MaryLou Kristensen taught in rural Nebraska schools and saved her money to earn ateaching degree from Nebraska Teachers College, now the University of Nebraskaat Kearney.
She's 82-years-old now and among a dwindling number of ruralteachers who remember the days when one-room schools dotted the Nebraskacountryside, when rural teachers overcame many hardships to educate generationsof Nebraskans.
UNKwants people for generations to come to remember these teachers and has createda new scholarship program in their honor called One Room, One Teacher.Donations to the University of Nebraska Foundation in support of the programwill fund scholarships for future teachers.
Contributorswill then have their name or the name of a person they are honoring permanentlydisplayed on the One Room, One Teacher wall of honor at UNK. Many of those whowill be honored are graduates of UNK, but the university also wants to honornon-alumni. Anyone who taught in a rural school in Nebraska is eligible for thehonor, and individual schools may also be recognized.
MaryLou enjoys telling her children about her experience teaching in a countryschool. One of her sons grew up to become an educator himself: Doug Kristensen,the chancellor of UNK.
Aboutthe university's efforts to recognize rural teachers and schools ChancellorKristensen said, "We'll be able to remember the heritage of where educationbegan in this state and what really made it strong, and I think there's anumber of people who will feel really good and have a passion about one of thestrongest Nebraska traditions, that of the country school."
Thoseone-room schools played a big role in the history of UNK, which opened itsdoors in 1905. It was called the Nebraska State Normal School back then, andits mission was to prepare teachers for rural Nebraska. In the century since,UNK has educated and prepared more than 20,000 teachers, according to Ed Scantling,dean of the College of Education.
"TheOne Room, One Teacher program is an opportunity to pay tribute to thosewonderful teachers from all across the state of Nebraska in rural communityschools," Scantling said.
MaryLou Kristensen, who also attended a one-room school as a student beforeteaching in them, plans to give to the One Room, One Teacher effort.
"Ithink it's terrific," she says. "I just think those schools played a vital partin the history of our state."
Shehas researched the one-room schools of Kearney County and says this countyalone used to have 69 one-room schools, spread evenly across the land, so moststudents didn't have to walk or ride their horse more than three miles to reachone. Few of those buildings remain, she says, except for the ones people haveturned into as garages, sheds or quaint country homes.
Anothergoal of UNK's One Room, One Teacher effort is to help preserve the stories andhistory of rural education.
UNKalumna Doris Murray of Axtell, Neb., who turned 90 this year, was pleased tolearn her alma mater was interested in learning from her what it was like yearsago to teach in a country school.
"Ifsomething popped up that wasn't quite satisfactory you had to learn how to dealwith it and go right on, because you were the only one in the building," saidMurray about the type of person it took to teach in rural Nebraska.
Shetaught in one-room schools for 17 years in Phelps and Buffalo counties anddidn't stop teaching until retiring in 1987.
Whenasked what made teaching in a rural school special to her, she said, "Well, Iwas in charge. I was the nurse, I was the janitor. I was the teacher of course.The children they were all so good and so willing to learn."
"AndI loved recess."
Those whowish to learn more about the One Room, One Teacher Scholarship program and howto participate can go to unk.edu/academics/coe/oneroom. Those interestedin participating or learning more may also contact Tracy Lungrin at theUniversity of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216 or 308-698-5278.