear from other people who were students at the old Kornelsen School. I wonder what they remember about their years of education there. I’m glad the school’s been immortalized in a mural. From 1911-1963 it played an important role in the community and in the lives of the thousands of students who attended there. 

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18 Comments

Filed under Childhood, Education, History

18 responses to “The Old School House- Kornelsen School Memories

  1. Betty Koop

    Mary Lou,
    I just love your blog. You bring back so many memories.
    I can still hear the squeek and smell the well oiled wooden stairs in the school. Miss Kornelson would stand on the top floor fire escape and ring the big brass bell for recess. I only attended this school for one year, Grade 3 (I am the third from the right in the front row). What a great teacher Mrs. Kihn was. I was a bus student, so I could be placed in schools wherever there was room.
    Betty (Hildebrand) Koop

    • Dear Betty,
      Thanks so much for writing. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. I had forgotten about the bell. I loved Mrs. Kihn too. I had just moved from Winnipeg in grade three and felt very out of place but she made feel right at home. Having been a teacher myself I have no idea how she managed such a big class!

      • Bonny peters

        I remember Kornelsen School and grade 1. I had Miss Kornelsen for a teacher and being quite scared of her. I remember there was one student who she really picked on and she could be quite mean to her. We later found out that the girl was mentally challlanged and that was why she was having a hard time in school. I remember Miss Kornelsen being so hard on the poor girl and feeling so sorry for her.
        I also remember the squeaky hardwood floors.

  2. Dorothy Braun

    Hi Mary Lou,
    I remember fondly my Grade One year with Miss Kornelson – she was a strict teacher, but cared for the children she taught. Two things I cherish in memory – a class picture (a snapshot for the Carillon News, 1957) where I am front and centre with hand raised to answer a question, looking right at the camera! I used this picture in a memory book I made for my granddaughter just this year. Recess! Making “houses” by trampling the tall grass, designating rooms – what fun we girls had! Oh yes! Black and white movies in the basement. Ever have those? Keep up the good work – I look forward to visiting many of the places in Winnipeg that you’ve mentioned in your blog! Thanks.
    Dorothy (Hildebrand) Braun
    P.S. I’ve introduced my sisters to your blog, and they enjoy it as well.

    • Thanks so much Dorothy. I am curious about the memory book you made. Now that I’m a grandma I’ve been thinking how I might preserve some family stories for my new grandson. How did you make it?

      • Dorothy Braun

        First of all, Congratulations! on becoming a Grandma. There’s no life like it! The book I did was a purchased book, given to me by my daughter-in-law when our granddaughter was born. All I did was answer the questions in the book – it was set up as if she was interviewing me. I would say check a book store to get an idea of how it was set up, and you could write your own story. It took me longer than I thought it would! There was also room for pictures, so finding all the pictures brought back many memories. Have fun with your new little Henri!!
        Dorothy

  3. lorna froese

    I remember going for German classes which I believe was on a Saturday.
    I never did attend school at Kornelson School but I also recall the long, dark, narrow, wooden, creaky floors.

  4. Ralph Friesen

    Very enjoyable and well-researched and visually pleasing page! Check out also our Kornelsen School Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/20685762870/.

  5. Marianne Joyce Kroeker Moll

    I was one of 40 kids in Grade One with Ms. Kornelson. We were most of us first born; spoke ‘plaudietsch’ and into becoming ‘civilized’! We learned about 3 dozen songs to sing; memorized scriptures [Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 23, Psalm 91], listened to the T.Eaton Co. Choir at Christmas time, learned to read, write in English, and do arithmetic. Every morning we counted by 2s, then 5s, then learned to do it backwards. Our desks were screwed to the floor — a floor that was oiled wood. We were taught not to chew gum, not to ‘snap’ our fingers for attention. We san ‘God Save the King’ at the start of each day. After lunch each day she read us a story with a huge moral lesson — stories about students stealing others lunches; or children going out in blinding snow storms and not finding their way back; or the Box Car Children, chapter by chapter, of children learning to ‘live on their own’. She took us out on the school grounds and taught us a lot of games we could play, like Rover, Red Rover, or Johnny Cannot Cross the River unless he’s wearing the colour XXX; or Blue Bird Through My Window. Ah, that was Grade One with Miss Kornelson. She was a school teacher par excellence! She had great ESL skills, and taught us the 3R’s in English, but she also was a Special Ed. teacher because lots of us were just not familiar with what happened at school! The Rules, the silent line ups, the getting ‘spanked’ if we spoke our mother tongue, the health inspections of hair, teeth and hands, the standing ‘at attention’ what was it? Oh yes, head up, shoulders squared, back straight, hands at your side, tummy & bum tucked in, feet shoulder-width apart, toes going forward!

  6. Debbie Rentz

    I went to Kornelson school in grade 1 . I’m not exactly sure of the year but I’m guessing it was somewhere around 1962-3. I recognize some of the faces is the class pictures… I remember playing outside in the winter.. Some of us daring each other to touch our tongue to the cold metal fence… I did it too… And mrs kornelson calling us in from recess with that brass bell. I also seem to remember watching some movies Downstairs…. That was fun. And learning how to read at the teachers desk..,,,Dick and Jane. I remember going to Southwood school in grade 2&3. I had a mrs Wiebe in grade 2 and mrs Dyck in grade 3.mrs Wiebe I liked , mrs Dyck… Not so much as I experienced the strap at her hand…. Ouch…

  7. Pingback: Visiting a Quaker School in Costa Rica | What Next?

  8. Bev Kornelsen

    Great site, but you’re spelling Kornelsen wrong. It ended “sen”.

    • Actually according to the Historic Sites of Manitoba site both spellings are correct. However you are right on the book about Miss Kornelsen it is spelled the other way so I’ve changed it. Thanks.

  9. Bev Kornelsen

    Thanks for mentioning Mary Kornelsen’s book. I tracked it down, read it, and think it is excellent! I wish she had written more.

    Further to what is written under Gerhard E Kornelsen’s picture above, a couple things. First, the years listed are for his father Gerhard S. Gerhard E lived from 1857-1933. Second, the woman shown in the picture is his wife Anna. These facts can be checked with MB’s vital statistics, the gravesites in Steinbach’s Pioneer Cemetery, or the “gameo.org” web site. Thanks again.

  10. Hello Marylou
    Based on what you have written, we must have been attending the Kornelsen School at the same time, although I would have graduated from Grade 4 in late spring of 1962. I went on to grade 5 in what was then called “Central School” and later was renamed to Kornelsen school (for 2 weeks before I was sent off to Southwood School). I have many fond memories of Mary Kornelsen and Mrs. Kihn (grade 3). I still have a copy of Mary Kornelsen’s book somewhere, and it appears that I figured at least in a small part in that book. I will have to see if I can locate it an re-read it.

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