Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sylwester Family's Arrival

My father Robert Sylwester had attended and graduated from Concordia College in Seward and then returned to Portland, Oregon, where he had grown up and his family still lived. (His father had founded Concordia College in Portland.) He married my mother, Ruth Maier, who had grown up in Eugene, Oregon. My father taught at Lutheran elementary schools in Oregon and then obtained his Masters and Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Oregon, in Eugene. After he received his Doctorate, he was hired into the faculty at Concordia College in Seward, beginning in 1959.

By that time my mother had given birth to and was raising five children. First came I, and then came Steve, Tim, Tricia and Larry. My mother already was pregnant with the next one, Peter. Concordia College in Seward provided homes to its faculty members and so had to provide a home to our large family. The only available home was located several miles outside of Seward, at a place called Middle Creek. This home was right next to a small but active Lutheran church, a one-room Lutheran school and a cemetery. Otherwise the home was surrounded by farming fields.

The cemetery, parsonage house and church of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Middle Creek, Nebraska. The photo is taken from
Immanuel Lutheran Church in Middle Creek, Nebraska. The photo is taken from
The cemetery at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Middle Creek, Nebraska. The photo is taken from

We moved into this house in October 1959 and lived there for one year. I attended second grade in that one-room school, which had one teacher who taught students from first through eighth grades. There were two or three students in each grade. I have many happy memories from that unusual educational experience.

Since our house was located right next to the school, all the students were familiar with my mother, who spent a lot of time hanging up laundry on the clotheslines outside. Several of my older schoolmates remarked to me that my mother soon would give birth to a baby. I was vaguely aware that she would give birth because of remarks my parents made within the household, but I was mystified at how my classmates knew this secret. Of course, they could see that my mother was pregnant, but this evidence was not so clear to me, because my mother had been pregnant almost all the time I had seen her during my life. Anyway, my schoolmates’ prediction came true, and my mother gave birth to my new brother Peter on January 1, 1960, the first child born in Seward County in the 1960s.

One major activity in our one-room school was learning to sing songs. We learned to sing The Star Spangled Banner and a lot of Stephen Foster songs – Camptown Races, I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, My Old Kentucky Home, Oh Susannah, Old Black Joe, Old Folks at Home, Short’nin Bread. We practiced these songs so much that I still remember them well.

One day, our one-room’s school’s entire student body traveled into town to a huge school to participate in a music festival in the gymnasium. This was a fantastic experience, because the gymnasium was filled with hundreds of students who knew the same songs. I still remember this huge crowd of children singing in loud, joyful unison my favorite song:

Mammy's little baby loves short'nin', short'nin' --
Mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread!

That was my first memory of visiting St. John’s school, and it already seemed to me on that brief occasion to be a wonderful place full of happy children.

After school and on the weekends in Middle Creek, I didn’t have any friends outside my family. I never visited any of my schoolmates’ homes and none of them ever visited my home. My entire social life was confined to my family.

During the summer between my second and third grades, in the summer of 1960, my family was given a house in Seward, and so we would move from Middle Creek. My parents were ecstatic to move from Middle Creek, but I was heartbroken to leave that one-room school, where I loved my teacher and schoolmates. I cried the sorriest tears in the history of the world and begged to stay, but my parents assured me that I would love our new school and neighborhood. They reminded me about how much I had enjoyed the music festival and how many children I had seen there.

We moved into Faculty Lane House 1. (In the distant past, this house had been occupied by the college’s first president, George Weller. Then it was occupied for a long time by Professor Henry Koenig, who taught art. He was a bachelor who lived there alone, and he decorated his home with many art pictures that covered all the walls and tables. My father had studied art under Dr. Koenig, who sometimes took his classes to see the art in his home. My father thus had been in this home as a college student, not foreseeing that he himself eventually would live there.)

Soon after we moved onto Faculty Lane, my mother gave birth to my family’s youngest child, Andy. Then our family numbered nine – two parents, three boys, one girl, and three boys. I think we were the largest family on Faculty Lane.

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