Oral Histories

Blankenagel, Norma P.



For several years school was held in the LDS Church building on the town site. That town site is just north of where the LDS church now stands. This building had a stage, curtains, and dressing rooms on either side of the stage. It had a partial basement with two rooms, a furnace room, and a Relief Society room, with a cook stove. Grade school, plus two years of high school were taught in this building. This historic building was used as a church and school until it was condemned. In 1927, a two-room frame building was erected about a 100 yards south of the church. This was still on the old town site. It was moved to the present town of La Sal and, in 1956, because of the uranium boom, a large addition was added to it, giving the school a multi-purpose room with a stage. Later another section was added, giving the school another two school rooms. But the original building was heated with a little potbellied stove, which had to be stoked up every morning by the teacher. He would get it going early so it would be warm enough for the students, when they arrived. The various families would chop up wood and bring it to the school, so the teacher would have a box full of wood. Those old potbelly stoves were good old heaters though. They had isinglass square windows on them, and you could see the flames flickering. It is quite a chore in addition to teaching sometimes as many as six grades. That potbelly stove was replaced by a furnace that heats the whole building now. It is so efficient. Up in the old CCC building, I remember going to church there. At first they had a potbelly stove, then they had butane and propane heaters and we would be almost hot from the waist up, and our feet would be freezing from the draft in the building. It was difficult.

School was held for a short time in 1956 at an old white CCC building, which had been used by the LDS Church as a chapel. This was necessary, while the new addition was built on the original square school. CCC is short for the Civilian Conservation Corps that was begun by Franklin D. Roosevelt to give unemployed men, during the depression, a place of gainful employment.

Before the uranium boom it was hard to get enough students in La Sal to merit one teacher. During the boom, there were as many as four teachers, teaching up to eighth grade students. Before the boom of the fifties, a few high school students would drive themselves to Moab to attend high school. With the population influx of the fifties, a school bus was driven from La Sal to Monticello. Later, in 1979, two buses were used to haul children to Monticello school, and over 100 students rode those buses. So, La Sal has had quite an interesting history.

This influx of people caused the tiny two-room school house at La Sal to groan. While the new edition was being completed in the fall of 1956, three classes of children were taught in a makeshift CCC building which belonged to the LDS Church. And that CCC building was our first decent church. It was given to us by the government, because they figured that if it was being used as a church building we shouldn’t have to pay for it. It was on Charley Redd’s land, so he gave us the land to put it on. When we built a better church, we let that go back to Charley, so he owned that CCC building. But the next church we had was there at the Wilcox corner. It was a Cord Company bunkhouse. I can remember how thrilled we were to get a kitchen stove from San Miguel Power. They serviced us in La Sal at that time. They said: “For the church, it’s yours.” It was one of the finest stoves I had ever seen. It was so nice to have a stove that we could have pot luck dinners, and luncheons,and cook rolls and anything we wanted. So it was really a kind gesture to the people of La Sal.

Going back to the CCC building that belonged to the LDS Church, we asked if we couldn’t use the building for a school. There has been kind of a reciprocal thing in La Sal, that school was held in the old La Sal Church, on the town site, for many years. So the Church was glad to let us use the Church during the week for a school building. I taught one of these classes, and the interesting part is how the children would seat themselves, then push their desks together, touching, then another group would sit down all around them and push their desks in, and so on, until the whole room would be filled with desks and nobody could move but the outside ones, and they were right up against the walls or the curtain. While the addition was being put on at La Sal, we had two curtains dividing one big room into three school rooms. I taught 42 students, of three grades, in that room in that situation. That is fifth, sixth, and seventh, and you can’t find rowdier children than junior high, and it was my first year teaching. It was fun and a challenge. There was no bathroom in that building, no water or any sort for drinking. If a student in the middle had to go to the bathroom, every student in the classroom had to move his desk, which would be very disturbing for the other two classes across the curtains. Then we would all have to move back, when the kid got back from the school house bathroom. It was interesting, but the children were just crushed so close together that no one could even move. This went on until January the following year. That would be 1957, when the beautiful new facility of three new rooms was completed. Actually it was one large assembly room, divided in one end by a movable wall, which would close off the eighth grade (and eventually he took my fifth grade). Part of the reason I had such a hard time, is that I had many students in the sixth and seventh grades that could not read or write. The reason is that the miners would move so often, sometimes three and four times in a year, and the children would miss school and never get the fundamentals of reading and writing. It was quite a challenge to try to teach these children. In fact, one young man, a seventh grader, his name was Richard, signed everything with an RIC. I realized that he couldn’t read or write, but he could do math. Anything else was just kind of scribbled on. I offered to teach him. He lived in our Rattlesnake Trailer Court. But he said “No, my dad is a miner and he gets well paid. I’ll just be a miner, then I won’t have to read.” I said to him, “How are your going to get a driver’s license when you turn sixteen?” He was fifteen then. He said “Oh, I’ll figure it out some way.” They moved a short time after that. I saw him later in Santaquin, a great big husky fellow. I asked him “Did you ever get your driver’s license?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well what did you have to do?” “I had to sit in third grade for half a year, so I could learn to read.” So he was wishing he had let me teach him when he was younger. He said it was pretty hard to be picked out and put in a third grade room with such little kids, and not be able to do as well as they did. It was really a challenge to him. I wanted to retain him another year but, at that time, it was mandatory that all children be passed to the next grade. It was called a “social pass.” He wasn’t anywhere near ready for eighth grade, much less high school.

Read the other Oral Histories