Tribune Recorder Leader

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“Digging” History and Loving It

By Jackie Salowitz
Tribune Recorder Leader

Some people try to rewrite history, some people could care less about history, and yet others thrive on finding out everything they can about it.
Brandon Starr, Palms, is one of those that is interested in finding out about the past, and has been “digging” into it since he was a teenager. He acquired his first metal detector at 16, and his fiance’ recently purchased him a new one, a Lab Equinox 800. He also uses a metal rod, called a pinpointer. Starr also has a way to remove rust from the metal, using electrolysis. He is more than willing to come and check out a location if you contact him, at 810-712-1611, and would do electrolysis if interested.
Starr has recently been using his metal detector to find metal at what was once the home of Sara O’Rourke, a school teacher of a one-room school, the McManus School, which was located on Brady Road in Wheatland Township.
Starr has come across some findings at the location – a metal spoon, a penny from the early 1900’s and an old ink bottle. When he made a post on Facebook on what he was doing at the O’Rourke property, Sue Hamill (Bowling) said, “She used to give out silver dollars for trick or treating if you were brave enough to walk down her driveway.” My husband recalled going there with his dad, delivering wood to her, She gave him five Indian head nickels. Others posted pictures. The Phil Zdrojewski family have the chalkboard that was in the school. Starr is hoping to find more neat items at the site – and maybe even a silver dollar!
Sara O’Rourke was one of four children of Thomas and Catherine O’Rourke, who were originally from Ireland. She was only one of the teachers that graced McManus School, and in the year 1924, she was teaching 34 students, grade K-8. She taught at McManus for 19 years. Sara, along with her parents and siblings are buried at St. Patrick Cemetery, Palms.
A former student of McManus School, Gerry (Lawler) Pearson, and her husband, own the property where O’Rourke lived, and Gerry has lots of childhood memories at McManus School.
She also has lots of momentos of the school, including her report cards, a ledger that Sara O’Rourke kept, and pictures.
Gerry walked to school, only a short distance, so she would go home for lunch, while others stayed at the school to eat. The kids attended school from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and had two recesses, which were outside weather permitting – from playing ball to snowfights and a game she remembers as being called Annie I Over, and of course, kick the can and hide and seek. If inside, they would play hopscotch as they could draw on the wooden floors and other game boards.

She remembers an incident when she was only in second grade, one she won’t forget. School had been left out for the day, but the teacher, Catherine Heilig, was still there. She was just returning from the outhouse, where a guy was hiding, waiting to grab her. Thankfully for her, Sara O’Rourke’s brother, Thomas, was walking down the road, and saw the car, and went to the school just in time to chase the man away. The teacher went and stayed at Gerry and her family’s house (the late Grace McEachin is Gerry’s sister), with Grace actually having to go to court to testify against the man). The lawyer for the man tried to confuse Thomas, asking about the road – was it paved, was it gravel? And Thomas replied, “No, it’s corduroy.” (The roads at that time were built with logs and then covered with dirt, giving it a corduroy look).
School was taught differently in one-room schools, as the teacher taught K-8 at one time. One day they would do English, another math, etc. As Gerry said, it was actually a good way to learn, as there was always review from grade to grade. And it must have been a good way to learn, when Gerry transferred to Deckerville, she graduated at the age of 16. Gerry had Florene Wintermute as a teacher at McManus. (Wintermute was later an elementary teacher at Deckerville Schools). Gerry also remembered as it being very scary going from a one room school to Deckerville, where there were three floors, changing classrooms and riding a bus.
Martha (Lenk) Lutat also attended McManus School. Next week, the Tribune Recorder Leader is hoping to have the opportunity to have interviewed Martha, to learn more about McManus School.

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