Bohannon Country School

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History and memories of a one-room country school in Macon County, Missouri.
School year 1953-1954

Classmates from 1952-53, identified by former teacher, Paul PaulToops. L-R: Bobby Rufener, Claire Wray, Donnie Dunaway, Gregory Trachta, Billy Hoffman, Bonita Sandner, Judith Taylor.

Scroll down to recent visit with former teacher, Paul Toops.
Handbook of Macon County Schools

Paul Toops was hired as the teacher for this year. A newspaper article briefly mentions Paul, along with some context for the times: "Mr. and Mrs. Sam Burns have a television set. Paul Toops, the Bohannon teacher appeared on a television show last Saturday night. Mr. and Mrs. Emery Graves, Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Despain, Rayel Long and Mrs. Ira Arnold were guests for the day Sunday, a week ago,' of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Despain." The people mentioned were mostly neighbors, living within a few miles of Bohannon School.

After very minimal prodding Paul has divulged the mystery of his TV appearance. He recently wrote the following: "You asked about my TV appearance during the school year. Actually, it was for a talent show on WGEM-TV in Quincy, Illinois. I sang a song which I think was “Sentimental Journey”. What I remember most was how hot it was under the TV lights and how uncomfortable I was. I think I won third place, but can’t remember for sure. "

Paul Toops at Central College in Fayette, Missouri, 1953

After a career in the Navy, Paul now lives in Texas, and has been in touch with us. The following are his recollections of his time at Bohannon School.

Reminiscences of First Year of Teaching at Bohannon Rural School in 1953-1954

I, Paul E. Toops, had completed one year of college at Central Methodist College, Fayette, Missouri, and had hoped to return there for the school year of 1953-54. I felt I didn't have the finances to return, and decided I would try to earn some money to enable me to return the next year.

I happened to notice in a newspaper that some schools in Macon County were looking for teachers. As it was nearing the time for schools to start, it was stated that anyone with a year of college who could pass the State exam could qualify for a temporary teaching certificate good for one year. I decided to give it a try, and contacted Mary F. Graves, who was the Macon County Superintendent of Schools for a job. The next thing I knew, I had the job of teaching at Bohannon School.

There were 21 students in grades 1-8. As I recall, I combined the 5th and 6th grades and the 7th and 8th grades for more efficient teaching. There were three 8th graders who would graduate and go on to high school.

I began the year living with Emory and Nannnie Graves who provided me with room and board. Later in the school year, I moved in with a family named Van Houten who lived near Clarence.

If my memory is correct, I hired James Wray (8th grade) to help me with the furnace and keep the school warm in the winter.

I recall the first public activity was a pie/cake supper probably in October where parents and the public could participate. As I recall, we had a program of songs and a play to entertain. I remember after the event was over, and I was ready to go home, my car wouldn't start. It was determined that someone had pulled my spark plug wires to cause some mischief. Thanks to Mr. Everett Sandner, the problem was rectified and I was able to drive home.

I don't remember much else. I think we had a math/spelling match against another rural school. I think we won, but am not sure. We played a lot of outdoor games…shooting a basketball, volleyball, lots of tag, etc.

I remember on the last day of school, I gave awards for various accomplishments in the form of silver dollars. To my amazement, little Lindell "Bitsy" Rufener received 5 of the silver dollars.

When the year was over, I entered the Navy the next month, and it eventually became my career. I retired in October, 1979, having served 25 years.

Greg Trachta and Rita Schindeler-Trachta had lunch with Paul and Eleanor Toops on May 5, 2018.

Students and Memories

Paul Toops standing beside his car outside Bohannon School

The Dunaway children arrived at Bohannon from Prairie Dale, which had been closed at the end of the previous year. The Taylor children also arrived from this source. This was apparently another victory for the parents advocating a continuation of Bohannon. We were pretty lucky Paul Toops answered that ad, otherwise we might have been consolidated into some other school. It was well known that if a year were allowed to pass without getting the school open, it would never open again.

Memories of Gregory Trachta

Mr. Toops, in his nearby recollections, mentions the pie supper and stage production. I wish I could remember more clearly the details of those plays. I do remember a lot of hustle, and rehearsing, and angst assoicated with producing such spectacles. I also have a very vague recollection of something having to do with Mr. Toops' spark plug wires. I personally am completely innocent.

Darlene Dunaway in 1957

This was my last year at Bohannon School. In fact I didn't finish. My parents had moved to Missouri after the war, for various, and personal reasons. Dad had a degree in chemistry, and had never done any serious farming before. My mother was born on a farm, but was raised in small Nebraska and Wyoming towns. Somehow, they seemed to understand how to do it, but weren't terribly successful at it. I doubt they really had in mind becoming farmers when they moved to the farm. And, in truth, they didn't. We had animals, but it was more of a petting zoo, than a livlihood. All the cows had names. Some of the chickens did, but they didn't really integrate into the family. There was a dog, and several cats. The dog was planned, but the cats just showed up. For a while there were hogs, but we got rid of them. I think their personal habits were too far over the edge for my parents to tolerate. There were a couple of mules at first, Jim and Jerk, but they disappeared one night and it was fifty years before I found out what happened to them.

