At the End of a Dirt Road
By Sara Vollmer
Class of 1991
I grew up in a sleepy little town on the glacier smooth, rich soil of the Red River Valley. I will grow old near a small town, just a bit further west from where I began. It is funny how life comes full circle. I have traveled around the world and come home to a view of corn and cattle where my closest neighbor is several miles away. Whether you graduated from Leonard High School in 1971 or 1991, I hope this composition brings back some fond memories.
I spent my entire secondary school experience in the halls of Leonard Public School. From Mrs. Robinson to Mr. B., they shaped who I am and what I have become. I have a photo of myself tucked away in an album in front of the metal monkey bars on the first day of school decked out in a red nylon jacket, homemade denim book bag in hand, blonde, shy and slightly small for my age. Mrs. Rasmussen was there waiting for us slightly rambunctious 5-year olds to shuffle in.
I sat a long time thinking about what impacted my life growing up in this town we share. How did my experience make me who I have become? What was important? What have I learned? My experience is summed up in 10 broad memories, all poignant, humorous, and reflective at the same time.
1. Never underestimate the ingenuity of teenagers on a mission. Climbing off the bus on November 1st one year, my fellow bus riders were greeted by a group of teachers, fellow classmates and slightly irritated administrators staring up at a grain auger that miraculously found a home on the top of the school.
2. Good things often come out of tragic events. The day my mom required that we always wear seatbelts was the day we lost a young woman in our community. It hit close to home as we both bore the same name. The event shocked our town. Decades later, a seatbelt saved my own life.
3. The connection to our agriculture community will always remain strong and sometimes in obscure ways. It was not uncommon to look outside the history classroom windows to see a lineup of tractors parked where cars normally sat, idling for hours waiting for their young owners to drive them back home again. Town kids would not be left out bringing their lawnmowers to the lineup.
4. Who needs a google map when you have a name and landmark directions? Reach back into your memory file to the Saturday night hangout spots like the Pickle Patch, Mirror Pool, the Tunnel, and the Government Pasture. This was life before 911 addresses. Landmarks were key to any directional guidance. Go south of Helendale Church until you hit gravel, take a right on the fork in the road, south past Hopewell’s, take a right on the cattle guard. You can’t miss it as they have a bale started on fire in the low spot by the trees.
5. Cars fall into two classes, beautiful specimens or complete pieces of junk with not much in between. When I was a sophomore in high school my dad bought me a 1973 Galaxie 500. I thought it was awful. He told me it was big enough for me to haul fourteen of my closest friends. It leaked transmission fluid faster than it drank gas. The transmission would not engage until the car warmed up. Every morning I would start the car and my younger brother had the responsibility to watch the car until it started creeping away, run out and stop it so we could head to school.
6. School lunch was a fabulous treat with Betty Heuer and Marvy Dittmer behind the counter. To this day, I still cannot separate having a bowl of chili without wanting a homemade caramel roll.
7. Kids make up games to fit their location. I have searched far and wide and have yet to find anyone that knows what a POM POM field is. The patch of grass west of the school rarely needed mowing as it was worn bare from endless games between those two electric poles.
8. Saturday mornings included a trip to the Watts Free Library. The smell of old books met your nostrils as you entered. Mrs. Helen Kistler was there to greet you for this week’s selection, encouraging the exploration of new titles and topics.
9. Multitask had a different meaning. In any Class B school, kids participate in multiple activities to fill rosters, programs, and lineups. They now praise students for being three event kids. By necessity, we were seven event kids. You can flip through any annual and find the same student on the basketball, cheerleading, track, cross country, golf, band, choir and drama rosters.
10. You can name all of the classmates in your graduating class. With an average class size of roughly twelve students, Leonard started small and stayed small. I, myself, was the only girl out of ten students. It was just me and the boys. Let’s just say there was no teenage girl drama in the class of 1991.
Whether you stayed close to home or traveled across the globe, Leonard will always be part of who we have become. They say it takes a village to raise a child. We had the perfect one at the end of a dusty dirt road amongst the amber waves grain.
Who says you can’t go home?