In 1997, students at Ridgely Elementary School, 2040 N. Eighth St., interviewed former Ridgely teacher Marguerite Beechler Soma (1894-1997). Her reminiscences were compiled and published on the school’s Alumni Day web site (in fact, the site was dedicated to her). The site is no longer maintained, although, as of October 2017, it was still readable via the Wayback Machine.
Here are Mrs. Soma’s memories, followed by an edited version of the note from Karen Thompson that brought Mrs. Soma to the attention of SangamonLink.
I started teaching at Ridgely School in September 1914. Mr. Humer was the principal. Some other teachers then were: Marie Freund, Clara Watts, Edith Sutton, Minnie Knox, Georgia Bone, Lucy Aldrich, Marguerite Jones, Ann Trutter (who left teaching and became a nurse), Laura Hiltz, Alma Shriver, Elma Peak, Frances Allen, Fatima Pond, Mildred Norton, Margaret Eddington, Mrs. Springer (a widow), Latisha Eldinge, Tony LaFauce (who taught woodcraft), and Max (can’t remember his last name), who taught physical education. The older students (junior high age) were all on the second floor, which was departmentalized. My class was fourth grade, the northwest classroom on the first floor. Al Barlick was a student at Ridgely, and sure made number one in his life work! He was a good ball player even then. Editor: Al Barlick, a major league baseball umpire for nearly 30 years, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
On schools in general then: If a teacher married during the school year, she was without a job, period. There were no married women school teachers. We received $400 a school year, $40 a month. (We didn’t have all the extras they have now.) We had to regulate our money to make it last from June 1 till October. I taught at Ridgely until 1926, when I left to get married.
Here are a few thoughts of Ridgely School:
The Shortest Day’s Work That School Ever Saw: November 11, 1918
It was the end of W.W. I. There were no TV, no radios. The newsboys had been on the streets most of the night with their Extras. Back then you either walked or rode the street cars, so we got off the car and ran to the school building, ran in and signed the registration card and back out as fast as we could to catch the next car into town. They ran every 20 minutes then. It was such a beautiful warm fall day, and everyone was downtown celebrating! That day would stay with a person forever. The next day we were back at work, and nothing was ever said about taking the day off.
It was just at the noon break. Miss Sutton, who had charge of the bells, opened her door to ring the dismissal bell, and was met with a cloud of smoke and odor of burning. She grabbed the fire alarm instead. Since everyone was ready to go anyway, the school was emptied in double quick order. My class was the first one out since we were close to the door. As soon as I had the children safely out, I ran upstairs to the teacher’s bathroom. I had worn a brand new dress to school that day because I was going to a party after school. I had changed into a school dress for teaching and had left my new dress in the bathroom. I was not about to sacrifice my new dress to the fire, so I ran up to save it! There was a fire engine house between the school and Peoria Road, but the weather had been so bad, when the engine started its trip, it sank into the mud, and never did get there. We had to depend on the engines farther away to make it on the brick pavement. Nothing much was saved, and the children and teachers were placed wherever they could find room until the building was completely renovated.
Editor: Although Mrs. Soma apparently didn’t tell her young interviewers about it, she rescued more than her new dress. The Illinois State Register’s article about the fire included this sentence: “Miss Marguerite Beechler, 328 S. Lincoln Avenue, a teacher in the school, played a prominent part in saving the school’s records.”
Ice Storm (I think it was sometime near 1920)
The rain and temperature were both falling fast, when word came to dismiss classes so the children could get home before it got too bad.
It was just before the Christmas vacation, and we were going to have a party the next day. We had made boxes and decorated them in art class. I had filled them with good candy (chocolate and such, that kids at that time didn’t buy). Anyway, before they were off the school grounds, the ice was so heavy it broke the wires, and we had a 4th of July celebration when the wires hit the ice-covered ground. We didn’t get back to school until January. The mess that met us! The mice had gotten into the candy, and it was everywhere, along with the papers they had nibbled. The mess was terrible.
Editor: This reference apparently is to the giant ice storm that struck central Illinois on Dec. 18, 1924.
In the early twenties, seeing a plane was a big deal. Whenever people heard one, they would run outside to look at it. We used to watch Lindbergh fly over a lot. (He flew the mail back and forth to and from Springfield). One day we heard this loud sound and looked out the window to see a plane come down in the field between 8th and 5th Streets. There were no homes in that section at that time. The pilot wasn’t hurt and walked away from the crash and left his plane. After school, teachers and kids hurried over to see it and to get a “souvenir” of the crash. (I didn’t go with them). I expect the pilot was surprised at how little remained of the damaged part of his plane when he returned! Editor: The date of this event couldn’t be determined.
After I married, I moved with my husband to South Bend, Indiana, then to San Diego, California. We returned to Springfield in the thirties, and I have lived here ever since. I never returned to teaching, although I did teach fifth grade for one year at St. Agnes School in 1960.
I’ll be 103 years old this coming July. I live with my daughter, Dee Nelson, at 710 S. Walnut St. in Springfield. I also have a son, John, who lives in Colorado, and a daughter Patricia Geary, who lives in Nevada.”
Marguerite Beechler Soma
From Karen Thompson: The students that year asked Mrs. Soma to be their guest of honor for the April 16, 1997 Alumni Day, but she died on March 28, 1997.
She had shared her memories by email and phone – and the students shared all of this on their webpage.
They described Mrs. Soma as “an incredible lady, articulate and witty, with a wealth of memories she recalled so vividly, it was as though she were describing events of last week, not eighty years ago.”
Hat tip: Ms. Thompson sent SangamonLink the Ridgely students’ 1997 article about Mrs. Soma after seeing a reference to the 1916 fire in Historico, the monthly newsletter of the Sangamon County Historical Society. Our thanks to her.
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