School’s fresh, but faraway, memory


By Regina Villiers.  Originally published September 2, 1992 in The Suburban Life, added September 15, 2016.

Ruth Berger Butcher

Ruth Berger Butcher

As children throughout Madeira and across the land dig in for another year of school, Ruth Butcher won’t be among them, but her thoughts will.

Ruth’s school days are long behind her, for she was 90 years old this past January, but she has the memory of the proverbial elephant and she remembers her school days in Madeira as if they were last week.

Back then, she was Ruth Berger, and she attended school through the eighth grade in a three-room school on Miami Avenue near Camargo Road.  The building was near the site of the old Camargo Primary School; late know as Perin School, which was torn down a few years ago.

The modern Madeira schools of today have come a long way from the Madeira school Ruth remembers.  She recalls that there were about three grades to a room in the old school she attended.  There were two rooms on the ground floor and a large room upstairs.

Her first teacher was Miss Emily Watkins.  A Miss Linder taught art, but Ruth can’t remember her first name.

The sixth, seventh and eighth grades occupied the room upstairs.  This room also had a stage and an organ, and special school programs were held there.  The three upper grades and the upstairs room were ruled over by a colorful teacher-principal, Zachary Taylor DeMar.

“We called him Z.T.,” Ruth said, “but never to his face.”

According to a history of Madeira Schools recorded by W. Marshall Sellman, a former superintendent of Madeira Schools, Zachary Taylor DeMar taught in Madeira from 1885 to 1921.  He received his name because he was born in 1848; the year Zachary Taylor became president.

Ruth Berger Butcher remembers Z.T. as having an iron fist, and she also remembers him as being old.  “Why, he must have been in his 90s,” she said.

Boys and girls had separate entrances to enter the school.  Mr. DeMar was firm about that.  When recess ended, the boys and girls would line up separately.  Each line would then have to march inside in an orderly fashion, through its own entrance.

But, if Mr. DeMar ruled the school with an iron fist for most of the year, he’d disguise that fist in a velvet glove on the last day of school each year.

The last day of school was set aside for fun.  Mr. DeMar would put up rope swings and devise games to play, all day long.  There was no schoolwork that day, just fun and celebration at the thought of the long summer ahead.

Mothers and women in the community would come, bringing homemade cakes and homemade ice cream.  Ruth relishes the memories, all these years later.

Ruth’s nephew, Gus Uebel, also attended the old school there and likes to get together with his aunt and reminisce about the fun they had.

Though Gus is past 80, Ruth still refers to him as young Gus as they talk about the games they played, including Hide and Seek and Kick the Can.  They made their own balls by winging balls of yarn and string and covering them with pieces of old stockings.

Most of Ruth’s childhood classmates are not around any more.  And it’s probably safe to say that none of those who are around are as active as Ruth.

As children go back to school this fall, Ruth will most likely be out painting her patio floor, or scrubbing down the siding of her home.  She was planning the projects recently, as she relaxed with a cup of coffee after mowing her grass, all by herself, with a gasoline-powered lawn mower.

Ruth lives in her own home which she keeps as clean as a surgeon’s scalpel.  She does all her own work, including painting and scrubbing down the walls.  Of the painting of the patio floor, she said, “It’s no problem at all.  I use a roller.   The worst part is around the steps and moving the porch furniture.”

Ruth enjoys gardening and has a green thumb.  A tiny potted Christmas tree given to her a few years ago now occupies a spot in the yard as a three-to four-foot evergreen.

She enjoys her plants and flowers.  Her yard, always looking as if it had just had a manicure, is filled with colorful beds of petunias, geraniums, and other blooming flowers, which she plants and tends herself.

She even has a healthy crop of tomatoes flourishing at one edge of the yard.  “They’re Marglobes,” she said.  “They’re my favorite.  They ripen so well, clear through to the center.”

Ruth is rarely idle, and even when her body is at rest, her mind is busy.  The calendar may say she is 90 years old, but her spirit is as youthful as the hordes of kids now headed back to school.