BROOKINGS — Think of it as a sort-of perfect attendance: For 52 years, children of several generations of the family of Harry and Connie Mansheim of Brookings have had a presence at Hillcrest Elementary School, with no breaks or interruptions: Twenty-two members, to include all seven Mansheim children; eight grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and four spouses of Mansheim children.
Today a daughter, Pam (Mansheim) Carlson, teaches kindergarten and a great-granddaughter is in kindergarten there (but not in Carlson’s class). Carlson left Hillcrest; she later returned and is in her 20th year at Hillcrest — teaching kindergarten.
“I started with one year in third grade, then to fourth grade and back to third grade and now kindergarten,” she said. She is in her sixth year teaching kindergarten.
The Mansheim saga began in fall 1971, when Pam, the Mansheims’ oldest child, came to Hillcrest as a first grader, after having attended kindergarten at Central Elementary. Harry and Connie, who have been married for 59 years, had moved to Brookings from Huron in 1967. They have three daughters and four sons. In birth order they are: Pam, Jule, Brent, Van, Chad, Kirk and Becka. Every one attended Hillcrest.
“Pam was our oldest one to go here,” Connie explained. “For 52 years straight we’ve had a Mansheim here. Not always a student but teaching the last 20 years. There has never been a break that we haven’t had part of the family here, now with a kindergartner.”
Carlson can well relate how today’s Hillcrest is different than when she walked through the door as a first grader more than a half century ago: “All your siblings went to the same school, because it was more neighborhood-like. When I went here it went through fifth grade. That was a big change (to K through 3) because brothers and sisters weren’t walking their little siblings home much anymore.
“Back when I was a kid, we didn’t really have people out to watch us. Maybe once in awhile we’d have people out to watch us at recess. And then the teachers would come out with a good old-fashioned school bell and ring it for us to come in.
“We got to go home for lunch. … I would say the majority did, because we didn’t have both parents working. We’d have about 45 minutes to an hour for lunch and then we’d come back and finish out our afternoon. We didn’t start school until about 8:40 (a.m.). We’d leave at 8:30 to walk there. The only kids who got to ride the bus were the kids from the country.”
Back in Carlson’s days at Hillcrest, all the students sat in a row, alphabetically. Now her students have no assigned desks and can sit where they like. And back then there were real blackboards — or maybe green. Those have been replaced by slick whiteboards to be written on with erasable markers; and digital-age technology rules. Carlson’s students each have their own personal computer.
Connie can also relate to the changes over the time since she sent her firstborn off to school more than a half century ago.
“When I went here, there was such a thing as room mothers,” Carlson explained, adding that her mother had been one.
“Sometimes for two rooms at a time,” Connie said. “Because at one time we had four of our children here. A room mother would just kind of call for treats when they were having a party. Or go on the field trips with them. And solicit parents to volunteer.
“Those days that was pretty easy, because a lot of the mothers were still at home then.” She also recalled that “in those days fith-grade students got to become crossing guards and that was a real honor, a real responsibility.”
With so many years spent there by family members over the decades, the Mansheim clan has a lot of memories of their days at Hillcrest — especially for one student who had his grandmother as a teacher.
Cooper Drawdy, 12, now a seventh grader at Mickelson Middle School, went from K through third grade at Hillcrest. One of his teachers was Carlson.
“The staff were really so kind,” Cooper remembers. “One time we were playing football at recess and the janitor saw us. He found a painter who painted a whole football field for us. It was pretty great.” And then there was “the big tree,” which had stood on land that was taken over to build a new Hillcrest school.
“The big tree was the place where everything would happen,” Cooper said. “We’d play games out there, the teachers would come out there, we’d run around the tree. That tree was just so great. So many memories. Everything happened at the tree. When they cut it down, it was pretty sad. it was pretty important.”
“The big tree was there when I was there,” his grandmother remembers. And in her classroom, she keeps a bark-covered slice of the tree.
Incidentally, Cooper’s parents, Richard and Erika Drawdy, also attended Hillcrest. And for some more Mansheim clan connectivity, consider this: Carlson’s youngest sibling, Becka Foerster, attended Hillcrest at the same time as Pam’s daughters, Kalina and Erika.
Finally, consider some additional bits about Mansheim clan members tied to the Brookings school system:
The saga continues.
Contact John Kubal at firstname.lastname@example.org.