Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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JEANETTE THACH

Contributed by: Karen Mitchell
Interviewed by Elaine Baker
Jeanette Faris Thach, born 12-11-1910
Parents - John Asperidon Said Faris and Louise Saliba Faris
Maternal grandparents - Saloom Saliba and Hanna Saliba
Paternal grandparents - J. Faris Hiedor (Hydor)
Ethinic group - Lebanese or Phoenicians
Family origin - Lebanon, Mediteranean shores
Date of family arrival in County - 1889 Great Uncles Salomon Saliba and Jacob John Saliba
Location of first family settlement - Walsenburg and Trinidad

September 25, 1979
Topic - Schools

JT: Elaine, today is September 25, 1979, and we are sitting in your office on 7th street. And we are going to discuss schools.

When I try to recall what my first day of teaching was, it was at Talpa, later known as Farisita, in the school, when my teachers, neither one could be there due to a snowstorm. I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. They phoned my father and asked him to send me to school and try to conduct what I could of the school and record who was there. I did that all day and no teachers came. The children did mind me even though many were older than I, and I managed to keep everybody sort of busy.

We all copied....remembered what our teachers had told us to do. At the end of the day I went home, after locking the school, and told my parents that I had taught school all day, which was a child's great ambition, to be a teacher.

All my life I'd wanted to be a teacher. So when the teachers got back and school was going as usual, the teachers said, "Now you did earn a dollar, didn't you?" And I earned my first dollar teaching school when I was about 11 years old. But the school was still in one piece and the books were there. It was a thrilling and exciting thing, having taught school for one day. Because it was a snowy day not all the pupils were there that day, but we used to have 50 or 60 students at the little Farisita school.

When the weather got better and the teachers got back to school everything was organized. I was thanked for keeping order. So my whole life's ambition began in kind of an accidental way.

When I was 17 years old and had graduated from high school, my mother sent me to Greeley to Colorado State Teacher's College. I was so happy to finally be enrolled in a school that was going to prepare me to be a teacher. But within 6 months my mother became very, very sick and the doctors said they didn't thing she'd live. However, she lived for 27 more years but whe was never able to really come back and conduct the business of our store or ranch or sheep or the post office or anything. When they informed me how sick she was, my aunt told me that I had to leave school and go to Denver and see about my mother. The doctor said, "You may as well know now, your mother may die and if she doesn't die and lives she'll never be quite the same, because she had some strokes."

So my girl-friends at Greeley helped me pack and get on the train and I cried like a baby because I was leaving some of the finest friends I'd I made, my first experience of living in a dormitory, and having all the friends and going to college and all that.

On the way home on the train, I guess, I cried because my whole life sort of changed with the doctor's statement that my mother would no longer be able to make a living for us.

I did finally get home to Farisita on a cold, cold, windy day. I'll never forget, March 8, 1930, I believe it was, or 1929 that's when it was, March 8, 1929, when all the world was sort of in a depression. It was very, very bad times. The man that took me home was my old Sunday school teacher, named Ralph See and he dropped me off in front of the Farisita store. I walked in and the store had been vandalized. All the things that I recalled being on the shelves in a neat way were thrown on the floor. Some of them were empty boxes of shoes and bolts of yard goods and many boxes of goods and the shelves were practically empty, because my mother had been sick and no one had been there to give people what they wanted. And the honest ones left little charge accounts, and tried to pay for what they took, and the other people were just like yound wild people would be, went in, and just sort of destroyed things.

I walked through the house, and because my mother had been sick for about a week or ten days and was taken to the hospital in Denver, my brothers had been neglected. There was no one there to take care of them. The dishes and the bedding and everything was just in one horrible mess.

Instead of just standing there crying in a cold and lonesome house, I decided I had better find out where my brothers were. So when I went to the back door to call for them, there they were at the woodpile, trying to chop wood, Joe Edward, my youngest brother, must have been 7 or 8 years old, and he ran toward me and hugged and kissed me, "There's Jeanette. Now we can eat! Come on James, she's gonna cook for us." They were hungry. And our little store that had been full of groceries and food, this whole scene was just terrible. It was a very hard experience; Not knowing how to cook was a very bad thing. And the boys wanted all kinds of good things for supper. "Can you make some biscuits?" And the other one wanted spaghetti. I did try to cook spaghetti, which came out raw and didn't have the right kind of sauce because I just dumped a can of tomatoes into it. But we sat down and ate. I decided to teach my brothers; the first thing was to say thanks for the food before them not to forget that. Then I scrubbed their faces and made a fire in the fireplace and put them to bed and had them say prayers that our mother would get well and that everything would be all right.

I could hardly wait for the next morning to come to start out cleaning and putting the kitchen and the store and the whole house back in order.

I didn't stop, I don't think, for about four months, trying to make order, out of a big mess. I barely had everything all straightened out when the school board came. The members of the school board were three very fine men Candido Garcia, whom you've heard about on some of the tapes, Evaristo Aguirre, and Mr. Abram Medina, and they all three came to the store and said they wanted to see me. It was time for me to consider teaching.

