Basket Social - Also known as a box social, the basket social was an event at which boxes or baskets of food were auctioned to male bidders who won the privilege of eating and dancing with the woman who prepared the box lunch. We thank our author for an entertaining and engaging memory of a basket social to raise money for his one-room schoolhouse.
A note from the author, Larry Scheckel
"I attended a one-room country school in southwest Wisconsin, Crawford County from 1948 to 1956. One room, one teacher, 28 students, no indoor plumbing, and no telephone. The Scheckel family consisted of Father, Mother, and nine kids on 238 acres in the hill country near Seneca.
I joined CSAA in November, 2012 and hope to attend the 2014 conference at the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. I would like to affer a short presentation concerning Oak Grove School. My wife and I are retired teachers."
The Basket Social
by Larry Scheckel
Oak Grove School stood all alone out there on Oak Grove Ridge. Oak Grove School was one of 6,000 one-room schools in Wisconsin in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Standing a few feet from the school on the north side, you could scan the horizon and see distance fields meet the sky. To the north it was the white farm buildings of the Sutton farm. Not too many white barns in those parts, but the Suttons had one.
Scanning to the right from the school you saw the farms of Jim Ingham then Frank Fradette, then his dad, Louis Fradette’s farm. You could see the tops of the Junior Mickelson farm if you looked east. Looking South, only the woods were visible. Then to the southwest there was the Guy Green place. We didn't know if he owned it or rented, but his wife Louise, was my first grade teacher, so she didn't have far to walk to school.
Every township, by law, had to provide the education for children grades 1 through 8. Each township was divided into school districts. Crawford County, in the hill country of southwest Wisconsin, had 11 townships. Seneca Township had 15 rural schools and Oak Grove School was referred to as District #15. The Scheckel family, Dad and Mom, and nine kids lived out on Oak Grove Ridge, smack dab in the middle of Seneca Township.
Oak Grove School had its beginnings in 1897. The site was leased from Michael Bernier for $12 per annum. Albert Aspenson was Treasurer and Rob Dawler was Clerk. The necessary money, $300, was loaned by Sam Ingham with an interest rate of 7.5 percent.
Andrew Fleeman was paid $14.50 for hauling rock for the walls. George Pease was paid $265 for the wood and materials for the building and another $105 for the construction. Dennis Kane earned $9.50 for shingles. John Ingham was paid $3.00 for rock hauling.
Start of School
I was six years old when I started school in the fall of 1948. There was no kindergarten in Crawford County. I don’t remember how I felt about going to school. I think I was excited, but don’t recall for sure. We Scheckel boys always wanted to do what the older children did, so I expect I was happy to start school. A kid had no choice. He could be happy about going to school or not happy. The choice was his. Either way, he went.
We passed by the school every few weeks during the summer. Had to go back on Oak Grove Ridge a mile, then turn down into Kettle Hollow or go back further on Oak Grove Ridge and turn down Hobbs Hollow. Either road took you to Highway 35, now known as the Great River Road that paralleled the Mississippi River. When you got down to the Mississippi River, you turned left to go to Lynxville, and right to go to Ferryville.
We also went down Kettle Hollow to get to our land that stretched west, past the wooded section where we ran about 30 head of beef cattle. So we passed the Oak Grove School frequently during the summer, watched the grass and weeds grow tall in the school yard. I remember many times thinking, “that’s my school standing there”.
A few days before school started, Floyd Sutton or Frank Fradette would bring his hay mower and mow down the grass and weeds and small brush that grown up during June, July and August. Late August, school would start.
September 6, 1948, was my first day of school. I wore blue denim bib overalls, the kind with straps over the shoulder, buckles on the ends of those straps, buttons on the sides and pockets on each hip. I sported a new plain pattern shirt, farm shoes, no loafers or dress shoes for school. Dress shoes were reserved for Church.
In late August and early September, second crop hay was done, the corn was ripening and squirrels started to store acorns. Late August and early September in southwestern Wisconsin can be “hot and sticky." No home or school had air conditioning. If you wanted “air conditioning”, you opened the window.
There were very few buses running the rural roads of Wisconsin and there were none in Seneca Township. Kids got to school by walking parents or neighbors who drove them. In the winter, we took our sled. Bucky Olson rode a horse, weather permitting.
All the Scheckel children started out walking to school together. Along the way, we passed the bushes that had strange round smooth berries. They were green and later turned red. We were told they might be poisonous and not to eat them. We watched for honeysuckle, with their familiar four pods, reddish color. We picked the ends and sucked on them. They tasted just like honey.
