Sally’s little school on the prairie

Prologue: As men our fathers have great impact on our lives. Just as important is the impact that our mothers have as well. Below are a few words from Mike, who’s mother, Sally, passed away recently. For those of us that grew up in Southwest Kansas our heritage usually sprang from Pioneer roots. Our parents were hearty folks that survived the Dust Bowl, scratching out a living raising an occasionally crop and a few kids on the high plains. Other than farming, there weren’t many jobs or professions. But there was one that, besides our parents, left lasting imprints on our lives. Those were our teachers. Sally was a teacher. Not just a teacher, but someone special. She spent her entire life teaching in a one-room school house. She was the last one-room school teacher in the state of Kansas. Her legacy lives on with hundreds of kids, all now adults. Mike’s words below:

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is time consuming, sad and at times, just sucks. However, it is easier when you know your loved one had a good life and a strong believe in God!  I would like to share my thoughts on my mother who I recently lost.  She was a one-room schoolhouse teacher, the last one in Kansas.

Selola Belle (Wilson) Lewis was not perfect or without faults.  I know this because she told me so.  Nobody is perfect.  You can always make improvements and learn from others.  During the times we spent together on a drive or on trips, mom and I would talk about her life and the many people she respected and learned from. When you might question another family’s actions, she would always say, “That’s another family and they might do things differently!”

Sally, as many know her by, was a person who didn’t seek attention or awards.  What mattered in her opinion, were your deeds.   She took pride in the success of her students and her family.  Her belief in education was first and foremost in her life.  She thought the best gift you could provide anyone was an education.  She also talked of the times that she felt she didn’t make the progress with some students she thought she should have.  Those who had Sally as a teacher didn’t want to disappoint her.  The comment was often heard “If you did your best, then you should be happy.”  If you didn’t, then she would say, “What should you do now?”  She was a believer in making continued growth in whatever you did!   A look or comment was all it took to bring most situations back to order.   She used situations for teaching opportunities to share what you should have done.  When someone would say “They told me to do it.” She would then reply “Would you jump off the gym roof if they told you to?”  “You can get glad just as fast as you got mad” was also a comment I often heard while growing up.

Her matter of fact discussions about her first teaching experiences were so interesting to listen to.  When I was the director of the High Plains Education Coop a problem that plagued us, and many rural districts, was keeping new young teachers.  I once asked if she was lonely during her first year of teaching.  She said “No, not really!” I said, “You had no electricity, no running water, no car and an outhouse!”  She said “Where would I go, I had a job to do.  There were good folks here.”  My mom shared a story about the school board not collecting enough money to pay her salary one month.  A board member stopped  and asked her what she needed to get by.  Mom replied that she felt she should pay the rent, as she staying in the basement of the church manse, and she was making payments on a coat she had bought.  She felt she should pay these for sure as the coat felt good on the long walks to school.  The board member took out his billfold and gave her enough to cover these bills.  Sally had a strong belief in always paying your bills first. 

She thought the simplest way to solve problems was usually the best way. Mom believed that your honesty, credibility and attitude were what determined your mark in life.  “It doesn’t matter what you have if no one respects you,” she would say.   “What you do matters more than what you say.  When you’re good you don’t have to brag, because those who matter know.”  

Mom had great respect for many of the folks that helped shape her life at that little school in the community of Dermot, Kansas, as well as fellow teachers and the many friends she met latter in Syracuse.  

If you are measured by your deeds, then I feel Sally should measure up just fine.



3 Comments on “Sally’s little school on the prairie

  1. Sally seems to have loved God and thus people and was content with her life and the difference she was making. Thanks for sharing. Tom


    • Yese, she loved God very much and wasn’t afraid to let you know. I was honored to have her as a teacher for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.


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