I said, I wasn't capable of teaching that I hadn't finisned, and they said, Oh, yes we called the superintendent and we want you to teach temporarily and then you can manage." With my six months of school that was hardly enough, I didn't think but I started teaching that fall.

I managed to get someone to take care of the store and the postoffice. My mother was postmaster at the time and that was a delicate thing, but I was named an assistant postmaster legally by the post office inspector so that was legal, and I did a few other things, which was get someone to manage the farming, so I could go teach.

My part of the school was the upper grades room and I was supposed to be the principal, although the teacher was about 20 years older than I, she resented me being the principal of the school over her. I can't remember her name, but she was a long-time, wonderful teacher. She tolerated me. But I loved to teach, and so I was trying to teach the children the way I'd been taught by teachers through the years.

I was very, very, happy doing the teaching. The first year I taught I was rewarded by a raise for the next year and that went on for quite a few years, teaching in Farisita, and trying to run the store and the ranch and all the other things.

I must have worked about 20 hours a day, doing the Post Office records at night and making school reports and accounts and doing the things that needed to be done in a business like that.

But in teaching the children who were rally eager to learn I will say that the pleasure was all mine. Everything I wanted them to learn they seemed to be eager to learn. Sometimes we all learned together. If it was a book I hadn't read, and it was new, a new textbook, we all had fun reading it at the same time together. Now that isn't the kind of teaching most people did.

But first of all I want to tell you that the children came to school not knowing too much English if they had not been in school before. So I'd have to speak to them first in Spanish and have them understand, and by the way, that was against the law. I did want to tell you that Spanish was not allowed to be spoken on the school grounds and it was hard to get around that, because first you had to tell a child what the words in English would be and that was mostly for the first ones entering school who had just left the home where nothing but Spanish was spoken. And they learned that you can't just say, "May I leave the room?" That means that you have permission to go out. And I did some simple teaching first of the English words that they needed for everyday. Like if we were going to play ball, "Pelota" is a ball, and to interpret the words back into English that way they were going to use most in their outside world, was what I tried to teach on the schoolground, especially, but not so much inside of the school room, because it really was not allowed, Spanish wasn't.

You can imagine how hard it was to teach English without interpreting for these spanish speaking children. At the end of each term my pupils who were eighth graders managed to pass the state and county required eighth grade test, which is one time the County Superintendent and the state sent out questions, but they could afford it.

But out of that schoolroom, I like to point to the children who grew up and are leaders around the country. I always tried to inspire them to do their very best no matter where they were or what kind of a job they found themselves in. Even though their parents didn't have money to send them to high school or to college, I'd tell them they could always get a job somewhere helping somebody for their board and room. And I'm very proud to point back to some outstanding people who were once my pupils. I don't think they got too much formal education, but they made their way around so that when World War II came some of my pupils were honored for being outstanding soldiers.

Later on, I think, I managed not to teach because too many things were going on. I had gotten married to Bill Thach and was living in Billings, Montana, when a friend of mine said, "Since you don't like to play bridge every day, or go to the golf course with the rest of us women, or just sit around, how would you like to spend your time teaching crippled children at the handicapped school?" It was a noted school at that time, all over the Northwest for crippled children to be able to go to the Hospital school. There were children all degrees and types of crippling, and so many were in wheel chairs. So I offered my services as a volunteer/teacher in that school. And because they had to follow state regulations for female teachers, they told me I had to get a state of Montana certificate for teachers and I applied for one even though I had those many years of experience as a teacher. They didn't give me a whole class, I had just individuals to teach. And one of the delightful young pupils I taught and like to remember, was a girl, who was about 14, and in a wheel chair, a beautiful girl with the most wonderful voice, but who would never be able to walk, and she had this beautiful voice, so we concentrated on English and on this voice and I think she later got to Washington, D.C., and sang for President Roosevelt who was also in a wheelchair. I can't remember her name, but that was a true thrill for me, to know that girl went on and used her voice, even though she was in a wheelchair.

Anyway, it was after teaching that term until January when I became very sick and Bill brought me home, back to Colorado because they diagnosed my illness as tuberculosis, of all things. I don't like to say this on a recorder, but they brought out all the old X-rays and I did have childhood scars, because tuberculosis was very prevalent when I was growing up. I had overcome it. And I don't have tuberculosis as such now but the scars are still there. But I came back to Colorado and was in a very weakened health condition that didn't allow me to do much walking or lifting.

Then after a while the doctor said, "You know what's the matter with you? You're pregnant. You're going to have a baby. And the doctors in Denver said, I think we should stop that because we don't think you're going to be strong enough to have this baby. And then our family doctor who was a friend of ours said, "Now, Jeanette, you don't have to lose that baby. Just keep trying. Just go on now, don't do any hard work. If they offer you a school you take it; that's good for you. And you do lots of walking." So I walked 4- miles to the school, on Maes Creek, when I could, when I was able to walk. And that took care of that problem. And brought back many memories of Maes Creek.

