My favorite teacher
…and her up close history lesson
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
I’m sure everyone can recall a favorite teacher from early school days. There could be many reasons for recalling a special teacher. Maybe she taught you for several years through several grades (as was the case often in the old-time rural schools) or perhaps she was helpful to you at a critical time in your school years, or, as is my experience, she was a good teacher not only in the classroom, but taught me a lot about life. My favorite all-time teacher was Ada Balsewich (Tuchalski) who was my sixth and seventh grade teacher at the McNaughton School. I had other teachers whom I do remember, but I have more fond memories of “Miss Balsewich” than any others.
Ada Balsewhich was born October 11, 1910 in St. Charles, Illinois, into a family of six children. Her family moved up into the Crescent area and she attended school in Crescent, later Rhinelander High School and then the Oneida County Normal School where she received her training to be a teacher. She says she always, from a young girl on, wanted to be a teacher and always played “school” with her friends. Ada taught three years at the Weideman School and two years at the McNaughton School. When she taught at the McNaughton School she had room and board at the Warekois home, which was about three-quarters of a mile from the school, and walked through all kinds of weather to the 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 and also told us older girls the “facts of life.” Each 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 those 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 favorite students, but she sure was my favorite teacher…and still is.
She had a boyfriend, Izzy, and we 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 that school year she ended her teaching career; in those days when you were married you could no longer teach. That rule carried up into the 1930’s but the Second World War changed the attitude about married teachers. She was a wonderful teacher and mentor to all her students, but there was more to Miss Balsewich.
There is an historical incident that occurred during the years that Ada was my teacher that I would like to relate. 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 #1 at that time, 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 20s and had a great love for fast cars. He 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 the 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 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. It was something we talked about for a long time, and something that I have never forgotten. Now comes the interesting part of the story about Izzy’s car. One day Izzy, Ada and Izzy’s brother, Mark were out driving around in Izzy’s car and decided to go out to the airport (which at that time was off Coon Street where the Armory is now located). They saw several planes land, and one of the men getting off the plane asked Izzy 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 Ford garage, put on their bullet-proof vests and went up to Little Bohemia, Dillinger’s hideout. During the skirmish a bullet was fired into Izzy’s car. The car was returned to him two days later. A letter from Mr. Purvis stated that they were sending Izzy $38.04 to pay for the blanket and overshoes that had been in the car; also for the gas (ten gallons at a cost of $2.10) and two days lost work (Izzy was working at the paper mill here and total for lost work was $7.44 for two days). Another letter noted that a check for $91.35 was sent to Izzy to pay for the damage to his car; the bullet hole into the car and through the seat. His car was the center of attention in Rhinelander when he had it parked on Brown Street, where he and Ada had an upstairs apartment in the Hilgerman Building. And back at the McNaughton School, all of us kids had to put our fingers in the hole in the car cushion. What a time in history! We felt close to what was happening because our teacher’s husband’s car was involved. Later John Dillinger was shot in Chicago coming out of a theater with “the lady in red.” It was the end of the life of a noted criminal; a piece of local history that will not be forgotten thanks to my favorite teacher, Ada Balsewich Tuchalski.