Our route brought us past the big oak tree we had sat around while haying or shocking oats just a few weeks before, then we went past the Bernier farm. Several Kozelka kids joined the Scheckel group further down the road. We watched for wild blackberries and red raspberries that grew in abundance next to the road. We marched over the big hills by the Ingham farm, then the home stretch to Oak Grove School. Kids would be gathering. There was lots of excitement, talking to kids we may had not seen all summer, and exchanging bits of banter and gossip.
School started at 8 o’clock in the morning. Most everybody walked, except the Rosenbaum kids. They farmed way back on the very end of Oak Grove Ridge, three miles from school. If you went a few steps beyond their house and barn, you would fall off the bluff and end up in the Mississippi River. There was no bus in my early years, up to about fourth or fifth grade. The Scheckel kids had exactly one mile to get to school. The gravel road from the Scheckel farm to Oak Grove School ran north and slightl
At one time, there were six Scheckel children walking to school at the same time, from oldest to youngest: Phillip, myself, Bob, Catherine, Rita and Diane. I’ve heard tell that my older siblings were constantly urging me to walk faster. I don’t remember, but I know that my short little legs couldn’t move me along very fast.
Later, it was my job to shepherd the younger girls, Catherine, Rita and Diane to school. I was told that I continually urged them to “walk a little faster” or “why can’t you move faster." Very seldom did we get a ride to or from school. A farmer might come along and offer a lift. But we didn’t expect a ride.
Three school events brought all the families together at Oak Grove School: the Fall Basket Social, the Christmas program, and the End-of-the-Year picnic. It seems like everyone on Oak Grove Ridge and those down in Kettle Hollow attended these socials. The rural one-room school was the center of the social scene. Farm families that no longer had kids in school were there. Even bachelors showed up!
The school budget was terribly tight and farmers were very frugal. They didn’t like paying taxes, and, heaven forbid, spending money for anything that was not absolutely necessary. The goal of the basket social was to raise a little extra money for the teacher to use for non budgeted items, such as playground equipment, teaching supplies, and new books.
This Basket Social was the first time that parents had a chance to meet a new teacher. And the first opportunity that Teacher could apply faces and names to the parents of her young charges. Teacher wanted to make a good impression on the parents.
Information went out to the families several weeks in advance of the early November Friday night date. A single sheet of paper was sent to home for each family listing the date, time, and what to bring. This just had to be a very stressful time for Teacher!
But we kids didn’t know that or cared about it. We had a job to do. We had to sell chances on a blanket. The blanket raffle was the big fund raiser. One chance was 10 cents or three chances for a quarter.
Dad did not want his kids selling chances to the neighbors. “Don’t bother them,” was his mantra. “No need to pester the neighbors,” we heard more than a few times. I do believe that Dad bought most of the allotted tickets year after year.
I can’t recall if we did it on our own or if Dad or Mom sanctioned it. But, my brother Bob and I saw an opportunity. Across the field, on the other side of ShortCut Road was the John Payne farm. It was only about a quarter mile distance.
Bob and I walked the cow path through the Knoll field, climbed through the fence, and ambled up the short incline to the John Payne farm. Surely the Paynes would grab an opportunity to win a blanket at the Oak Grove Basket Social. Never mind that the school boundaries stopped at the Scheckel farm and that Payne kids went to the neighboring Seneca grade school.
It was a brisk cool evening and the sun had just set in the West. The trees were ablaze with autumn colors. The Paynes were picking corn with their neighbor, Tom McAreavy. He was sitting on a gray Ford 9N tractor with a corn wagon hitched behind. A couple of the Payne young men were standing around. They seemed to be laughing quite a bit. Each had a can of some refreshment in their gloved hand.
I was in fourth grade, brother Bob was in third grade. We had never seen anyone that had been drinking a few-too-many beers. We never associated alcohol intake with loud boisterous talk and frequent laughing. We approached slowly.
“Hi boys, what can we do for you?” one of the Payne men yelled out.
Lawrence: “We’re selling chances for a blanket”.
Tom McAreavy: “Blanket, what do I want with a blanket. I got blankets at home”. Much laughter from the Payne brothers.
Bob: “It’s for the Basket Social on November 10.”
Tom: “Can I win the school teacher?”
Sustained loud and raucous laughter came from all three. (note: Teacher was Rosemary Shinko, young, very pretty and very much single. It was her second year at Oak Grove School)
Lawrence: “They’re 10 cents each, or three for a quarter.”
