When Winton Elementary School was just a babe of new bricks, the children started off each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a Bible verse.
No one missed school for snow days because everyone walked, even through deep snow.
When students misbehaved, they were sent to the basement where the janitor would spank them with a length of rubber hose.
“He’d give them a couple of swats,” recalled Carl Johnson, who attended first grade at Winton in 1925. “Everything was so nice and spit-polished. It’s all been chopped up and changed.”
Now 76, Johnson was among dozens of former students and teachers who helped celebrate Winton’s 70th birthday Thursday.
Coeur d’Alene School District’s oldest school was packed with visitors of all ages for the celebration. Among them was Bonnie Fossum, who is a year younger than Johnson.
“When I knew her, she was Bonnie Smith,” Johnson said as the two were reunited in hallways that once were warmed by a wood-fired furnace.
“You know what he did,” Fossum said accusingly. “He told my sister and me, ‘If you don’t watch out, there are men up there in the trees who are going to get you with spears.”’
“Oh Bonnie, that’s not so bad,” Johnson laughed as the guests were herded politely into the gymnasium.
Johnson fidgeted in his seat like a schoolboy as Winton’s 300 students took turns with their skits and songs honoring the years gone by.
“Northwest Boulevard was just a cow trail,” Johnson whispered to a neighbor, the childhood memories tumbling out. “We’d bring our sleds. You could get on a sled and slide all the way down over the railroad tracks to the sawmill.”
Coeur d’Alene had a lot more snow in those days, he said. Winton students would walk home for lunch unless the weather was at its worst.
“Sometimes one of the mothers would cook up a big pot of soup and bring it to school,” he said, while students demonstrated the twist on the gym floor commemorating the ‘60s.
When Johnson attended Winton, the school was actually in Gibbs, a town that was gobbled up by Coeur d’Alene in the following years. About all that remains of the name is a tavern on Northwest Boulevard.
The school was named after the Winton Lumber Company, which had given the school district some property. Winton School replaced Park School, which was built on the same site in 1906.
Jack Marshall, 92, first attended Park School in 1909 - “a four-room wooden school with outdoor plumbing,” he told the gym full of children in his sing-song voice.
He shared his memory of walking from school to the city park to see the president of the United States, William Howard Taft, arrive by train.
“Us kids thought it was great to get out of school,” he said. “Here was a president, it would have taken a derrick to lift him. I believe he looked like he weighed 350 pounds. It was quite a disappointment.”
Frail and impeccably dressed, former Winton teacher Verna Driessen also addressed the students and more than 150 guests.
Driessen was celebrating her birthday, too. She turned 92 Thursday. Although blinded by age, Driessen said she knew the room held grandchildren of children she taught.
“I can no longer see to go shopping, so I spend my dollars buying lottery tickets to save education,” she joked.
Together the present and former students sang Happy Birthday to Winton. Johnson joined in, but when it was over he stood up, unable to contain his fidgets any longer.
His wife tugged at his gray sweatshirt, but he held his ground until principal Bridget Hill recognized him and invited him to speak.
The school had changed a lot since he attended the original school of three combined-grade classrooms, he said. From the looks of the modern student body, the future looks promising, he added.
“It’s really great to see all these young students and doing the great job that they’re doing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo