Like many children in small towns of yesteryear, the same Sharpsville kids attended school together for 12 years – from the first grade until graduation from high school. How well we came to know each other during that time! Which is probably why our earliest classmates have stayed in our memories longer and more clearly than many of our more recent acquaintances. And they seemed to never age in our minds, remaining the same little kids we knew then!
The following is the first half of a description of Robison Elementary School written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, a member of the class of 1960. The second half, covering fifth and sixth grades as well as extra-curricular activities, will be published next month.
Irene, who wanted to record her memories of 1950s-1960s Sharpsville, started writing about them several years ago with dreams of a future publication. You can read more about Irene and this blog’s beginnings here.
This narrative wouldn’t be complete without the actual names of the people involved. However, if you feel that your name should be kept private, please let us know and we’ll remove them from this blog.
And, as always, your comments (and corrections!) are welcome.
Emma Robison School
Today Robison Elementary exists only in old photographs and the memories of former students. I’m looking at one such photo [see vintage postcard on eBay] and it looks exactly as I remember it, imposingly large, dark and beautiful.
All Robison School class photos were taken on its front steps with the big double entry doors in the background. Those doors were opened by the janitor about a half hour before school started and the inner doors twenty-five minutes later when he or a teacher stood just outside and rang a wooden-handled bell. Between those two sets of doors, an entryway that could hold only a fourth of the student body comfortably was filled beyond capacity on frigid winter mornings with children compressed like sardines and hardly able to breathe, but glad to be out of the biting cold weather.
First Grade, 1948-1949
My older sister, Judy, delivered me at age 5 to Mrs. Mae Bloss, my first grade teacher at Robison. Her room and all the lower grades were on the first floor, opening off a large and lofty wood paneled central hallway. On either side of this hall, wide banistered oak stairways led to the upper floors and higher grades. Our first grade room had a ceiling at least fifteen feet high and way up on the front wall, one on each side of the teacher’s desk hung impressive framed prints of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I stared at those same stern faces in every classroom at Robison School and it was years before I knew who those men were.
Every school day began the same: We clasped our hands, bowed our heads on the hinged and scarred desktops and recited the Lord’s Prayer, then we stood with right hands on hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance (minus the “Under God” phrase) to a flag with forty-eight stars. In first grade I learned to read the Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot books, to print my name and simple sentences as well as addition and subtraction.
Mrs. Bloss and her two daughters attended our First Methodist Church. She always smelled strongly of perfume and wore much makeup and flowery dresses. Most of the time she was nice.
Second Grade, 1949-1950
My second grade experience was happier with Mrs. Martha Kennedy, an older and very kind widow, as our teacher. She gave us love and the class multiplication tables and told us to eat our carrots.
Every day after school, a relative arrived in a gleaming vintage automobile to pick up Mrs. Kennedy. One of my favorite memories is of her hatted, gloved, and finely shod form being helped into that lovely old sedan. She and I exchanged Christmas cards for several years after I moved on to higher grades. She died in 1971 at age 81.
Third Grade, 1950-1951
Third grade was taught by Mrs. Florence McKean, a quiet middle-aged woman who received respect simply because she was a good teacher who rarely lost her temper and never administered corporal punishment. Mr. Joe McKean ran a small automobile garage at the corner of Tenth Street and Ridge Avenue. Their home sat directly across the street from the garage. Mrs. McKean’s gravestone states 1909-1975.
That year my best friend was Babsy Brooks, a dimpled cherub with a personality to match. In our class photo, she is sitting beside me in the front row and Jimmy Bains slouching on the other side. Behind him is Mike Angel and on Mike’s left is Georgeanne Achenbach, looking solemnly beautiful. At the far right of the second row, red-haired and freckled Roy Yeager looking quite happy in his plaid shirt. There’s Maryann Karsonovich in the back row, already almost as tall as Mrs. McKean. Her father, Walter was Sharpsville’s chief of police.
Fourth Grade, 1951-1952
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Betty Imbrie and she ruled with much different and far sterner methods than Mrs. McKean.
Mrs. Imbrie’s daughter was a sweet girl, the same age as my sister Judy and for a year the mother and daughter rented rooms from our neighbor, Helen Bolton. She had a carpenter divide her house into a duplex and rented half her house to a long string of Sharpsville teachers.
I remember reciting the names of all the U. S. presidents, from George Washington to then president, Harry Truman, learning Pennsylvania history, and doing long division and fractions on the blackboards, but mostly I remember being nervous and afraid.
In that class photo, I’m standing directly in front of Mrs. Imbrie. Nancy Hay is beside me and Carla Deal behind her. At the extreme right of the fourth row is my dear friend Dorothy Davenport, and next to her is Carol Crosier, looking lovely. Next to her is Virginia Berkos, already an accomplished tap dancer.
Mrs. Betty Riddle Imbrie died in Dec. of 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 83. A memorial service was held at our First Methodist Church in Sharpsville. (To be continued.)
— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013
Photographs courtesy of Irene Caldwell O’Neill
Check in next month for more about the Robison School’s Class of 1960.
See also other stories about Robison School: