Colleen Smitek: Community Contributor
Everybody remembers their first-grade teacher.
And that’s true for two local residents — Tom Lane and Rick Dziak — who attended the stately limestone school still standing on West Seventh Street in Lakeside. While the school closed in 1956, memories of those times still bring joy — and a bit of fear — to both Lane and Dziak.
Built in 1912, the six-room school originally housed first through 12th grades but was scaled back after Danbury High School opened on Route 163 in 1923. The school only went through sixth grade by the time Lane graduated in 1948 and, by 1954 when Dziak graduated, it was further reduced to first through fourth grades. Year-round Lakesiders as well as kids from Marblehead attended the school.
Both Lane and Dziak had first-grade teacher Miss Kille — and remember her for different reasons.
Dziak, a highly regarded oil painter who owns Dziak Studio in Marblehead, can still see her classroom in his mind. “I remember sitting there in the first-grade staring at this picture on the wall,” he says. “It was just a picture of three elves carrying buckets of paint. As the blue paint would cross over the yellow, green would show up. Those elves had to have influenced me in some way.”
Lane, meanwhile, remembers Kille as the first of many teachers who tried to break him of being left-handed. “I fought against it,” he says. “If I went up to the board, I used my right hand. But then I used my left hand when I was back at my desk.”
Lane, who grew up on the corner of Fourth Street and Cedar Avenue, always walked home for lunch. “I ate pretty fast and took off to go up the hill,” he says. Dziak, who lived just outside the gate on Vine Avenue, sometimes packed and sometimes went home.
But, as is the case in elementary schools everywhere, recess was always the best time of the day — even if it was fraught with a bit of danger.
Lane remembers there always seemed to be at least two or three boys who were held back repeatedly, resulting in some exceptionally big and strong fifth and sixth graders. And while other kids enjoyed playing baseball or riding the merry-go-round, those boys had their own game.
“The big guys would grab the little guys and take them down to the walkway that went down to the basement,” he says. “They’d throw you down those stairs and keep you there until they rang the bell. You’d try to squeeze out, but they’d be there. You finally gave up and just sat there.”
By the time Dziak was at the school, the game had evolved.
“We called it, girls chased the boys or boys chased the girls,” he says with a laugh. “If boys chased the girls, the girls would be penned up in one of those wells. We would throw toads or anything we could find that would irritate them.”
Other routine elements of life would be unfamiliar, as well, to today’s students.
Kids who misbehaved were taken to the cloakroom to be spanked. The building was heated with a coal-burning furnace in the basement. A handful of kids only attended school for part of the year as their parents were migrant peach pickers who weren’t in town long.
Dziak remembers how one teacher handled an especially active student.
“She would actually tie him to his seat with a rope,” Dziak says. “Just so he wouldn’t get up and walk around all the time.”
All of the memories are set against the backdrop of growing up in Lakeside, which meant total freedom and fun in every season.
Both Lane and Dziak joined in the most treasured wintertime activity — sledding.
“We would start past the school more toward the highway on Maple,” Dziak says. “Sometimes, we’d get water on it and ice it up. On a good day you could get all the way to the lakefront. The toughest part was getting across fifth street.”
And, no, nobody ever hit a tree.
Lane remembers swimming and fishing off the pier where his mother worked as the first female lifeguard. “You didn’t have to get a license either.”
The old Lakeside school isn’t the only remnant of the past nearby. The Red Fern Inn in downtown Marblehead has given second life to the historic Marblehead Schoolhouse, which was built in 1893. The State Road School in Danbury Township was built in 1899, closed in 1941 and now serves as the Danbury Township Hall.
Whatever the future may hold, the past will always be precious to Lane, Dziak and the hundreds of other students who grew up in or near Lakeside.
“All I had to do was hop on my bike and go down the hill,” Dziak says. “You had all this freedom — inside the season or outside the season, it didn’t make any difference.”