Missoula County High School

To get into high school back in the 1920’s in Missoula we had to pass a state examination. For days I worried about it for as I have written someplace else, my memory isn’t that good. I actually passed and entered high school in the fall of 1920. At this time it was a county high school and students came from miles away to attend.

My favorite subject was history and I loved to draw and color the numerous maps that were required, especially in Ancient History. Most of the countries we learned about have changed their names.

Another subject I enjoyed was Religion, a required course. We studied all religions, not any denomination. Because of the many references to religious subjects and people on radio, television and in literature I think it should be required now. Even comedians refer to Biblical characters, Jonah and the Whale, Samson & Delilah, Noah, etc.

Most of my four years were uneventful. Once that I can remember I made the Honor Roll and as a senior I was voted into the National Honor Society.

Instead of actually taking gym, I had to play the piano for the class to exercise, but I still had to wear my big, black, baggy bloomers.

My Spanish teacher, Jean Mair, I dearly loved. She would trust me to bank her pay check every month. She invited me to her home for lunch one day and I had my first taste of Spanish Rice. Yummy. Mother never had made anything like that. For a time she was married to the son of my music teacher, but divorced him. She visited me at 3824 Bagley one year and so met my three children and Wilbur.

Mr. Ketcham (isn’t that a good name for a principal?) had a distinctive cough and without fail he coughed at every assembly.

One Sunday as I sat in the choir at the First Presbyterian church in Seattle, I heard that cough. At the close of the service I just about ran over people looking for him but luckily dad had already found him. I was so homesick for Missoula even the principal seemed like an old friend.

Every year the high school had a carnival and one year, 1924, the Spanish Club under the direction of Miss Mair put on a cabaret act. While guests sat at little tables eating and drinking, Spanish music was played and sung. My part was singing Marquita. Miss Mair loaned me a real Spanish lace mantilla she brought back from Spain and I felt I looked really beautiful. Another year I was in the chorus of a cantata, “Yanki San”, put on for the public.

All of Montana was proud that the first woman in Congress, Jeannette Rankin, was from our state. Hoping that I would get a glimpse of her (and once I did) I would stop by to walk to school with one of my classmates, her niece, with whose family Miss Rankin stayed. I also walked to school with Mary Jo Dixon, daughter of Montana’s governor.

My most embarrassing moment occurred when two of us were sent to Great Falls to represent our school in the State Music Meet. My friend and I stayed at the home of a wealthy family who had a butler. I had read about such people but I was awed at actually seeing a live one. One night at dinner he was standing behind me when a piece of meat I was cutting flew off my plate and over my shoulder, landing in front of him. I could have died right there. The rest of the dinner was tasteless. If I had tried to perform such a trick I could never have done it. And to this day I can’t understand how it happened.

I have never been good at memorizing or even remembering names of musical pieces even though I have played them hundreds of times, and that was what I had to do at the Music Meet. Several measures of a piece would be played and I was to name the piece. For days before the Meet I met with Mrs. Price, a prominent musician in Missoula, and she worked and worked with me. Because of her help I actually took second place in this music memory contest.

The outstanding event during the Music Meet for me was the concert by Paderewski that I attended. It was wonderful! I can still see him stamping his foot back and forth, back and forth.

While my friend and I waited at the depot in Great Falls we bought ourselves bouquets of roses to impress people as we got off the train in Missoula. We also dared to buy a True Romance magazine which neither of us was allowed to read at home. We were so afraid someone would see us reading it! Compared to our literature today it would be respectable reading and it really wasn’t bad then – just trashy. We left the magazine on the train.

Because of her ill health Mother was never able to attend programs I was in. I missed her most when the National Honor Society students were announced at the last assembly of the year and all the parents except mine were introduced. I know she was proud of me. Nor did she attend the cantata or carnival. Because of this I never missed any of my children’s performances or programs. And I didn’t my grandchildren’s if I knew about them. After working all day it wasn’t easy always but I wouldn’t have missed them for anything. And I am attending programs and Back-to-school nights of my great-grandchildren.

Our high school auditorium in Missoula was the largest in town so world-renowned people gave concerts there. The one I remember especially was the concert by Schumann-Heinck. I’ll never forget her singing “Danny Boy.” When she left the auditorium I was standing so close I could smell her perfume and her clothes touched me! And she smiled at me!

I was never tardy but once in my senior year. Fred met me on my way to school one beautiful, sunny spring morning and we went out riding in the country. When I went to the office for a permit to get into class I wasn’t asked why I was late. They just gave it to me. I guess my reputation must have been pretty good.

On June 12, 1924, I played the Processional March by Holleander for the eighteenth Commencement of Missoula County High School. My program was scribbled all over by a fellow with whom I was going named Uriel, even though I was engaged to someone else who evidently wasn’t there, Fred Zabell. Dad and Mother didn’t like Fred so they enrolled me at Linfield College in Oregon hoping he would be forgotten. But it wasn’t the end of Fred.


Comment by Viola Allan re Paderewski: Mother took me to see a movie of Paderewski when I was little because she wanted me to hear him. I enjoyed it very much and still can see one of the scenes in my mind. It had to do with his kindness to a youngish boy.