DeEtte Sandner-1958

Dad spent most of his time building farm machines, and a little time raising cash crops. Mom had a garden, and spent her time keeping food on the table. We tried selling milk and cream for a while, but it didn't really amount to much. Eggs were too scarce for anything but eating, and the hens couldn't be induced to increase production. The Rufeners, the most active farm family in the region, and others, approached things differently than dad. They bought, or rented farm equipment and acreage, and grew wheat, corn, beans, hay, and sometimes sorghum. Dad bought a couple of welders, electric arc, and acetylene, plus some heavy duty tools, and built his own machinery.

He bought two ancient McCormick Deering tractors, a 10-10 model (10 horsepower at the drawbar, and 10 horsepower at the power-takeoff pulley) and a 10-20. He canibalized the 10-20 for parts, and got the 10-10 running. He dropped an old 1935 Dodge motor into it, put rubber tires on in place of the steel wheels, outfitted it with a blade for moving dirt, hitched on some horse-drawn farm machines he'd converted to tractor, and tried to grow stuff. It was tough work. I believe he had fun building the macines, but they were pretty inefficient.

Harlan Dunaway in 1964

Years later he told me he went in to see the banker about a loan to buy some real farm equiment, and the banker refused. "I don't thing you're really a farmer. I think you're a mechanic," the banker told him. About then, Dad's father passed away in Colorado. He'd been a successful wildcatter all his life, and was retired in Rangely, Colorado. When Dad went back for the funeral, one of his father's friends offered him a job in the Standard Oil Refinery, working in the laboratory. He took the job and decamped for Rangely almost at once. Mom, Mel, and I stayed behind to sell the farm, and we attended school in Missouri for half a year.

Paul Toops was an excellent teacher, and an excellent school adminisrator. Because of the custom of alternating the upper classes from year to year, 5th and 7th one year, and 6th and 8th the next, I had jumped into the 6th grade the year before, and was then going back to pick up the 5th. Mom and my grandfather got affairs arranged, and we planned to leave at the end of the first semester. Mr. Toops arranged a going-away party for me at the school, and we all moved into Macon, and lived with my grandparents until just before Christmas, when we jumped on the train and headed to Colorado.

Entering school in Rangely was a little tense. Because I'd never finished the 5th grade, although I had completed the 6th, and probably out of institutional jealousy, the local school administrators wanted me to go into 5th grade and retake 6th the next year. They told my parents I'd be hopelessly behind the other students in their, presumably, high-powered learning environment. My parents would have none of it, I went into the 6th grade (for the second time), and found myself so far ahead of my peers, I had a pretty easy year of it. Apparently the standards at Bohannon School, or at least the standards of my several teachers, were plenty good enough.

Elaine Wray in 1964

Lillie Jean Phillips, 1960

A few months before my dad passed away, in 2005, he told me what happened to Jim and Jerk. They were cantankerous, and independent animals, which is to say, they were mules. They loved kicking down the barn door and racing off into the night. They always went the same way, making a break for it down the road toward Clarence. Dad pulled on his pants, and went after them. Every night as he passed a certain farm, about two miles east of ours, he'd see an old man smoking on the porch. Dad continued down the road until he found Jim and Jerk grazing in someones' pasture, tickled with themselves for the trouble they'd caused. One night, as he led Jim and Jerk back home, the old man smoking on the porch said, "I'll give you ten dollars for those mules." Dad said he walked right up, handed him the lead, and said, "Sold." That's when he bought the McCormick Deerings.

A visit with Paul Toops after sixty-five years

Eleanor Toops, Paul Toops, and Greg Trachta in front of the Rails Cafe, May 5, 2018.

In May, 2018, my wife, Rita, and I visited Paul and Eleanor Toops, a little over sixty-five years after Paul and I had last met. We had lunch in a converted Railroad Station, a local venue called Rails Café. I wore my St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap for identification, but we both agreed to say we'd have recognized each other, anyway. I was being truthful, of course, but politeness may have motivated Paul. Afterward Paul and Eleanor invited us to their home for desert.

Paul recalling his days at Bohannon School with pictures of the class of 1954.

The ease with which we resumed our brief acquaintance, after six and a half decades, is testimony to Paul and Eleanor's humanity and compassion. In fact, we never felt like anything other than old friends. He remembered all the students by name, and most of the parents, and many other families in the Bohannon School environs. He brought out an album that included pictures from the school, as well as his own family. I found them all as compelling as if they'd been of my own family.

Rita and Greg at the home of Paul and Eleanor.

Paul remembered anecdotes about each student, and was attentive to what little information I could share about their lives since he'd seen them. Most illuminating, he recalled specific teaching techniques he'd used for students having trouble with this or that area of instruction. For one student having trouble with punctuation, he invented a colored-chalk reading method: yellow near the end of the sentence, and red at the last word, as a reminder to slow down and stop. It worked. Recall, at the time Paul was a young man with a year of college, and no training in teaching techniques. He was motivated by his desire that his students succeed. He also recalled scuttling the idea of keeping students after school for special instruction, as onerous a claim on his time as that of the student, when the student's family let him know the after-school chores couldn't wait.

After his Bohannon days, Paul joined the Navy as an enlisted man. He left active duty for the Naval Reserves, and used his GI Bill to complete a BS Ed. in Biology with a minor in Physiology. He was teaching school in Denver, and going to graduate school, when he accepted a Naval Reserve Commission. He reentered the Navy as a Physiology Officer, and completed his Masters Degree. Paul met his wife, Eleanor, while training in Pensacola, Florida, which is the same place my son, also in the Navy, met his wife. Paul retired from the Navy, became the Assistant Dean of a Texas college, retired again, and had other adventures in his adopted hometown in Texas.

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