Guest Column: Remembering Franklin School in the ’30s

I’m going to talk about people who influenced my life, namely teachers. Since I can’t limit myself to one because I had what I would call many exceptional teachers.

Let’s start with grade school. On the northeast corner of Park Avenue and North Court Street, where the parking lot of Emmanuel Episcopal Church is now located, once stood Franklin School. It is safe to say it was probably Rockford’s only downtown public school.

I wish I had taken pictures of it before it was demolished in the 1970s, after nearly an 80-year run.

The building was erected in 1857 and was called West Rockford High School because it included grades one through 12. In 1884, it became exclusively an elementary school. Later in the century (1892), it underwent major renovation and alteration and was renamed Franklin School. This was after Lincoln Jr. High School was built on the east side of town in the 1920s. In 1971, it was closed and torn down a few years later.

Many times over, I can thank Miss Ingrassia, who taught me math that I have never forgotten. Multiplication tables—flash cards—old-fashioned drill—who says they don’t work? I feel sorry for young people today who would find it difficult to count back correct change from a $5 bill.

Then there was Miss Fosse, my home room teacher. She was very dignified and very kind, and I believe she practiced tough love before the phrase was ever coined. Some of us came from immigrant homes where another language was spoken. In my case, it was Lithuanian. My best friend was of Greek parentage. In today’s language, you would say we were mainstreamed.

After a bout with measles and missing school for what seemed an eternity, I timidly walked up to Miss Fosse’s desk and asked if I would pass to the next grade, 5th or 6th, if I recall. She assured me that I would.

Miss Mathre was our music teacher, and the special room boasted a piano and phonograph. We had the most wonderful song book called The Golden Book of Song. It contained Christmas carols, songs about the old West, folk songs and spirituals. We sang, and Miss Mathre accompanied us on the piano. A record she often played for us was “Ballad for Americans” sung by Paul Robeson. How sad that this gifted black artist lived during a time when discrimination, and worse, was tolerated.

It was a special treat when the WPA Orchestra, directed by Joe Copeland, came to perform. How remarkable that our government saw fit to pay a stipend to artists and musicians during the Depression so they could continue to work.

Such is my memory of Franklin Elementary, perhaps embellished, certainly not complete, but a precious memory nevertheless.

Genevieve Sandona is a lifelong resident of Rockford.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!