Parents often remind their children how they had to walk uphill both ways in snow above their head just to get to school. Max Stolt, a teacher who retired from Max Public School in 1990, didn't have it quite that bad - he got to ride a horse.
Stolt sort of fell into teaching. His father had died from polio when Stolt was 10, and he was living on the family's Anamoose farmstead after graduating from high school, not knowing what to do with himself.
"Then I heard if you wrote exams, if you passed that why then you could teach for a year," Stolt said. "So I wrote on that and I passed those. There were all kinds of people looking for teachers at that time."
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Max Stolt kneels next to his Lincoln Town Car and its distinctive license plates Thursday afternoon. Stolt retired from teaching in 1990 after 43 years of service, 31 of them at Max Public School.
His first job was in Orrin in 1947, where he taught all of six children in the first through sixth grades. The pay wasn't exactly jaw-dropping - just $150 a month - and that's only when he actually got paid.
"Sometimes they didn't have the money to pay it so you had to take like a warrant, and then the bank would usually make that good because they would collect when people paid their taxes and so on," he said with a laugh.
Stolt spent the first 12 years of his teaching career at small, country schools. Needless to say, the experience was vastly different than what a modern teacher is used to. For one thing, teachers today probably take luxuries like going home every day for granted.
Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stolt remembers one winter in Orrin when the roads were so clogged with snow he had to ride his uncle's horse to class and stay at the school for weeks at a time.
"I would ride out to the school and stay there a week or two, depending on the weather," Stolt said. "And if the roads were open I'd ride the horse back again to my uncle's place, and then if the roads were open he'd take me back by car."
A corner of the school partitioned off by a curtain served as Stolt's room where he slept and cooked. He said he spent many weekends riding horse with other friends who lived near the school in those days.
Staying at the school a few weeks at a time was as much a decision about safety as convenience. It was a 20-mile ride from his uncle's place, and the most treacherous part of the journey was a one-mile stretch where the only way through was riding the horse on railroad tracks that had been plowed clear. Giant, impassable walls of snow on both sides of the tracks made that stretch a literal death trap if anyone was caught there when a train rumbled through.
"I would stand up on the horse, in the saddle, and look as far down as I could see. If I could see any smoke, that would tell me that the train was coming before I rode in there. There was no way out, you had to go out the way you came in," he said with a laugh. "I suppose I did that about four times during the winter, that I went back and forth that way. Sometimes I'd have the horse out there for a month."
Stolt never got caught in there with a train bearing down on him, but his uncle wasn't so lucky. Stolt said his uncle was riding the same horse Stolt had with a mutual friend through that section when they heard a train coming. The two turned around and managed to jump their horses into a small cave blown clear by the relentless wind, but both horses became stuck and were so spooked by standing in the deep snow they struggled to get back onto the tracks. While his friend's horse stayed stuck in the cave, his uncle's horse made it back onto the tracks.
After trying in vain to get the horse back into the cave, Stolt's uncle mounted up and rode the horse at a gallop down the tracks and actually made it to the crossing. However, the horse was still so spooked that it refused to leave the tracks.
"The snow plow finally got there and just swept the horse, threw (it) up on the bank, and tore the reins right out of his hand. He was holding them that tight," Stolt said. "So that was exciting."
While his uncle was fine, the horse didn't make it.
One modern convenience he didn't have in those early years was a copy machine. Instead of putting a piece of paper under the cover and hitting a button, Stolt had to write something out by hand with an indelible pencil and then copy it by placing the paper on a sort of gelatin surface. After a few minutes he pulled the paper off and then placed a fresh sheet on the surface to make a copy. He could make about 10 copies before the surface got too smudged to read.
"And then you had to let that sit probably overnight before you could make another copy because that would soak down into it, and then you could make another copy," he said. "So it was easier to write things on the board and then the kids could copy it themselves."
Stolt furthered his education by taking correspondence, night and summer courses from what is now Minot State University. He said it took him many years to finally get his degree, but teaching full time didn't leave him any other options.
In 1959 Stolt took a job in Max teaching the sixth grade, and noted he had to go back to school yet again for more education.
After the first year he was going to switch schools but was offered the additional job of elementary principle to keep him in Max.
"But I had to go to school some more," Stolt said with a cackling laugh.
Although teaching started out as something for Stolt to do because he couldn't think of any other options, he grew to love the profession and everything that came with it, especially the children he taught.
"Being that I was small, the kids kind of took to me easier than if I'd have been, you know, 6-foot tall or whatever," he said. "I got along well with most of the kids."
Like any good teacher worth his salt, Stolt had a legend about him that wouldn't go away no matter how many years passed by. He has worn western boots his entire life, and they were always perfectly shined. He can't wear them currently because of a recent knee operation, and his son-in-law hypothesized his knee would still be in good shape if only Stolt hadn't kept his boots so shiny during his teaching years.
"My son-in-law said, 'Your knee would be all right if you hadn't kicked so many butts,'" Stolt said through a howl of laughter. "That was the talk in school, that was how I kept my boots shiny."
After retiring in 1990, Stolt took up the hobby of making coin banks out of old post office boxes. He'd make a wooden box, router the edges for a little decoration, and place the post office box inside, with the combination lock facing the front and a slot for inserting coins in the back. He estimates he's probably made more than 100 of them over the years and gave many away to friends and family as gifts.
Stolt retired early to spend more time with his wife, who had been diagnosed with cancer. They spent eight wonderful years together before she finally passed away.
Now at age 80, Stolt looks back on his life and is still surprised at all the lives he's touched. He was at Max so long he started teaching the children of former students, who no doubt were warned by their parents about Stolt's shiny boots.
At his 80th birthday party on Dec. 20 of this past year, Stolt was afraid he was going to be stuck eating all the sandwiches because nobody would show up. He needn't have worried, though. Stolt, shiny boots and all, is still remembered fondly in Max to this day, and pretty much the entire town turned out to say so.
"Just the cards and the people that signed the guest book, there were over 200," Stolt said. "So that made me feel pretty good."