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Remember when?

Ripon had 45 kids to a class in the 1950s

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Remember when?

Fern Bugbee strikes up a favorite tune on her violin.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED January 7, 2012 2:12 a.m.

RIPON — Fern Bugbee didn’t look her age as she played a favorite tune on her violin this week recalling the 1950s in Ripon, mentioning her upcoming birthday bash at Spring Creek Country Club in March when she will turn 90.

“I loved music.  I loved to sing and I still do,” she echoed.

Fern is a retired educator who worked under Principal Harry Knoff at the old, brick, two-story Ripon Elementary School in Ripon that has since been torn down and replaced by a newer version in the mid-50s.  The multi-purpose room at the school is named in honor of Knoff.

She has been regarded by friends as an outstanding singer and a first class musician with the violin that she has played since she was nine years old.  The Ripon woman has shared her talents over the years playing and singing in the Handel’s Messiah production at Emanuel Church as well as in the Swiss Club’s annual presentations.

Fern recalled principal Knoff as an administrator who never held a staff meeting.  He would compose memos and have them passed from teacher to teacher, asking that they sign off that they had read them – it seemed to work for him, she said.

The school had two Swedish cooks who fed students lunch in the basement every day that also provided a location for physical education classes during inclement weather.  One of those cooks she remembers well was Edith Tulin.

Many of the nine teachers lived on the tree-lined Orange Avenue across from the campus, she said.

“I remember when I taught first grade.  I bought a rug and put it on the floor.”

People who stood out in her memory included the custodian who she said could do everything from moving the lawns to sanding down old desks.  She said they called him “Curly” Groetsema.  He was Dutch and a “real honey” in helping out the staff, she emphasized.

In the ‘50s the teachers had classes that averaged some 45 students, she noted, something unheard of in today’s schools.  Bugbee added that music was appreciated by her principal and it was evident with the upper class fifth through eighth graders being ushered into the assembly room every day for musical immersion.

She remembered the eighth grade teacher as being a “boss” who demanded respect from her students.  “She could pretty much run an army,” she chuckled.

The retired educator had moved to Ripon from Turlock where she graduated from Turlock High School in 1940, first teaching in that community.  She and her husband moved to Ripon not knowing anyone.  She learned one of the cardinal rules of the community that was accepted by all:  “Everybody went to church.”  The stores all closed their doors on church day, as well.

One of her neighbors was Postmistress Agnes McCausland whose brother was one of the last soldiers to lose his life in World War I.

She and her husband Allen – an Army Captain in World War II and Korea – took in two foster children, Earlene Canup and Mary Jo Farlee, who they cared for as their own.  Both women will be at Bugbee’s birthday party bash near the end of March.  Her husband passed away at 92.  Ironically they had first met at the movies in Turlock.

Bugbee and Allen went to see many a movie, both in Ripon and Turlock, paying 10 to 25 cents per show.  It was definitely a time of a slower pace in the farming community.  They admittedly had enjoyed going to the symphonies in both Stockton and Modesto. 



— Glenn Kahl

staff reporter

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