Monday, December 5, 2016

One-room Schoolhouses--the Link Among Generations

Stories, tall tales, memories, embellishments, laughs, and tears—all things you will hear when reminiscing with my Grandma Jeanine. She knows how to add in that extra spice to make a story intriguing, but she also leaves you wondering what’s true and what’s embellishment. Her stories of the one-room school house have had a deep impact on me. They highlight the connection between my ancestors and link me to my Great-Grandma Cookie.

Grandma Jeanine (left)--with siblings--and the one-room school.
“It was like we were one big happy family,” my 80-year-old grandmother states. She recalls having six teachers during her time as a student—grades 1-8—all women. Grandma Jeanine explained her favorite games to play at recess, and only a few match my elementary days. “We played Annie-I-Over—where we threw a ball over the schoolhouse and had to run around to the other side to catch it—fox and geese, red rover, and ring-around-the-rosie.” She smiles as she recalls fun times up on the school hill.

Grandma filled our conversation with her memories of those days sitting in a one-room schoolhouse with other students, ages ranging from 5 to 13. She also spoke of the time her father caught her smoking cigarettes and the time she fell through a hole in the barn haymow. But at school, she grew up fast and became responsible—even helping teach the younger students. The education she received was one like no other, she told me, and it prepared her for what was to come in the future.

My grandma graduated from Elgin High School and moved to Rochester, Minnesota, for nursing school where she started a trend of her own. My aunts, cousins, and mother all followed my grandmother into the nursing field. It’s safe to say if any of us grandchildren are sick we are in good hands.

But I decided to take another path—education—one that would link me back to the generation of my Great-Grandmother Marie Cook. My cousins all called her Grandma Cookie because every time we came to visit she would have some sort of treat waiting for us. Great-Grandma Cookie was once the one-room schoolhouse teacher, and Grandma Jeanine tells the story of how Marie came to be the schoolteacher—but also how she came to be my great-grandmother.

Great-Grandma Cookie and Merlin.
It was custom that the schoolteacher would stay with families that lived closest to the schoolhouse. That family would spare a room, prepare meals, and do laundry for the schoolteacher through the duration of the school year. The Cook farm was one of the closest homesteads to the schoolhouse. Each year the families would rotate hosting the schoolteacher—my favorite bedroom in the 6-bedroom Cook farmhouse was the room we called the teacher bedroom. It was yellow—my favorite color—and located at the top of the stairs.

The Cook Farm has been in the family for more than 150 years—a heritage farm that has been passed down through five generations. Back when she started teaching, Marie Burke (soon to be "Great-Grandma Cookie") was staying with a couple who had no children down the road from the Cook Farm. The man who would become my great-grandfather, Merlin Cook, had just taken over the farm at the age of 21, and he loved to tease the schoolteachers.

Marie Burke was the first schoolteacher to catch my great grandfather’s eye. Since the Cook Farm was the closest to the schoolhouse, Marie would have to walk to the Cook Farm to secure a pail of water for the water cooler. When Merlin knew she was coming he would play tricks on her. He would wire the handle to something so she would have to unravel it, or he put grease on the handle so when she was pumping she would get grease all over her hands.

Eventually my great-grandfather’s tricks paid off, and Marie allowed him to take her on a first date. It was around Christmas time when the two decided to be married. My great-grandmother would have had to give up her job as the one-room schoolhouse teacher—once a women married she was not able to have a teaching job. Merlin and Marie got married secretly and kept it a secret until the end of the school year so Marie could continue teaching. When people asked my great-grandfather what he’s been up to, it was his favorite thing to say he’s been sleeping with the schoolteacher—little did they know he was telling the truth.

The link among the generations is one that I will always cherish. I am proud of my aunts, cousins, mother, and grandmother who have entered into the nursing field, but I am also excited to bring back the generation of teaching. Even though I won’t be teaching all subjects in a one-room schoolhouse, I’ll be teaching about agriculture, and that is where my passion lies. We won’t be playing “Annie-I-Over” in my classroom, but I hope we do create a learning family like my great-grandmother did.

