Elementary Follies

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“More valuable than single representations are a series of connected tableaux or scenes, arranged by the teacher, but presented by the pupils. Such a series may be presented in the form of a historical entertainment for the parents and friends of pupils. The value of an entertainment of this kind is, that in this way one may picture for the eye the growth of certain ideas or tendencies from which great and important changes have come. To make the idea of development clear in the mind of the pupil is the great end and aim of all history teaching, and in this work the eye is the teacher’s most faithful and efficient servant.”
– “Historical Pageants, State Normal School, Fitchburg, Mass.” 1911

UNION – The McHenry County Historical Society will re-create the past Aug. 12 and 14 at the county historical museum, 6422 Main St. in Union, with a 1936 rural school musical production.
Titled “Elementary Follies,” the original drama crafted by retired historical society administrator Nancy Fike, will portray a century pageant … as portrayed by adults portraying schoolchildren.
Having a sense of humor is a prerequisite.

“There weren’t the opportunities for people to get together as there are today. People took their entertainment where they could, which meant a lot of it was homegrown. They did the pageants and got together little museums. They put on parades,” Fike said. “It was a way of celebrating the past and looking backwards. They did it for the centennial. … It was hokey – as this is going to be.”

The large cast of  “Elementary Follies” includes the likes of attorneys Herb Franks and Bill Bligh, Woodstock Police Chief John Lieb, Huntley District 158 Superintendent John Burkey, McHenry County Board member Sue Draffkorn, Alden Township Supervisor Preston Rea, Woodstock City Planner Nancy Baker, Realtor Dave Gelwicks, former McHenry Mayor Bill Busse and current Marengo Mayor Don Lockhart.

“The point of it was to try and get a broad-based representation of McHenry County,” Fike said.

Limited seating is available for two performances – at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14. Admission is $10, with all proceeds benefiting restoration of the 1867 Pringle School – one of just three limestone structures in McHenry County.

Quarried at Garden Prairie and transported by wagon to the site off what is now River Road, the property once belonged to Patterson Pringle. Children of Scottish settlers attended the simple school, then in District 139. Enrollment fluctuated between 10 and 25 students until the 1940s.

Books were scarce, even dictionaries often were not available. In the early history of the schools there was a fall and winter session attended by boys after harvest and before spring planting season. A summer session was held which was mostly attended by girls. The students carried on attendance well into their teens, as there were no high schools. Many of Marengo’s early community leaders were products of this educational system, passing from the local district, directly to higher education.

Consolidation of one-room schools began in the 1920s in this county, but many McHenry County schools consolidated in 1947 after a school report condemned the quality of country school education and rising costs. Pringle School operated until 1951 when it became part of the Hawthorn School District 17.

 “These pageants were all about what made McHenry County great,” Fike said. “We’re going to have miniature flags. We’re going to sing “In the Sweet By and By.” We want audience participation. We’re not going to let people just sit there. They are going to be a community. They are going to be part of it.”

The school building was purchased by Melba Brewington, a Chicago connoisseur of antiques, art, and glassware. She used the building as a home until her death in 1967, when it was purchased by the DiBona family of Marengo. The McHenry County Historical Society acquired Pringle School from Laurie DiBona in November 2002.

Donations and volunteer efforts are necessary to repair and restore the foyer and adjoining storage/cloakroom area. For information or to buy tickets, call 815-923-2267. Tickets ordered in advance online will be available at the admission desk a half hour before each performance.

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