The first school I attended was Porter Elementary School. I started kindergarten there, at the age of 4, in 1958. In those days the cutoff for enrollment in kindergarten was November 1, so I barely made it since my birthday was in October. Consequently, I was nearly the youngest student in my class all the way through high school.
My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Mary Gold. Nearly 40 years later I met her granddaughter Jill who became, and still is, one of my best friends. She never attended Porter, but we think she once visited her grandmother’s classroom when I was a student there. I remember a big room with lots of light from tall windows, radiators along the outside wall, and easels set up for painting. I remember little else from that year, except once I spilled paint on my dress. Mrs. Gold dressed me in a paint smock, washed out my dress, and dried it on the radiator.
She might not have done that for just any student. My grandmother, her friend, taught 6th grade at the other end of the building. My grandmother taught 6th grade at Porter for 30 years, all in the same room, I think. She must have begun teaching there in 1929, the year Porter opened for the first time. She was her twin sons’ 6th grade teacher. She quit in March of 1960 when she reached 62 and could retire. She didn’t want to, but she had the responsibility of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old after my mother died, and my dad moved us home with her and Grandpa. For more about my grandmother’s teaching career, see my post, “Teachers and Postmen.”
|My grandmother, Fannie C. Smith, monitoring|
the hall at Porter Elementary
In first grade my teacher was Mrs. Smith. Three things stick out in my mind about that year. Mrs. Smith was teaching reading and used my name, “Rebecca,” to teach the schwa sound. The mother of one of my classmates, Patty Post, made everyone in the class a stocking for Christmas, with felt cutouts and sequins and our names at the top. I still have mine and put it up every Christmas. Mrs. Smith’s favorite expression was “Pretty is as pretty does,” and she held up Patty Post, who always smiled, as a role model to the rest of the class.
Second grade was a bad year for me. Looking back on it now, I must have been having some abandonment issues, and there were just too many changes that year for me to adjust to. My grandmother had retired the year before and was no longer in the building. Mrs. Lucille Swyden, my teacher, caught mumps or measles or some other childhood disease. As an adult, of course, these diseases were much more serious, and she was out for an extended time. Our substitute was a nice lady, but this was all just too much for a 7-year-old whose mother had died just a few years earlier. I freaked.
My grandmother had to come and sit in the back of the room, stamping books and grading papers, so that I would stay in class. (Once she thought I might be getting over it and quietly got up to go home. I found her outside before she ever made it to her car.) My grandmother’s best friend, Mrs. Hostetter, told her later that the other teachers criticized her methods, but Mrs. Hostetter just said, “Fannie will handle it.”
|My grandmother and her friend, Roberta Hostetter|
And she did, or else I might not be a teacher myself. I finally got over it, and 3rd and 4th grade proceeded normally, although I don’t remember much about those two years. My 3rd grade teacher was Edra Beall, and my 4th grade teacher was Helga Bailey. I remember loving poetry around that time but don’t remember which of those teachers helped inspire that love in me. Fourth grade was my last year at Porter. Our house at 2717 W. 42nd St. was being demolished to make way for the Red Fork Expressway. About that time, my great-grandmother died, and we moved into her house, just across the street from Park Elementary where I completed 5th and 6th grades.
Porter was a beautiful building, inside and out. It had two wings that stretched on either side from a columned front porch. It sat in a grove of trees adjacent to wooded Reed Park. There were large grassy areas on the east and south sides of the building for recess. I remember playing Red Rover on the southeast side of the building, and seeing the older boys playing marbles just outside the north entrance near the music room.
|Pleasant Porter Elementary School|
This is what I remember about the inside of the building. (Corrections and comments greatly appreciated; it’s been 50 years, after all.) Just inside the front door on the left was the principal’s office. Since my grandmother taught there, I felt comfortable in the office and liked both of her principals, Mr. Lee Arnold and Mr. Ben Wiehe, but especially Mr. Arnold.
Straight in from the front door was the combination gymnasium/auditorium and stage. On the wing to the right was my grandmother’s room, the library, and at the far end, the music room. I loved the library and the librarian. I remember reading a number of biographies and a series of books about twins from different countries of the world. Mrs. Roberta Hostetter was the librarian and, of all things, gym teacher! I remember her wearing black dresses, sturdy shoes, and a whistle around her neck. Mrs. Phelps was the very elegant music teacher who wore her hair in a French twist.
Just next to the entrance to the gymnasium was a door that led downstairs to the cafeteria. Lord, the food was good in those days! My favorites were macaroni and cheese and bean chowder. I remember making Pilgrim collars and cuffs and wearing them for the Thanksgiving meal. Down the left wing were, I think, the 3rd and 4th grade rooms, and at the end was the kindergarten room. Then you made another right to the 1st and 2nd grade rooms.
Pleasant Porter opened in 1929 and closed as a regular elementary school in 1980. It was named for the last elected chief of the Creeks who had been very involved in education for the Creek Nation. Pleasant Porter died in 1907 and is buried near Leonard in Tulsa County. I remember visiting his grave once with my grandmother and some of her students.
Photos from www.findagrave.com
Since closing in 1980, Porter has been used as offices for Head Start and the Native American Coalition and has recently been remodeled as additional classrooms for 4-year-olds in the Tulsa Public Schools. One of my goals this summer is to get over there for a tour and see if anything looks the same as it did in 1963, the last time I was inside the building. It’s kindof neat to know that 4-year-olds again occupy the building where I started my education as a 4-year-old!