By Hannah Pagel (ISU junior and CAST admin. asst.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Football, Goats, and Time Travel

We didn’t raise goats on our Midwest family farm when I was a kid (sorry, pun intended), but funny videos of them frolicking or even one singing a Taylor Swift song have me wishing we would have. Goats hit my radar when I read a story about the Euro Tier trade fair for animal production in Germany. One featured item was the high-tech rotary goat milking parlor. According to a YouTube video, one operator can milk hundreds of goats per hour.

I realize dairy farmers have the same type of options, and in some cases robotic sensors even make it so the “cows milk themselves.” No big complaints here, but it took me somewhere between 15 minutes and a half hour to milk our lone Guernsey before school—it all depended on how obstinate Bossy was and how often she kicked at the bucket or swiped at me with her tail. My bad habit of squirting hot milk at the cats or a younger brother also added to the duration.  

High-tech Ag and Low-tech Memories

So as I read the rest of the trade fair article, I time traveled to my 1960s yesteryear to consider farm chores in light of new technology. A few long-distance observations:

** Automated feed and water systems have taken the fun out of tending animals. We dug for bales of hay in a stifling hot barn and toted buckets of corn through snowdrifts from a wagon to the bunk, all the while arguing with a brother about who was not holding up his end of the work. Dad used to turn on the hydrant to fill the water tank for cattle, and he would switch his feed company cap backwards to remind him it was on. This worked fine unless he didn’t see anyone for a spell, but at least by lunchtime Mom would let him know his "head was on backwards," and he could shut it off before a major overflow puddled up in the feedlot. Sensors and apps have streamlined such systems.

** According to the article, handheld scanners can now check pig weight and monitor health records. We could estimate a pig’s weight when we pulled one up onto its back hooves and pinned it between our legs so Doc Walker could inject medicine. We figured if he missed his aim a time or two, it couldn’t hurt for us kids to get vaccinated. Must have worked—not one of us got erysipelas back then. 

** The Euro tech show featured such items as straw spreading machines, and I’ve seen videos of robots that “scoop” up manure. Actually, spreading straw by hand was relatively fun—the golden stalks sparkled in the light and almost glowed until they hit the floor. The pigs quickly did a makeover with slobber, mud, and poo. The only robotic manure haulers we had were zombie-like teenagers with pitchforks.

** The manure pitching crew included cousins who farmed jointly with us, and they had a rabbit venture that could have used an upgrade. The tech show featured rabbit cages with automated feeding, watering, and manure handling. My cousins’ yard featured wood and woven wire cages that had mounds of raisin-like droppings under them. When rabbits got loose, we had a roundup that resembled Looney Tunes more than Rawhide.

The Euro Tier hosts invited everyone for next year and also bragged about their low-tech table game. “Leave time for a game of pig foosball,” they said. By the time we were done with chores, we’d had enough of pigs, and since the two families had a total of 14 kids, we played regular football--as regular as you can get in a yard that included a slope for a sideline, a road ditch for one end zone, and a tree that worked well to screen off when running pass patterns. Our game was definitely low-tech: no pads, no video replays, and the tree could be a vicious tackler if you were looking the other way to catch a pass. Even viral video goats would have laughed at our antics.

by dan gogerty (top pic based on, middle pic on, and bottom from

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blessed with the Best--A Family Portrait

**Hannah's latest blog comes in time for holiday gatherings, as she considers the advantages of growing up in the beautiful, tangled web of a large extended family.**

It’s that time of the year again when we eat turkey and stuffing, fall asleep from the comatose effects of food, and then wake up, repeat, and maybe sneak in a slice of that pumpkin pie you had your eye on all day. It’s times like this when we come together as a family and give thanks for the many blessings of life.

One of my blessings has been growing up with a big, beautiful, crazy, loving family. I have learned a lot in my 20 years, but the majority of the lessons have come from the people I call my family. These lessons reflect the true meaning of life and how coming together helps us accomplish great tasks.

This past year I have been able to experience so much with my family by my side: get-a-ways at our heritage farm; my grandma’s hip surgery; a cousin's graduation party; two cousins' weddings and another on the horizon. I’d say it’s been and will be another eventful year for this clan.

As I considered these family “gifts,” I came up with a list of the lessons I’ve learned and the blessings I’ve encountered along the way.

Lessons from Growing Up in Big, Beautiful, Crazy, Loving Family

Knowing you always have a support system.
It’s no secret, the support systems big families have are unlike any other. Whether celebrating successes or sharing failures, there will always be someone to support you in the decision you make regardless if it’s the right or wrong choice.

