Miniature Normal School Depression Era PTA Booklet History Lesson | Story


As a nonprofit institution, the McLean County History Museum relies on donations to “grow” its curated collections of everything from family letters to common household items. The museum’s mission, after all, is to collect, preserve, and make available the papers and artifacts that tell the story of McLean County and its people – from the Paleoindians some 12,000 years ago to you and your neighbors today. today.

Often when it comes to donations, what at first appears to be a rather mundane item turns out to be anything but. Take, for example, a 1938-1939 PTA booklet for Eugene Field School in Normal, donated to the museum earlier this summer.

This Camera Craft image from 1938 shows Eugene Field School at Normal.

McLean County History Museum

Indeed, this booklet opens multiple windows on the past, including the history of Field; the role of the PTA in American education; The great Depression; and something from the Blunk family of Normal, who had the foresight to save this flimsy, now 84-year-old booklet for possible museum donation.

The cover of the booklet features a photograph of the school credited to Camera Craft, a longtime Normal studio. This photo was originally stapled to the cover, although over the years the staples have rusted and damaged the acidic, crumbly paper of the booklet. In care of the museum, the remaining staples were removed and the photo and paper booklet were placed in a protective, acid-free archival sleeve. The contents were later preserved in the Eugene Field School file in the museum’s air-conditioned archives.

The six-page booklet lists Eugene Field PTA officers, committee chairmen, and ward representatives for the 1938–39 school year. At the time, every post at the Eugene Field PTA was held by a woman (yes, this booklet even has something to say about gender in America!) Dorothy Jackson was president and Julia Byerly vice president.

The PTA secretary was Bernice Blunk, and it is with the Blunk family that our story centers more. At the time, Bernice’s oldest son, Robert, was a kindergartener at Eugene Field. And it was Robert’s daughter, Cindy (Blunk) Venker of Florida, who donated this booklet and a host of other items collected by her parents to the museum.

Eugene Field School, which opened in the fall of 1936, benefited from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, with funding from the Public Works Administration. Located at the corner of Maple and Cypress Streets next to Fell Park, Eugene Field represents a type of small, neighborhood school that has long fallen out of favor in education administration circles (although Eugene Field closed opened as an elementary school in 2004, it reopened six years later as a Unit 5 Vocational Training Center.)

The school’s name comes not from a prominent local citizen or national politician, but rather from the St. Louis-born columnist and satirist, Eugene Field (1850-1895), known as the “poet of childhood”. Field eventually settled in Chicago, and his well-known poems include “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and “The Duel”, the latter having to do with “the gingham dog and the calico cat”.

Although Eugene Field is a mostly forgotten literary figure in contemporary America, schools bearing his name still dot the nation, with those in Illinois found in Chicago, Park Ridge, Rock Island and Wheeling.

During the 1938–39 school year, Eugene Field was one of two elementary schools in Normal. (This was before McLean County Unit District No. 5 was organized.) The other elementary school was Bernardine Orme Smith, located in the 900 block of Kern Street, south of Hovey Avenue and east of Adelaide Street.

Junior high students attended Central School, located roughly where the basketball courts are today next to the Manchester and Hewett halls of residence on the campus of Illinois State University.

Eugene Field libretto

This image shows the cover of a booklet published for 1938-1939 by the PTA at Eugene Field School in Normal.


The Eugene Field PTA booklet includes the 1938-39 program of guest speakers and special band programs. Highlights include a January 19, 1939 lecture on international relations by Richard Browne of Illinois State Normal University and an April 20 program on “social problems” courtesy of McLean County Judge Homer Hall . An open house, PTA Founders’ Day potluck and other events were also planned.

The Rev. JP Farrell, chaplain at Illinois State Penitentiary in Pontiac, spoke at the October 20, 1938 meeting of the PTA on the subject of juvenile delinquency and its prevention. Farrell was well known in the Twin Cities, having served for seven years as the athletic director of Trinity High School (now Central Catholic).

“He recounted a number of interesting experiences in connection with his work at the prison,” reported The Pantagraph, “but asserted that little can be done for a boy after he reaches a correctional facility. ”

The booklet also reprinted the “Rules” from the PTA’s state charter. “Refrain from partisan and factional political activity,” was the second rule. Good advice for parents then… and good advice today!

Throughout the school year, Bernice Blunk—with Robert attending kindergarten—remained active in PTA affairs. In addition to doing her part with the PTA, Bernice spent many years as secretary of McKnight Publishing Co. of Bloomington. She died in 1986 at the age of 76.

Meanwhile, Robert “Bob” Blunk graduated from Normal Community High School in 1950 before spending four years in the Navy, part of it during the Korean War. He returned to the Twin Cities, was hired as an apprentice printer at the Pantagraph, then married his girlfriend Barbara Lichty, an ISNU graduate and schoolteacher.

Bob Blunk retired after 32 years at the Pantagraph, although he drove a Unit 5 bus for another 16 years. For some 30 years, he also volunteered as the official college high school scorer for basketball games and a member of the “chain gang” for football.

Barbara Blunk taught for 30 years at U High before retiring in 1994. She was also a long-time volunteer with the McLean County Museum of History Library/Archives. Barb died in September last year and Bob followed two months later.

The Blunks – by preserving pieces of local history such as this PTA booklet – help the museum fulfill its mission of keeping local history impactful and alive.

Pieces From Our Past is a weekly column from the McLean County Museum of History. Bill Kemp is the museum librarian.


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