Historically Speaking: My favorite teacher
I’m sure everybody can recall a favorite teacher from their early school days. There could be reasons for recalling a special teacher … Maybe they taught you for several years through several grades (as was the case often in the old-time rural schools) or perhaps they were helpful at a critical time during school years, or as in my experience, they were such a good teacher not only in the classroom, but a good instructor about life as well.
My favorite all-time teacher was Ada Balsewich (Tuchalski) who was my teacher when I was in the sixth and seventh grade at the McNaughton School. I had other teachers whom I remember, but I have more fond memories of Ms. Balsewich than any others.
Ada Balsewich was born Oct. 11, 1910 in St. Charles, Ill. into a family of six children. Her family moved to the Crescent area where she attended school in early years, followed by Rhinelander High School and then the Oneida County Normal School where she received her training in teaching.
She says she always, from a young age on, wanted to be a teacher and always played “school” with her friends. Ada taught three years at the Weideman School and two at the McNaughton School. When she taught at McNaughton, she received “room and board” at the Warekois home, which was about 3/4 of a mile from the school, and walked through all kinds of weather to school in the morning and back at night, carrying her work home – papers to correct, seatwork to be prepared and lesson plans.
I recall the many times we girls gathered around her desk and she taught us to embroider while telling the older girls the “facts of life”. Every Friday afternoon, she would set aside time to read aloud to us – I remember “Sinbad” and “Tom Sawyer” vividly. She encouraged us to enjoy reading books, and insisted on good, thorough book reports of the books we did read.
I believe my love of teaching was enhanced as a young person by her example. She cared about all her students; I can’t remember her having “favorites”, but sure was my favorite teacher, and still is. She had a boyfriend Izzy, and the girls were so excited when he would stop at the school to see her. She and Izzy were married the last day of the year, and then in the spring when school was out for the summer, she ended her teaching career, is in those days married women could no longer teach.
That rule carried was carried into the ’30s, but WWII changed the attitude about married teachers. I’m sure many of the children who were students at the McNaughton School during the years of Ms. Balsewich’s teaching will agree with me that she was a wonderful teacher and mentor to all her students.
There is a historical incident that occurred during the years that Ada was my teacher that I would like to relay. With her keen memory and a visit to her lovely apartment, I will do my best to tell you of this tale about John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1 at that time in 1934. Some of this will be my recollections and the majority will be the events as recalled by Ada herself.
Izzy was a young fellow in his early 20’s, and as most young fellows, he had a great love for fast cards and had bought himself a new 1934 Ford V8 coupe. When he came to the school just after he got the car, he asked us kids if we wanted a fast ride, as it was told that his new car would go 100 miles per hour. Of course, our teacher hesitated, and then allowed us to go for that memorable ride.
I recall that it was a fast ride, but a short one. He went up Hwy 47 from the school to the McNaughton Township and probably reached the 100 miles per hour as he turned around and came back to the school. He had to make several trips to include all the students in the school but it was something we all talked about for a long time (and something that I have never forgotten). Now comes the interesting part about Izzy’s car. One day Izzy, Ada and Izzy’s brother Mark were out driving around in his new car and decided to out to the airport (which at that time was off Coon Street where the present Armory now is located).
They saw several planes come in, and Izzy was speeding around in that area with his new car. One of the men came up to Izzy and asked if they could use his car, as they were from the Division of Investigation and John Dillinger was supposedly in the area. This man was Melvin Purvis, head of the Division. They took the car to the local Ford garage, put on their bullet-proof vests, and went up to Little Bohemia, Dillinger’s hideout.
During the skirmish with the government men, a bullet was fired into Izzy’s car at the time of the getaway; however the car was returned to him two days later. Ada showed me a letter from Mr. Purvis stating that they were sending Izzy $38.04 to pay for the blanket and overshoes that had been in the car; also for the gas (10 gallons cost $2.10); and two days of lost work (Izzy at the time worked at the paper mill – total for lost work was $7.44 for two days).
Another letter that Ada showed me, noted that a check for $91.35 was sent to Izzy to pay for the damage to his car (the bullet hole went into the car and through the seat). His car was the center of attention in Rhinelander when he had it parked on Brown Street (he and Ada had an apartment upstairs in the Hilgerman Building at that time). And back at the McNaughton School, all of us kids got to put our fingers in the hole in the car cushion (before it was repaired, of course). But what a time in history!! – and we felt close to what was happening because our teacher’s husband’s car had been involved.
Later John Dillinger was shot in Chicago coming out of a theater with “the lady in red.” The end of the life of a noted criminal! Ada remembers all these facts, and one of her young relatives had prepared for school an “excellent fact board” project describing the incident and involvement of Izzy’s car in the John Dillinger saga.
This was and is a part of history and my favorite teacher has helped me to capture these interesting details so they will not be forgotten. I want all the readers to know that I give great tribute to my favorite teacher and friends, Ada Balsewich. Thank you for being my teacher and good friend! Ada and Izzy are both now gone but the memories live on.