Before the Big Yellow Bus

Before the Big Yellow Bus
Remembering the one-room schools of Richland County, Illinois





September 16, 2015


Contact: Ron Scherer, 618-830-7046



 A new book that has taken three years to research and write will make its local debut on Saturday, Sept. 26th, during the Olney Arts Council’s Fall Festival of the Arts at the Olney City Park.

                The book – titled “Before the Big Yellow Bus: Remembering the one-room schools of Richland County, Illinois” – is a large-format book covering 98 county schools in 300 pages of text and 270 historic photographs, and containing hundreds of names of Richland County families that date back to the early 1800s.    

                The text details the history of formal education in Richland County – from schooling first conducted in the home, to the advent of subscription schools, to the development of public, tax-supported schools.  In 1822, before the area was officially a county, the first local school outside the home was in a partitioned-off tavern with slab seats and board desks in Watertown, a now-defunct village located just west of Olney on the old Trace Road near the banks of the Fox River.

                Drawing upon the recollections of older area residents, stories collected from articles in issues of the Olney Daily Mail from a 1929 contest, files in Olney’s Carnegie Museum and the Richland County Genealogical and Historical Society, plus numerous courthouse records, the book offers a first-hand look at the schools from their beginning up through the legislated consolidation of school districts in 1948.

                The book contains history, hardship and humor.  In the mid-19th century, it was the custom of the pupils to come early on the last day of school, take possession of the schoolhouse and refuse admission to the teacher until he (most teachers at the time were men) provided refreshments.  You’ll read about the surprise (and unconventional) refreshments one teacher brought his students.

                You will learn about the origin of the county’s long tradition of celebrating May Day.  You’ll read a sample contract containing rules of conduct that teachers – especially female teachers – had to follow while in school and during their personal time outside the classroom.   And, when hiring teachers (primarily men), you will be surprised to learn what one of the primary qualifications for teaching was as listed on the examination.

                With pupils ranging from ages 5 to 18 and sometimes 20, in a small, crowded building, discipline was often a problem for teachers.  You’ll read about interesting stories of etiquette and discipline, including how one teacher incorporated a trapdoor to a crawl space in his effort to handle unruly pupils.

                The book contains a chapter on county pupils who learned their lessons well, including one who went from his one-room school to president of a major Illinois university, and another pupil who was born with no arms, yet excelled in the Olney schools (without special education courses), and went on to become nationally famous.

                The book was written and compiled by cousins Ron E. Scherer and Yvonne Scherer Meckfessel, both Richland County natives and products of the Claremont Elementary School and East Richland High School.  Both authors have long held an interest in the history of the one-room schools and decided to team up for the project.  Mrs. Mary Lou Brown, a local, lifelong artist who attended and taught in the one-room schools, provided the cover illustration for the book.   And former resident Don Wilson, another local school alumnus, helped in locating many of the nearly 300 photos in the book.  The book was published in conjunction with the Richland County Heritage Museum Foundation.

                Most of the school buildings are long gone, and many of those who attended and taught in the schools have since passed.  However, the authors state in the book’s prologue:  “Although memories gradually fade away, perhaps this book on the one-room schools of Richland County will help people from now and the future remember and preserve those bygone days before the big yellow bus.”

                The book will be on sale at a booth at the Olney Fall Festival.  Other book-signings and events will also be scheduled in the near future. The book will also be offered through Amazon and on a dedicated Website, but those arrangements are not yet complete. 

In the meantime, if you are interested in purchasing books, you can contact Ron Scherer at rscherer @, Yvonne Scherer Meckfessel at pagewriter405 @, or by writing to Persimmon Grove Publishing, P.O. Box 31, Claremont, IL 62421.

(For the email addresses you will need to remove the “space” before and after the @ sign)