Memories engulfed Margaret Robb when she read about eighth-grade graduation in 1953 at old Memorial Hall in the Register’s “A look back in time” column.
“I was there,” Robb said.
“That was quite a thing then,” Robb continued, recalling how eighth-grade students participated in graduation exercises. She even has a photo of Daphne Horine, whose husband, Ennor, was superintendent of Iola schools, handing her a diploma as she graduated from North Maple country school.
North Maple was five miles north of Iola and about a mile and half from where Robb lived. The children of about a dozen families congregated each day in the one-room school, facing a stage where small plays often were performed.
“The teacher (Mrs. Beatrice Shapel) sat at the back of the room behind a big desk,” Robb reminisced. “Our desks were fastened to the floor, which was black from all the oil used time after time to clean it. You didn’t dare talk or do anything out of line — you knew Mrs. Shapel was watching.”
A bucket, filled with water from a nearby well, sat in a corner of the room with a dipper that all students used whenever thirst struck.
“In the winter, we had a big, round stove that burned coal or wood,” she said, one of those that left the side next to it toasty, the other side not so warm.
“The first thing we did each morning was take our coats and lunches to our cloak room, one for the boys and another for the girls,” Robb said. “Then we had the flag salute and recited the Lord’s Prayer. I think kids would be better off today if they still did those things in school.”
The rest of the day was devoted to reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as geography and spelling.
The dress code was strict, and enforced.
“Girls wore dresses to school every day,” Robb said, “but boys got to wear jeans or overalls. When it was cold, we girls could wear snow pants, but we had to take them off as soon as we got to school. On real cold days you’d about freeze to death.”
At recess, the kids streamed outdoors to play work-up — where batters stay in place until an out is made — and all sorts of games. They also had swings and teeter-totters.
One swing set, with oil field drill rods instead chains holding it to the A-frame, proved Robb’s undoing.
“We knew not to run and jump in because of a cracked rod, but I did,” she recalled with a grimace. She fell and broke an ankle, which led to her getting teased a lot because she had to sit on a chaise lounge instead of at her desk for several days.
AS A YOUTH, Robb was sickly.
She had a bone disease that required four surgeries before she was old enough to attend school and she also was born “very, very nearsighted,” Robb said. “Until I got glasses, I couldn’t see anything clearly that was more than eight inches or so in front of me. I could distinguish people and things, but couldn’t tell who or what they were.”
Glasses opened a new world to Robb, one that she has seized with zeal ever since.
“I quickly learned to love to read and I still do,” she said.
North Maple School was more than a seat of learning.
“We put on plays, had a Christmas program every year and had pie suppers,” one of which left Robb so distraught, “I wanted to die.”
She was in seventh grade when her mother fixed a special pie box, one that Robb hoped would go to Bubby Roberts, a neighborhood boy who had caught her eye. Instead, “Lloyd Hook got it. I was so embarrassed; Mom made me stay and eat with Lloyd.”
AFTER eighth grade, Robb went to town to enroll as a freshman at Iola High School.
John Robb took a liking to the new girl from the country and before she finished high school they were married.
Son Steve, city superintendent in Gas, was born the year she would have graduated from Iola High, and 18 years later, when he was due to graduate high school, Robb decided it was time to complete her secondary schooling.
“I went out to the junior college and enrolled in the GED (general education development) program,” she said.
She and Steve received their high school diplomas days apart. Robb has three other children, all living in the Iola area: Melinda Smoot and Tim and Joe Robb.
Her husband owned and operated Bestway Campers in Gas for years, which gave Robb an opening to put her education use. She helped with the business and, over time, refitted a room for sewing, a vocation she had mastered during her years of housewife duties.
“I started sewing full time,” and hasn’t slowed, said Robb, 74. “I don’t know how many weddings I’ve done — everything from the bride’s gown, to bridesmaids’ dresses, flowergirl and mother of the bride”
In addition to doing wedding gowns from a bolt of cloth to finished product, Robb helps “girls with the gowns they buy. Many of them fit nicely in the waist and hips, but are too big up here,” she said, motioning across her bosom. “I make them fit.”
She also fell in love with local theater when she was asked to create costumes for Iola Community Theatre and Iola High plays.
“That’s my love today,” she said of costume design and their sewing.
“When Richard (Spencer) was doing the high school play (“Grease”), he called one day and said, ‘I need some help,’” which put Robb quickly behind her sewing machine. She soon had costumes completed.