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March Mania

Column: All he really needed to know, he learned in Round Lake

WORTHINGTON -- Everybody knew Ernie Wellhausen. I think they did. If they did not, they are poorer for that fact. Ernie lived at Ocheyedan. Round Lake.

There was the announcement last month that Round Lake High School -- Round Lake-Brewster High School -- will be closing. This would have riled Ernie. It would have made him sad.

Ernie was a Round Lake graduate, Class of '29. He had great stories to tell.

Ernie laughed at the suggestion the declamatory instruction from Mrs. McClure at Round Lake High School which served him all his days. Ernie was an orator. He remembered the spirited Nobles County high school declam competitions of the 1920s. He remembered the names of his fellow students on the Round Lake declam squad, the girl who did the humorous readings, Ike Horstman (who did oratory), Evelyn Kain (who did dramatic interpretation).

"Mrs. McClure said we had to go out there on the stage with confidence. She said, 'Walk out there like you own the place.'

"I did oratory. We would memorize a piece, you know. That was quite an outing for me. We went to contests at Adrian. We went to Rushmore.

"I remember at Adrian one time the man announced the results -- I couldn't understand him. I asked Evelyn, 'What did he say?' She said, 'We won!'

"In school we had reading and writing and spelling. The math teacher coached basketball. Things weren't so organized as they are now, but I think that was good.

"The professor would usually indicate what line of work you might follow.

"In those days, guys who had graduated would come back -- they had post-graduate courses. They were older, of course, and they went out for football and track. That's really what they came back to school for.

"Well then, they said they couldn't do that anymore -- it wasn't legal to have a team with guys that had already graduated.

"I remember a meet at Adrian. Some of the guys in post-graduate courses went over to Adrian, even though they couldn't participate any longer. They ran along the side of the track just to show them that they could beat 'em."

Round Lake was a great school, Ernie said.

After his discharge from the U.S. Army, Ernie undertook a 31-year career with the Ocheyedan Co-op Elevator Association. During his tenure as manager the new concrete elevators at Ocheyedan were built, the feed mill was constructed and the offices were completed. He retired in 1973, but that is only the beginning of the story. Ernie didn't like the way society dealt with senior citizens, and he became a spokesman for seniors. Twice he was elected Speaker of the House for the Older Iowans' Legislature.

"Well here," Ernie said. "I remember Theodore Roosevelt said -- now I'm going back to Theodore Roosevelt -- 'You can't move an old tree. You can't move an old person. Not without doing harm.'

"Keep people in their own homes. If they can be home, that's best. It costs less to make it possible for people to stay in their own home than to have them in a rest home. ...

"It's the humane thing."

"We've got these people today that put a pencil to everything. That's all they pay attention to --the cost is this, the return is this. They put a pencil to everything ... no matter if it's humane or not. You've got to weigh that.

"A thing can be wrong even if it adds up.

"You charge older people who have to live on a budget 75 cents to get on a bus, then 75 cents for the return trip -- that defeats the whole thing. That's three dollars for a round trip for a couple. If the dinners are only a dollar-and-a-half, that's another three dollars. They can't do that.

"Here: we send school buses all over the state of Iowa full of kids. That's fine. But why don't we do that for senior Iowans? Why not put older people on school buses and take them to a dinner, or take them out for events?

Ernie opened battles that still are being fought. He spoke up for what he believed. It was a thing he learned in Round Lake High School.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.