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.
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 schoolyard 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.