Some of the best memories are made when you’re all together.
We’ve had our share of fun memories and stories. From laughs around the card table to Grandma’s “elaborated” Mabel stories around the campfire—Mabel was an interesting neighbor lady my grandma grew up with down the road, but that’s for another blog—there really isn’t a favorite memory that doesn’t have my family tangled in it.

No one understands your passions, talents, little quirks, and characteristics better than your family.
My family knows me all too well—from my favorite hobbies to my top pet peeves. They know how to push the buttons just right to get me laughing or sassing, depending on my mood. Even nicknames come to be from these characteristics. In our family we have a Sweat Pant Sally, a High Maintenance Hannah, a Betty Miller, Cowbell, Tree Stand, Sacket, and we can’t forget about the Tribal Elders. These names are all tied to a story; just ask one of us—you’ll understand and maybe even share a laugh at the end.

Nothing says I love you more than family recipes and family traditions.
With the holiday season rolling around, I can’t wait for my favorite family dishes and the epic card games that follow the feast. I guess you really do find a way to someone’s heart through the stomach—at least for my family—then you go and break their heart when you win a game of Nerks or Euchre. What can I say—it’s a love/hate relationship.

Learning how to live, love, and laugh unconditionally.
I have always been taught to live life to the fullest and enjoy every minute of this thing we call life. With love comes joy, and laughing follows along the way as an additional perk to spice things up—unless you’re my Aunt Tassie, then it comes very naturally and unmistakably. Tassie’s laugh is known to echo throughout the valley at the Cook Farm.

Hannah is a student at Iowa State Univ. and a CAST intern.
Experiencing the beauty within compassion and rejoicing in blessings and gifts of others.
I’ve learned being gracious can take you a long way in life—it’s the little things that can make a difference. In a family, one learns to appreciate the gifts and talents others bring to the table. It’s when we share our gifts that we can enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve learned that I can find beauty within anything if I take a deeper look—a tree branch maybe a stick to some, but it could be walking stick used to hunt mushrooms for me. Or if you’re my Grandpa Ralph you might find beauty in an idea that includes a hip joint, cremation, and a bowling ball—let me tell you he takes inventions and art to another level.

Patience and Tolerance.
This is a lesson from Grandma Jeanine—patience is a virtue. Sometimes we speak when we should just sit and listen. It’s hard to listen without interjecting your thoughts, ideas, or opinions, but when in a big family sometimes listening is all you get. Listening is patience—can you tolerate that?

As the Thanksgiving season rolls around take the time to reflect on your own blessings. When you count them one-by-one then you can begin to see how you are blessed with the best. There are many lessons I can share with you, but some are best told by the ones who’ve experienced them first hand.

Family Quotes

What have you learned from growing up in a big, beautiful blessed family?

“I have learned to be willing to share and celebrate successes and failures and having somebody always there to support you in the decisions that you make regardless if they were the right or the wrong choice. Accepting the diverse point of view from each person and respecting and honoring their beliefs. Growing up with multiple siblings also helped me learn that hand-me-downs were really not that bad either.”
-Theresa Pagel

“To have learned the beauty of compassion and rejoicing in the blessings and gifts of others. It’s not about the have/have-nots—but rather it is about the unconditional sharing of those gifts that makes for a beautiful and compassionate family.”
-Tassie Hendsrud

“Patience and tolerance. I have learned to sit and listen to others without interjecting my thoughts, my opinions, or my ideas. That itself takes a lot of patience.”
-Jeanine Matt

“To live, love, and laugh. Live as long as you possibly can. To love one another and to be loved. And to laugh like your Aunt Tassie.”
-Rick Pagel

“That it is like a small community. You will pull together when times are tough. There will always be someone there through the good and bad times. Bigger is better in my opinion when you have a family like ours that ROCKS—we are so blessed.”
-Katie Arthur

“I’ve learned that your family always has your back. No matter what, I will have some of my best friends through my family. And I’ve learned a thing or two about cows and hay bales.”
-Gabreielle Hendsrud aka. Cowbell

“Retweet ^^^.”
-Alexandra Hendsrud aka. Betty Miller

by Hannah Pagel