HONESDALE, PA — Bethel School may have closed decades ago, but there has been no shortage of learning there. Many tours, spelling bees, lectures and other special events have been conducted in …
HONESDALE, PA — Bethel School may have closed decades ago, but there has been no shortage of learning there. Many tours, spelling bees, lectures and other special events have been conducted in the tiny building. On Sunday, July 11 Bethel School held an open house and a lecture.
Bethel School was built in 1870. Despite some minor renovations to the stairs and other parts of the outside of the building, the interior looks relatively unchanged. A large blackboard is at the front of the room, a pull-down wall map from 1897 hangs above it, too fragile with age to be fully displayed. Rows of wooden desks are placed all over the room, topped with vintage books in all kinds of subjects from American History to Basic Arithmetic.
Before the school’s closure in 1951, it saw 31 different teachers, with Mary Agnes McCarthy being the last. She taught from 1946 to 1951.
For some, the small, central room was home to many happy memories. “I went to school here and enjoyed every minute of it... Across the road was an apple orchard, and if you felt like eating your lunch in the apple orchard, that’s what you did,” said Dorothy Kieff, former student at Bethel School and member of the Wayne County Historical Society.
She remembered wading in the nearby brook, playing marbles in the middle of the dirt road and playing “Haley Over” with the other children.
Kieff attended during the school’s final years. She recalled that there were 21 kids in her class. It comprised kids across different grade levels. Classes were called up in order to the front of the room to present their work. Afterward, the next group was called and others did individual work.
“If you were stuck on something, there was always an older kid to ask, or if you were one of the older kids, there was always a kid to help. I always said that was cooperative learning at its best,” said Kieff.
The old wooden desks were occupied with those eager to learn something new once again as local historian Bernadine Lennon presented a lecture entitled “The Army within the Army.” The lecture focused on the volunteers and other unsung heroes that kept the American armies fighting.
Lennon is part of the Greene-Dreher Historical Society. In 2016, the group wanted to take on a project related to WWI as America’s centennial anniversary of joining the war was approaching.
Lennon visited local cemeteries, taking note of gravesites with flags. The project grew from there. By the time research was completed in 2019, the biographies of 140 local WWI veterans were published in Lennon’s book “Greene-Dreher in the Great War.” Three more were discovered after the book’s publishing.
“WWI was a war like no other,” explained Lennon. By the end of the massive, bloody conflict, 40 million military members and civilians had died. When America joined the fight in 1917, they needed to supplement their existing army.
As the military draft swept through the nation, 30 training camps were built. However, these training camps were lacking in a few respects. There were no chapels, athletic facilities or libraries. Soldiers didn’t even have a place to buy stationery to write home to their loved ones.
It was a fact that surprised Lennon. “We did a very good job training them militarily, how to fire a gun or a cannon, sail a ship, but as far as all the supporting things that a soldier or sailor needs in order to fight the war, the morale aspect of it, I had no idea that it was lacking,” she said.
Organizations like the Red Cross and the YMCA stepped up to provide relief and welfare to the soldiers-to-be. The Knights of Columbus built recreation and entertainment centers, as well as chapels. They also provided 1,800 tons of stationary for the soldiers to write home. The Jewish Welfare Board ensured that kosher foods were available and that the camps were staffed with rabbis.
The Young Christian Women’s Association staffed Hostess Houses where soldiers could meet with their families, friends and spouses.
Other much needed volunteers included a group of telephone operators known as “The Hello Girls.” In order to be accepted, a woman had to be single, have a college degree and be fluent in French and English. Three thousand women volunteered, but only 300 made the final cut. The work was more complicated than connecting wires in a telephone exchange. Encoded messages had to be translated from one language to another.
The last organizations that Lennon spoke about were the American Library Service, which built libraries and supplied soldiers with books; and the War Camp Community Service, which provided soldiers with social opportunities within the community.
Lennon took time to highlight the interesting story of one local volunteer by the name of Charles Wesley Carlton.
Carlton was born in 1886 in La Anna, Greene Township. He attended Scranton Business School, where he later taught penmanship.
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1916, he became the secretary of the city’s local chapter of the YMCA. He was later assigned to be a traveling secretary for the YMCA of New York City, where he raised funds for the war effort. He later found himself doing work for the same organization in France and Italy.
After the war, he stayed in Italy until 1921, performing relief work. He was awarded the Italian War Cross for Merit and the Bronze Medal of the City of Rome for his efforts.
He later returned to Syracuse University, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Using his skills in penmanship and engraving, he created documents, certificates and testimonials for the college.
He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse. His headstone is fittingly engraved in beautiful penmanship.
Lennon thanked the audience for their time and left them with the final words of her lecture: “It takes more than just an army to win.”
Bethel School will hold two more open houses this summer, on Sunday, August 15 and Sunday, August 29 from 1 to 4 p.m.
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