Payne man: “How much for two?”
Bob and I looked at each other. We had no answer. We weren’t that good at math, or thinking on our stubby little feet. That created more howling laughter from all three guys.
The Ford 9N had a toolbox mounted in the hood. They had cans of beer stored there and all three reached for another. They used a can opener tool that made a triangular hole on one side. Then they turned the can a half circle and made an identical triangular hole on that side.
Tom: “I’ll take 3 tickets." I wrote his name on three slips of paper. I had to ask how to spell his name. I do believe he gave me 2 or 3 different spellings, and each spelling would set the Payne men into prolonged howls of merriment.
I handed Tom McAreavy the slips of paper. The idea was that you had to be there to win. Ticket buyers put their slips of paper in a box that night at school. And a winning slip was drawn.
Thomas J. McAreavy kept buying tickets and kept right on drinking. We kept writing his name on tickets. It was getting late, the sun had gone down and Bob and I were getting nervous. We knew we had to get back home and wondered if our folks were worried about us.
We had made a “good haul." We counted up the tickets and money as we ambled down the Shortcut Road, onto Oak Grove Road and back to the farm. Distance was a tad over a quarter mile but we sold 42 tickets and a pot of $3.50. We figured we had “done real good”.
It was dark when Bob and I got home. We were excited and got home just at supper time. That’s when the “tickets hit the fan," so to speak. After saying grace, we divulged our successful chance-selling adventure to Mom and Dad and siblings gathered around the supper table,.
Then the rebukes began, first from Dad. “You boys shouldn’t sell that many tickets to Tom McAreavy." We didn’t know why not? He didn’t tell us that Tom McAreavy liked to drink. And if he did, we probably would not have understood.
Mom said, “McAreavy likes to drink too much." Dad came back with, “Now Martha, you don’t know that for sure." Tom and Anna lived down Aspenson Road, a turnoff from Shortcut Road. There were only two farms back on that gravel road. Both were very good neighbors.
A sum of $3.50 was quite a bit of money at that time. Dad talked in terms of taking the money back, but he never followed up. We took the money to school the next day and gave it to Miss Shinko.
The Big Night
Every mother who had children in Oak Grove School prepared a lunch; sandwiches, fruit, brownies, cookies, and put them in a paper bag, picnic basket or box and brought them to school on the night of the Basket Social. All the farmers, their wives and children, arrived between seven to eight o’clock or whenever the milking was done. Some came with a bit of animal husbandry on their boots, clothes with barnyard smells, bib overalls, roll-your-own cigarettes, and/or floppy hats. This was rural Wisconsin farm country people in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
Cars were parked all over the playground. Laurence Rosenbaum liked to put his big green Chevy right over home plate. Dad had a black Chevy with a black visor in front. All the Scheckel kids could pile into that car, one kid sitting between Dad and Mom, usually the youngest. The Pease family came up from Kettle Hollow in a Model T Ford. Teacher greeted all the arrivals, made introductions, remarked about how happy she was to have _____ (fill in the name) in class.
All the desks were pushed to one side of the school. A few chairs set along the wall, a fire in the pot bellied stove if it was cold. Room was made for Frank and Clarabelle Fradette to set up their music stand. Both played accordion. There was also a fiddle player, whose name I don’t remember.
The dancing would start. Some of the men wanted to dance with Teacher.
We young boys sat on the desk or chairs, watching, squirming, and poking each other. Young girls danced with each other. Married men danced only with their wives.
Suhr and family came to the Basket Social. Suhr was “deaf and dumb”. He lived down Kettle Hollow and up on the opposite ridge. The bridge over Kettle Creek was a single slab of concrete, slightly askew having been washed partially away by flash flooding. Surh was not dumb, he just could not speak. He was born deaf and never learned how to talk.
I didn’t understand those dynamics when I was a kid. We just called him “deaf and dumb” because that was the term used in those days. By all accounts Suhr was a good man and good farmer. Surh would stop by our farmhouse every few weeks to buy eggs. He had a wrinkled weather-beaten face, and wore a rough old straw hat, big overalls and large shoes. He would converse with Dad by grunts and sign language and if not understood, he would write on a piece of paper.
We three boys would stand around and take this all in. Suhr would reach over and pat one of us on the head, point outside to the fields and raise his hand, palm outstretched, upward. Dad didn’t understand. Suhr scribbled a few words on a piece of paper. Dad would read them, or make a gesture, or write something in return.
