Stewart Wade, who will turn 102 in a few months, was born before commercial airline travel existed, but in September he’ll board a jet for a trip back into his past.
Wade plans to fly from his home in Hawaii to Sonoma County to mark the planned completion of a restoration effort for a one-room schoolhouse in the hills west of Healdsburg that he attended in the 1920s.
“It’s a big thing for me to think my school is still there,” Wade said last week by telephone from Kailua, Oahu.
The 133-year-old Daniels School on Mill Creek Road has slowly been restored over the past 15 years with the help of volunteers and donations, although there is still plenty of work to be done prior to the Sept. 17 dedication.
But the end is in sight.
“At last we can see the end to this restoration project and we are really looking forward to a big celebration and this open house to honor former students and people who were so generous with donations and their time,” said Bonnie Cussins Pitkin, 72, an alumna who spearheaded the restoration.
One-room schoolhouses once were common in rural areas across the country, including Sonoma County, where a survey a century ago counted 120 of them. Today only a handful survive.
At Daniels School, which was built in 1883, one teacher taught academic basics to boys and girls in grades one through eight, the typical arrangement.
Children came from miles around on foot or horseback, from surrounding countryside that was successively logged for giant redwoods and mined for magnesite before a tanbark industry took hold, along with vineyards, and prune and apple orchards.
Former students remember the pot belly stove they used for warmth on rainy days and the water bucket filled from a nearby stream they all shared because there was no running water.
They staged plays in a meadow, and their playground was in the road, because there were so few vehicles.
Wade, a sharp-minded centenarian who still works part time as a real estate agent and swims three times a week in the ocean, recalls how he and other boys trapped raccoons near the school and sold them for $3 per pelt.
Sometimes they caught skunks and “the school stunk from that,” he said. “Kids would take guns to school,” part of a hunting culture when it wasn’t out of the ordinary to carry a .22 rifle in the woods.
Wade went through all eight grades, from 1921 to 1929, and later graduated from Healdsburg High in 1933.
He credits his longevity to “exercise and attitude.”
“He doesn’t let anything bother him. He’s not a Type A person,” said his wife, Ceci, who also will attend the rededication of the school.
Pitkin attended Daniels School as a first-grader just before it closed in 1951.
She wants local schoolchildren to take field trips to Daniels School and learn what it was like to attend there, with refurbished desks, a piano, even the school’s 45-star American flag which has been housed at the Healdsburg Museum.
Pikin’s family owned the school until donating the 16-by-26-foot building and a half-acre around it to the Venado Historical Society, which draws its name from the surrounding community established in the early 1900s.