Bethlehem School Remembered
Although the Bethlehem School has been closed and gone for several decades, there are still some of its students remaining.
The one-room country school once set across from the present Bethlehem Gospel Mission Church and cemetery, near the Robinwoods subdivision on the Lake of Egypt, in northern Johnson County.
None of the residents of that community knew of the old school, since they arrived long after it had consolidated into the Goreville School.
Roseanne Poole, a lake resident and member of the Bethlehem Church decided that the locals needed a history lesson. A real-estate broker, she went looking for former students of the little school, and came up with five, four in Goreville, and one in Marion.
They are Cora Childers, Faye Simmons, June Walker, Joy Jones and Lawanda Cadle. Lawanda and June are sisters; Joy is the niece of Cora; Faye, June, Lawanda and Cora are first cousins, with the maiden name of Johns. Joy was a Stearns, and her mother, Violet Johns Stearns, also a former pupil at the school, and who recently turned 100, was unable to attend.
A small collection of old school photos was on display. The pastor, Clark Madden, an eastern Kentucky native, welcomed a churchful and showed the school photos on a screen. Some familiar faces were recognized by the five ladies.
Madden pointed out that although this is a recreation area now, it was once home only to poor dirt farmers. “People back then didn’t visualize the Lake of Egypt ever being here. Times were tough.”
Lawanda said she attended in 1935-37, and skipped one grade, a usual procedure back then. She described the school as having a concrete ground level front porch, with one step up to a double door, and with a concrete cistern in the yard. She was nicknamed “Tott” by someone who couldn’t say her name, and she is still called that. She remembers learning writing using the Palmer Method, and learning orthography, along with finding locations on a map.
She also shared of being put back a grade for a few weeks, because she couldn’t learn long division, and she had memories of riding sleds down a big hill near the school.
June Johns Walker said she felt like she had come back home. “I was saved in this church.”
She described the school as being square, looking much like the Webb School, a few miles away. She remember playing Annie-Over and running games. She had memories of the students locking the teacher out, and of playing baseball. “We all used the same dipper at the cistern.” She attended in 1934-41 and had as teachers, the McGowans and a Mr. Edmondson, who also served as the janitors.
Joy Stearns Jones attended two years, after going to school in Chicago Heights her first two years, for quite a change. She then attended Goreville Schools where she graduated. She remembers that she and her brother, Billy, walked in the snow and had to remove their socks and shoes when they got to school, to dry them out.
Faye Johns Simmons started school in 1929 and attended six years before the family moved to Creal Springs. She walked four miles each way, with her cousins, and often stopped at their aunt Hazel’s along the way home, for something good to eat. Cora was Faye’s best friend, and still is. She remembered playing hopscotch, the Friday spelling match, penmanship and orthography. Her older brother walked her to school the first day. She mentioned the pot-bellied stove, the outhouse and the kids always being scared of the praying mantis insects. There were no snow days and her mother once carried her over the snow drifts.
Cora Johns Childers started to Bethlehem at five years old and walked with her older brother. She remembers one girl got a spanking at school, when she arrived wearing overalls. She told of homemade dresses, made from flour sacks. A white satin dress was hers for graduation, the most beautiful one she had ever had. She remembered carrying lunches of leftover sausage and biscuits from breakfast, along with boiled eggs. She also had a fond memory of receiving a silver dollar in 1936, given for perfect attendance. They went to school 8 months, and the last day, in April, a picnic was held across the road.
Also present was Mark Hazel, who owns land across the road from the old school. He had uncovered an old trail when he built his driveway and saw remnants of an old well or cistern. He provided a golf cart for transporting guests to the school site.
The school was closed in the late forties or early fifties, and was moved to Goreville, behind the Shell station, to be used for a feed store.
Roseanne said the Bethlehem neighborhood, including Robinwoods, is a “wonderful community,” with its mixture of newcomers since the Lake of Egypt was formed in 1963. She closed with a poem, “Seasons of Life,” before the church members and guests gathered in the fellowship hall for a bountiful lunch, and more remember-whens.
Photo ID: Photo of the Bethlehem School students in 1914; Faye Johns Simmons, a student of the school, looks at old pictures; five former students of the old school included left to right, Joy Stearns Jones, Lawanda Johns Cadle, Faye Johns Simmons, June Johns Walker, and Cora Johns Childers.