When Suhr left, we asked Dad what that head patting and field pointing gesturing was all about. He said, “you boys are getting taller, like the corn out in the fields.”
The Basket Social was a grand affair. The two Fradette accordions, a fiddler, and piano player belted out some popular songs: The Tennessee Waltz, In the Mood, Swinging on a Star, Wabash Cannonball, Buttons and Bows, Dear Hearts and Gentle People, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Little Brown Jug, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, and You Are My Sunshine.
Suhr couldn’t hear the music. But he would go over to the piano and put his hand on top and pick up the beat or rhythm, and “dance up a storm”. Not being able to hear was not going to stop Suhr from dancing.
After a few dances, Teacher would give a little welcoming speech, roundly applauded. A couple of seven or eight grade girls recited a poem, more dancing, a short skit put on by the fifth graders, a duet by two seventh grade girls, more dancing, then the auction.
All the Box Lunches were set out on a table in the middle of the school-now converted to a dance hall. No names were on any box or basket. This was a secret auction. Floyd Sutton was the auctioneer. He picked up a box.
Floyd: “Do I have a bid for this beautiful red box, with a bow on top and filled with delicious goodies?”
A hand would go up.
From the back of the room, “50 cents”.
Floyd: “I have 50 cents, do I hear a dollar?”
Bidder: “One dollar."
Floyd: “Now, you all know this box is beautiful, filled with goodie delights, and baked by the prettiest woman on Oak Grove Ridge."
Bidder: “Two dollars."
The bidding would go on, usually up to about $3.00 for a box lunch. Truth be told, every husband knew which box his wife brought and all the other men would let the bidding get to that magic three dollar amount and stop bidding. So most every man and wife sat together and ate the lunches together.
There was one memorable box social. Word slipped out which box belonged to the teacher, Ms. Shinko. It was the last box, pink paper on the side, with a fake flower on top. Bidding started. It got up to three dollars, then four dollars, then five, then six! Well now, this was way over the normal amount. Soon over nine dollars and only two bidders. One was Elmer Stuckey, a WWII veteran who fought the “Japs” in the Pacific Islands just six years ago. The initials ES were carved on one of the desks. My brother Phillip sat in that desk. We kids all knew the story. The Japanese attacked at night. It was a desperate banzai bayonet charge and Stuckey fought the foe in hand-to-hand combat. And now we could sit in the desk of a real hero and run out fingers over the initials.
The other bidder was farmer Tom Ingham. Both Elmer Stuckey and Tom Ingham were single. Never mind that Tom Ingham was twice the age of the teacher. Pay no attention that Elmer Stuckey was engaged to be married to a Prairie du Chien gal.
This was a titanic struggle to have the honor of eating a box lunch with ‘The Teacher’. The bidding went back and forth, each bid punctuated with rousing cheers, yeas, ooh’s and aah’s and way-to-go’s from the crowd. Top bid was Tom Ingham’s at nine dollars.
Floyd: “Going once, twice.”
Elmer: “Ten dollars." More cheers. We’re now talking serious money!
Tom: “Eleven dollars." Louder cheers.
Elmer: “Eleven dollars, 50 cents."
Floyd: “ Eleven fifty, pause, “going once," pause, “going twice," longer pause, “sold to Elmer Stuckey for eleven-fifty!"
A final round of cheers and eating commenced. Then came the drawing for the big door prize, a beautiful twin-bed blanket. I do believe my brother Bob and I sold the most chances for that blanket, thanks to the generosity of our beer-drinking and corn-picking neighbors.
Other door prizes were awarded; a grocery certificate from Kane’s IGA in Seneca, a bag of oats from the Feed Mill in Seneca, a block of cattle salt from Johnson’s One Stop Shopping Center in Seneca. Johnson’s advertising said that, “if they didn’t have it, you don’t need it. An oil and filter change from Larmore’s Service Station in Seneca.
One by one, families gathered up the kids, coats, walked out into the crisp fall air, loaded into their cars, and slipped back home. A good time was had by all. No other event at that rural isolated one-room country school brought families together as did the annual fall Basket Social.
Note: Tom McAreavy was killed in a one car roll over on Highway 27 about one mile north of Seneca in 1956. His car went up a steep bank and rolled over several times. Tom was 71 years old and was buried in St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery at Seneca. Every time I go by that stretch of highway, I think of that tall, lanky, Irish neighbor who bought too many tickets and left Anna a widow for far too long a time. Tom McAreavy was a good farmer, a good neighbor and a good family man.