Local author Helen Boertje recently published a book, When One Room Fit All, the country schools of Marion County, IA.
Her book can be purchased at the Scholte House, the Vermeer Windmill, and the Sanctuary bookstore in Pella; at the Marion County Historical Society and The Next Chapter bookstore in Knoxville; and the Visitors Center at Lake Red Rock. The book can also be ordered through Amazon or its Pella publisher, The Write Place.
Boertje has spent several years researching information and found records for 145 different schools that once existed in Marion County over time. When she started school in the fall of 1938 there were still 101 schools in operation.
From township to township the book shows the location of each school with a township map. There is a list of teachers for each school, excerpts from old newspapers, and personal stories told to her by former students and teachers. An appendix lists the teachers and the schools where they taught.
Beginning in the spring of 2008 and ending in early 2012, The Pella Chronicle published one of her school stories every other week. From May 2009 until July 2010 the Knoxville Journal also published several school stories. Many Chronicle readers will remember Helen as the author of the weekly column “From a Small Farm” which she began writing after her retirement as the Pella High biology teacher in 1992.
Helen graduated from Pella High in 1950 and Central College in 1954. At the time no “how to write” courses were offered in either school. She credits her high school English teachers with awakening her interest in writing by assigning a weekly essay. She learned journalism techniques when one of the teachers invited her to become part of the newspaper staff. They met during lunch hours to put the Pelladium together. An English major in college, Helen took numerous literature courses, all of which required three term papers per semester. During college she was a feature editor for the Central Ray.
A year or two before Helen’s husband died in the fall of 2008, he encouraged her to attend the Marion County Writers Workshop “because”, he said,” I don’t think you’re writing very much anymore. And you need to write.” Geared primarily toward fiction writing, under the leadership of facilitator Dr. Mike Van Natta, this group meets weekly to read and critique each others’ writing. Although she read only one of her first school stories to her fellow writers-- just to make sure she was writing appropriately for a historical non-fiction book-- she says participating in the group has honed her writing skills for all kinds of writing. “It’s my support group,” she said. Her next big writing goal is to complete the history book on the Porterville neighborhood where she grew up.