Spirit Quest

 

A school spirit that made education more than an empty shell 

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

After being dead for 62 years there was a resurrection. Frankford Continuation School (FCS) closed its doors at the end of spring in 1949. Henceforth the students of grades 9 to 12 were bussed to high schools in Trenton and Belleville for their ongoing education. The public school that had housed the four grades in two class rooms on the top floor of the ugly red brick building in the hamlet of Frankford, 10 miles north of Trenton on the beautiful Trent river, took over their space.  

The resurrection was in the form of a reunion. Institutions that cease functioning for some sixty years are usually forgotten . But not FCS. On Thursday, August 25 former students of the school  along with their spouses gathered in Frankford. They toured the once familiar building and peeked into their former classrooms . The place has been renovated beyond recognition and a new, modern facility has been added. It now resembles any present day school. We saw class rooms with computers unlike those of the “good old days” when the most modern piece of equipment  was an old inky Gestetner. There hadn’t even been a telephone in the old educational facility in my time.

When in the fall of 1944 I took my seat at the end of the aisle near the door, the principal, there were only two teachers, approached me, “Hanns, do you have a clock?” I was somewhat shocked by his question and wondered what sin I had inadvertently committed so early in my first year. When I assured him that I could get one, he went on to explain that because there were four grades in two classrooms with 65 students, periods of instruction and spares had to be timed precisely. He handed me a time table indicating 9  half hour periods plus recess and lunch time for which the bell needed to be rung. There were no clocks in the rooms.

Principal Sigsworth, dressed in a grey double breasted suit, white shirt and tie went on to explain that there was a battery operated bell in the hall but the button was missing. During wartime rubber, even for buttons, was unavailable. A pencil would have to be inserted into the empty button hole to depress the contacts and thus sound the bell. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a career. I retained the job for my entire four years. It has made me into an inveterate clock watcher to this very day.

My most memorable ringing event took place in May of 1945 when that morning the principal entered our room and announced that the war in Europe was over and we were all free to go home. I raced out to my bell, took the illicit chewing gum out of my mouth and stuffed it into the bell hole causing the bell to ring and ring until the battery was exhausted. By that time I ws on the ball diamond with my pals.

FCS was a unique school. It was a student led institution assisted by two teachers. Those instructors had their hands full teaching some 8 subjects, from Home Ec to Latin, from Algebra to Health. They had little time for extra curricular activities, although Pat Bennett  who taught there for the schools last five years, did as much as she could and was beloved by almost all of  the students.

At  4 PM on Thursday, August 25 many of the former students arrived at the school, picked up their name tags and then looked quizzically at each other - “Mary, is that Mary?” before embracing and back patting. I joyfully embraced my two highschool sweethearts that I hadn’t seen for 62 years.

The reunion was the outcome of another student effort. Arnold Westlake of Niagara on the Lake had discovered on a visit home, he came from a farm near Stockade, that there were no references to our school in any of the archives and museums of the area. He made plans to remedy that deficiency. He and I had been business manager and editor respectively of a monthly school paper, a rough publication typed on an ancient Underwood typewriter with sticky keys and run off on the before mentioned Gestetner.

The publication was appropriately named The Wolf and each issue had a drawing of a wolf in sheep’s clothing according to the season of the year. Thus at Christmas, the wolf appeared like Santa Claus and in February as Cupid.  Ross Cadwell was an exceptionally good artist whose depictions of the wolf I much cherish. 

In a phone call to me Arnold suggested that we round up some old copies, scan them and bring them together along with some photos and stories to produce a 150 page book called  “The Frankford Continuation School, a brief history as seen through the eyes of The Wolf.”  

As the founding editor, much of the production work was left to me  and my friend Geoffrey Dow, True North Perspective's Managing Editor (though not an FCS grad) and also the proprietor of BumblePuppy Press in Ottawa. We, of course, relied on dozens of former students for material.

And then a remarkable thing happened . As news of our effort got out the thought of a gathering of former students took life. Wayne Arbuckle, a local lad,  who had spent his whole life in that area began organizing. He became a one man ground crew that caused the reunion to take wings. 

A local newspaper announced that  “The howl of the Wolf would  be heard again in the village.”  All of us grads are a bit beyond the howling stage of life nevertheless, about  90 gathered at the school, followed by a roast beef dinner at the local Legion. Numerous members, of the group spoke including Dr. Tony Daicar who was the last editor of the Wolf. A member of the council of Quinte West, the municipality that encompasses this area brought greetings. Each participant received a copy of our new publication which gathered many signatures from the former students. in attendance. 

I believe that we were a unique school. Although we had no school song or chant, that is printable, and our school colours were garnet and gray, hardly bright colours, there was a spirit tangible in this event.  Yes, we were unique, educated very basically with no gimmicks, not even a library. We even got rid of a elderly misfit principal in three months time by simply making his life miserable, causing him to resign by Christmas. We needed no school board to assist us. Memories of that occasion brought much laughter at the dinner. 

Former students returned from as far away as the Rockies. They came “home” after successful careers in banking, medicine, business, teaching, engineering  and much more. One of the returnees was Hazel Farris who had graduated from FCS in 1937 when it still had a thirteenth grade, and then taught public school in Frankford for a number of years. As far as I know I am the only clergy graduate.

There can be no doubt that a spirit pervaded our group then and now and will live on. Without such a spirit education is an empty shell. It enhanced our learning and will undoubtedly prevail until all have crossed the river.

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