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September 2014


Sussex teacher, Helen May Jeffery Meissner

Helen May (nee Jeffery) Meissner had a set of sons: Roy J. and the Rev. Lee Albert. In March 2007, son Roy donated from the estate of Helen May Meissner a scrapbook she had kept from 1954 to 1974, while she was teaching at the Sussex Main Street School, and the adjacent Orchard Drive School, and then transferred to the Maple Avenue School.

Her classes over the years in the Sussex metro area for kindergarten, and first grade (with one small time in second grade) amounted to 683 students from Sussex and Lisbon.

She taught under a string of principals, such as Clinton Swanson (54-56), Eugene Belonge (56-58), Doyle Alexander (58-63), Roger Bottoni (63-65), Syl Rasinoski (65-69), Terry Tuttrup (66-69) and Gerald Schaut (69-74). The reason why there is an overlap is that there were two main school complexes, Sussex Main-Orchard Drive School and Maple Avenue School.

Helen May was born in north Lisbon near Colgate on a pioneer Lisbon Scottish farm, adjacent to the Soo Line-Wis Central Railroad on Dec. 6, 1910. She would die at age 85 on Sept. 4, 1996.

In an extended Meissner family history, she has an entry about her early life that goes like this (written in 1990): "I was born 80 years ago in the Town of Lisbon, a mile south of Colgate. This farm on the corner of Colgate and North Lisbon Roads was part of the territory of Wisconsin and the acreage was originally bought in 1847. The acreage became less than 80 acres when the Wisconsin Central Railroad went through it diagonally in 1910-12 (just after I was born.)

I was taught interesting things to do, like carrying wood, collecting eggs, helping in the barn, feeding animals and playing with kittens. Later I was taught how to fill lamps, trim wicks with no horns and make the chimneys sparkle. That was not 'my thing,' but a part of growing up. Our first math lessons at home were to learn to count. The passing trains being so close, we first counted the cars on the passenger trains, then cars on the freight trains.

I had a sister by the time I started first grade. I attended North Lisbon School for eight years. The school was 3/4-mile west of our farm. I seldom walked alone, either joined by those from the east or others I joined on the way. As I look back now and being an ex-teacher, I feel I received a fine education.

During my summer months, my sister and I had a permanent job, watching cows. The cows would eat grass and weeds along the roadsides while we read and played games. We were always glad when they put the cows in fenced pastures, as then we could play in our playhouse, the former 'setting house.' We made it beautiful with artistic decorations.

I remember when dad rode with a neighbor to Menomonee Falls and drove home our first Ford Touring car. That was really something. I learned to drive at age 13, and I am still driving (at age 80). I also learned how to change a tire and put a patch on an inner tube on this Ford.

I attended Wauskesha High School for four years (1925-29). I was on the glee club and especially enjoyed art classes. I entered Milwaukee Normal (UW-Milwaukee) and took a kindergarten teacher course. Again I was in a glee club and learned much about music.

In order to attend school, it was necessary for me to work for my keep. The first year I was nursemaid for two preschool children for this Jewish family. It was most interesting to learn of their culture and habits. IN my second year, I stayed with a mother and daughter, but the daughter worked, and I had many responsibilities for the mother. They were appreciative and very interested in my schooling. The daughter and I remained friends for many years, until her death.

Years ago I dreamed that when I grew up I would be a missionary, or a kindergarten teacher. So I got to be a kindergarten teacher.

My first school teaching was at Merton, first and second grade. I loved it. I lived at the Frank NOrton home while in Merton.

It was in my first year of teaching when I was invited to a local church group party at the Sam Dobbertin home. When leaving Al (Albert) Meissner asked if he could drive me home. That was the beginning of our romance, and I was married two years later.

I had hoped to continue teaching but I was married now and back in 1934, no school boards hired married women."

In the future, I will again pick up on the life of Helen May Jeffery Meissner and her 23 years in teaching.

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