September 30, 2022

Letter to the Editor: 70th anniversary memories of country schools and Maytag signs

There were country schools galore! A total of 133 students graduated 8th grade from those little white one-room school houses scattered all over the county in 1949. With an average of about 20 students per school, covering all nine grades, a solo teacher had a big challenge. Those of us who attended a rural school look back on the experience with much nostalgia and fond memories.

Most country schools had outdoor toilets and a pump to provide a fresh bucket of water each day. Many students shared their drinks from a porcelain dipper that floated in the bucket. Other schools had a more modern crock with a lid on top and little spigot at the bottom to serve one drink at a time. Older students shared the school chores such as sweeping out the big single classroom, washing the black boards, dusting the erasers, dumping the papers and trash or attending the stove or furnace.

Country schools were conveniently placed throughout the county, so no child had more than two miles to walk each morning and night. Some rode their bikes in good weather and others rode their ponies ... if they were lucky enough to have one. The Jasper County Museum still displays eighth grade graduation pictures going back for many years .... and the complete interior of a typical “Olden Days” country school.

Remember those fancy Maytag signs? Both the east and west edges of Newton on Highway 6 sported large three-dimensional signboards, incorporating a real Maytag Washer, and proud announcement “Largest Manufacturer of Washing Machines In the World.”

Maytag’s modern new Automatic Washer plant was opened as we started high school in 1949. This was quite a departure from the old wringer models that sold at the time for $129 to $184 (automatics were $299) and set Maytag on its new track to continued success. Graduates who have been away from Newton for years still return, expecting to find Maytag Plant #1 up town. They are pleasantly surprised to find the modern Tech Center and also Des Moines Area Community College located on the same spot as the old Tank Track building. Times have changed.

Landmarks such as the Parson’s Company, Automatic Washer, Peter’s Hatchery and Winpower to name a few have also disappeared from our local scene. So has the Newton Speedway out north and the wooden tower in the same area, devoted to “Operation Sky-Watch.” Volunteers took turns scouting for strange looking aircraft.

These “Golden Memories” are the result of input from several members of the Class of “52″ as well as our reunion committee.

John D. McNeer