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The Best of Moves
John Prehn
Professor of Sociology at Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, Minnesota

Rolfe High School Class of 1955

It was the worst of moves; it was the best of moves. Sound vaguely familiar? Call it a paraphrase from Miss Marcumís English literature classís reading of Dickensís A Tale of Two Cities. Every one of us who passed through Rolfe Consolidated High School during her reign had to read it. I'm sure it affected each of us differently. In any case, it affected us.

So, whatís this deal about the best and worst of moves? Think of it this way: I arrived in Rolfe in June, 1950, when my parents moved there from Oregon, Illinois, the town that I had considered home. Oregon was big. Hey, it was bigger Ďn Poky by at least 600 people. Anyway, you get the idea. Before we moved, my dad even warned me about Rolfe. He said the streets were gravel and dusty, and the town was a lot smaller than what I was used to. But, you know what? He said that one of the reasons he had decided we should move to Rolfe was because the school system was much better than Oregonís, and he wanted my brother, Bruce, and me to get a decent high school education. Maybe we did.

The worst part of the move, obviously, was losing all of my Oregon friends. Thatís a tough thing to do to a 13-year-old kid. So, in many ways, I was not a happy mover. The best part of the move turned out to be learning that the rumors about a Rolfe education were true. Absolutely. And in such a small town? How could that be? I think we all know the answer to that one, if we graduated from Rolfe anytime between about 1914 and whenever Miss Marcum retired. Rolfeís educational standards were not only high; they were enduring - just ask any of todayís college students who get subjected to Prehnís vision of education. Actually, my vision of education was learned at the desk of Miss Marcum. She did a number on us that has served us well, I believe.

When I left Rolfe to go to college in the fall of 1955, I was one scared small-town freshman. I had chosen to attend school in St. Paul. That was one BIG town - bigger even than Des Moines. I was impressed. And for extras, Minneapolis was just across the Mississippi River from St. Paul. Needless to say, that first semester of the freshman year was terrifying. That is, it was terrifying until the first-term grades arrived shortly after spring term began. I hope Iím not immodest to state that I did pretty darned well that year, and I knew precisely why. Miss Marcum. Who else? How good was she? Iíll tell you how good she was.

Those of you who sat in her classes must remember clearly that term paper she made us write. It was the piece de resistance of our high school careers. You recall how she meticulously showed us how to collect, record, and organize our reading notes, and all the rest. Believe it or not, no one since then has done such an excellent job of showing me how to write a paper. That was my ace of spades in my college freshman composition class.

Frankly speaking, I was not a good essay writer - canít you tell? I consistently drew Cís from my graduate assistant English composition teacher, whom I had very little respect for, anyway. When the time came for us to write our term papers, she proposed to give each of us an assignment of her choosing. I was unimpressed. I was also taking a history course at the time, and I was developing a great fondness for feudalism. I asked her if she would allow me to write on that topic. She said yes. I pulled out all the stops and dove in using the tried-and-true Marcum paper-writing technique. It worked. Oh my, did it work. I aced the paper and finished the course looking good. So, thank you, Miss Marcum, and thank you, Rolfe High, for making the worst of moves one of the best of moves.

P.S. It didnít hurt any knowing that two Rhodes scholars had attended Rolfe High School during Miss Marcumís tenure. One of them, Virgil Hancher, became President of the University of Iowa. Itís hard to top role models like that, to say nothing of knowing that he often visited his mother, who lived across the street from us. Wow.

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