After my year of teaching at Farisita, at the age of 19, I was asked to establish a school on Maes Creek. That school on Maes Creek is something I'd like to describe to you, because that was the school which I started. It was an old dance hall and Mrs. Martha Thorne, who was superintendent of schools, said, " Jeanette, please teach. You won't get paid. The district isn't established, but if you go up there and establish the need for a school they will set aside funds and form a district, to give you, or to other teachers that follow, your pay." She said, "We'll just say, "If and when we get some money, that you are entitled to $75 a month."

So being told by the doctors that I should walk and I should occupy myself with something that wasn't physically hard to do, I went to the school. I can't remember when I first taught there. It doesn't make any difference. But this one time I went back to teach, and I was very happy to teach, as the older girls helped me to do a lot of physical things. You know, the first day of school I helped establish the school. There isn't any school as such. When you drive up to where, you remember Tom Trujillo's, she said, Grandpa's place, that's the school.

So on a Monday morning I drove up, it was cold, it was in January. There wasn't a door because the animals had been in and out of there, the cattle had been using it as a shelter, it was a wide open building, the windows were all broken out. The only heating was from fireplaces in opposite corners of the room. There was no wood stacked for burning. There were no black boards, no seats, no nothing. Just the place where cattle had been going in for shelter, and broke the floor. I looked at those children, eighteen, maybe twenty, all ages, real excited that they were going to get to have a school of their own. And the look on their faces, made me decide it didn't matter what problems I had, I was going to teach those children who were hungry to learn and real excited to have gotten a teacher.

So I got them into the schoolroom and had some boys pick up scraps of wood and build a fire in the fireplace and told them what the schoolroom would look like and what they could do about it. The older one said, "Tomorrow I can bring a bench from my house." Somebody else said, "My mother had a table in the back yard, and she'd try to bring that," and somebody else said, they had another bench. And I said, we had to do something about the windows, some of the boys said, we'll make the doors, and we'll do something about the windows, and that's the way it was. Everybody took part in making that appear to be a schoolroom.

On Saturday I came to Walsenburg and asked Mr. Kirkpatrick who had the Coca-Cola plant, if I could use some of the advertising boards they used to put Coca- Cola signs on to make into blackboards. Then I set out to get a few books, used books, school books, from people, here there and every where.

I went back to school on Monday morning and here were the children, really excited and from that day on we had school for about four months and out of that schoolroom and that teaching came the most rewarding results. Most teachers look forward to but don't get as big a thrill as I did, out of the eighth grade classes. In that schoolroom were boys and girls who, for lack of school had learned how to draw, beautiful drawings of everything they'd seen, deer, mountains, streams, and cattle, and their houses. And then some were musicians who brought their violins and guitars that their families had, and most all of them could sing. And they had developed this talent at home while they didn't have formal school.

So finally we were able to have a program for families to come to. I can't remember, all the things we did to close the windows, whether they were enclosed with glass or not, that part doesn't seem too clear in my mind, but finally we had a warm little school.

E.B.: There had been no school for these kids?

J.T.: No school. They were children that were living in the homes between what would be Farisita and the Turkey Creek Community. There was an upper Maes Creek schoolhouse far up the valley and that was too far for those children that were along Turkey Creek.

I finally had 22 pupils. Three of them, I remember, were 23 years old, much older than I. And that was great. They were helpful, and they were all artists or musicians or singers. They all did something. They all helped teach the younger ones too. And they were so hungry for knowledge that it was a thrill to find them listening to everything I'd try to teach them. Trying to learn how to use math, how to write. They all had pretty good handwriting, they'd learned from their parents. And as far as reading went, it was something they had to learn from scratch mostly. But it was a special thrill for them to be able to read a story on their own, or a book.

I think that the reward in teaching a group like that is just great. That's what makes teachers want to teach. I think teaching there informed the district that the students had a yearning for a school so the WPA built a brand new school building that was not too far away from the old building and where I taught after returning from Montana with Bill.

I did finally have that warrant cashed. My first $35 that was left from that $75 check went to pay the rent for the school building. I had to pay the owner of the building so much rent a month, $35. The total amount that finally came from that warrant was around $45, and maybe we had $10 left per month, salary. But the love of teaching makes you do all kinds of things.

I think after that, at the other schools where I taught I had many problems. One was on Pass Creek, where the building had deteriorated and the walls were all cracked and dirty, the doors and windows needed cleaning. And I want you to know that again, young people were so eager to make their school look better, and I'll never forget Ben Vigil, saying to the other boys, "We'll go after lumber Saturday. I'll borrow my father's team of horses and we'll go to the old sawmill and we'll bring some lumber and make benches and things." We had desks. And the girls said, "We'll calamine the inside, and they did. And some other people painted the woodwork on the outside so the doors had a nice looking frame, white again.

Then the first opportunity we got we all practiced a play. I didn't, have a play for them to give. I wrote one and they used some of their own songs and we gave our first program which made the parents very happy and proud.

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