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Local view: So much to be thankful for this season

A friend who knew I loved to write suggested I write something during the Christmas season on what Christmas has meant to me. I couldn't help but think of the good luck I've had in my 93 years, and not only at Christmastime but the whole year round.

I was born white and male, first of all. I crossed Rondo Avenue in St. Paul as a grade school kid in the 1930s, well aware that black people then were supposed to know their place. Sadly, that hasn't changed as much as it should have in all these years. And women may have won the right to vote in the early 1920s, but they still don't have equal rights.

I was brought up mainly on a backwoods, hilly dairy farm nine miles west of Menomonie, Wis., as an only child. I learned hard work during the Great Depression since we survived from sales from hand-milking dairy cows. The cows required feed, water (hand-pumped from a well), and cleaning. Our toilet wasn't modern; it was a two-holer about 45 feet from the house. We used Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs for toilet tissue. New holes were dug every few years.

I learned to eat what was on the table, which was what was provided by my mother, as best as she could, given our financial limitations. Raising a good garden was not a hobby then; it was a necessity.

In grade school, I was fortunate to have a teacher named Marian Lynch, who had a public library card and brought me books. The public schools didn't have many books then; education was financed too much on low local taxation.

I was lucky that a neighbor farmer's son had access to a family car and was willing to take me to Menomonie High School my first year — after morning chores and in time for evening chores, of course.

A major break for this farm youngster came when agricultural high schools were introduced and Menomonie received one. Bus transportation was provided, so we farm kids could still do morning and evening chores. Required classes were held primarily in the mornings, leaving time for electives and sports after lunch and before the buses took us back home. I got proficient in writing for the school paper. I acted in school plays. And I played basketball and softball and boxed.

I enlisted in World War II for the opportunity to prevent the killing of Jews.

As a veteran, I benefited from the G.I. Bill for an education, including tuition, books, and $75 a month. I also worked and was able to earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.

My wife Jean talked me into signing up with a teacher-placement agency. This was in my senior year. I did so against my better judgment since I wasn't certified yet. After a couple of weeks I received a telephone call from the superintendent of schools in Poplar, Mont., to come mid-year. I told him I wasn't eligible yet, but he said the state department would approve. Jean and I went. I finished getting certified with correspondence and summer courses.

And I ended up teaching six years in secondary education, serving 13 years as a superintendent, and working 19 years as a college professor, including at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Christmas is a season to be thankful. I, for one, have a very lot to be thankful for!

Bernie Hughes

Bernie Hughes of Superior is professor emeritus of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

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