August 2nd………“WHAT WERE THE SCHOOL LUNCHES LIKE IN YOUR GRADE SCHOOL DAYS AT KIESTER PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT #222”?
It’s the year 1912 and cuddled in the curving canyons of Custer, South Dakota, tiny Marcellete Fern Parks is born. I’m sure that her parents were beyond elation to be gifted with this new little life in the town named after The US Army Cavalry’s Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
Marcellete (pronounced: MAR-sell-eet) was the fruitage of a fine heritage. Her dear father, Allan, had been born in 1879 on the virgin soils which were once grasslands for Indian ponies near Kiester, Minnesota. Allan Parks was a teenager of 14 years, in 1893, when he witnessed the first of the new Kiester town’s buildings begin to “come alive” with their construction on the prairie near the current intersection of Minnesota Highway 22 and West State Street. Just to the south of the new Post Office/General Store and the Creamery rolled the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad that brought a life-giving supply vein to our new hamlet and those like it throughout the newly forming towns of the Midwest.
Even Marcellete’s paternal grandfather decorated an honored family heritage as a Corporal in the Union Army during the Civil War; serving in Company H of the 16th Wisconsin Infantry.
One can only present a conjecture as to why Allan Parks and his wife, Faith, made the pilgrimage west into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Maybe they were drawn to the hopes of still coming across the “mother lode” of gold that Colonel Custer had first discovered there in 1874. Or, it may have been family that drew Minnesota-born Allan and his young wife westward. Either way, it was here that Marcellete started life and was nine years old when the Parks family made the decision to return to Allan’s roots in south central Minnesota and found themselves living on a lovely parcel of land just to the west of town that was even blessed with an artesian well as the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad tracks went rumbling past their farmland on its way to Kiester.
Marcellete must’ve had some amazingly inspiring teachers along her educational journey of a local country school and then graduating from Wells, Minnesota High School and Teacher’s Training School. Our smart young lady aimed for and achieved her goal of becoming a teacher as a career and taught in both Freeborn and Faribault counties for the next coming years.
Orvall Yonkey stepped into this lovely young girl’s life and swept up Marcellete to be his bride on a chilly February 7th of 1934. Like any fine husband, Orvall supported his bride as she began a teaching career that eventually brought her back to her hometown of Kiester to teach youngsters in 4th, 5th and 6th Grades at the Mansfield, Minnesota campus which was in association with Kiester Public School District #222.
I muse upon the concept that perhaps when Mrs. Yonkey became a mother, maybe, just maybe, she saw that the long hours of teaching, grading student papers, visiting parents, attending school board meetings, etc. would take away from her grandiose love and desires of spending more time with her daughters and husband. Thus, Marcellete Yonkey changed her avenue of career from being an educator in a classroom to being an education assistant and smile maker in our local School Cafeteria. For the following 21 years, she was manager and team member of the great cooks that saw to the nutritional needs of myself and thousands of other boys and girls by making fantastic meals in the Cafeteria at Kiester School.
This, always hungry, little boy often sat upstairs in my Grade School classroom salivating from the inviting and entrancing aromas of fried chicken and French fries that floated up the stairwell and advertised to us kids better than any TV commercial could ever do in making us youngsters WANT what our good cooks had to SELL!!! 😉
Marcellete, and her gracious culinary partners, were like the fabled “Pied Piper of Hamelin” as we students followed the “music” of pots-n-pans, utensils-n-cans that brought forth such yummy school lunch delicacies.
A highlight for his farmer boy was the first step in the process of getting lunch each day. Standing in the “lunch line”, I’d pick up a glass and choose between regular white milk (which I drank by the gallons at our own farm), OR, to press my glass into the magic milk dispenser trigger system that began to lavishly fill my cup with wunnerful and delightfully sweet chocolate milk!!! What a tasty treat THAT was!! 😉
The majority of the family farms that populated south central Minnesota were made up of dominantly Scandinavian heritages who came from Norway, Germany, Sweden, etc.. Marcellete and her white-uniformed fellow cooks were sensitive to those taste bud needs and often created ethnic menus such as sauerkraut with bratwurst links and even traditional German cooked cabbage with butter beans and sausages.
Being a simple boy, I loved the menus when meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with melting sweet cream butter, were lovingly dished up onto my round, three-sectioned lunch plate. I’d give all the cooks a big smile and an even bigger “THANK YOU”!!! before heading over to a nearby table to munch n crunch with my bunch of buddies who also enjoyed the great meals prepared by Marcellete Yonkey (and her sweet lady crew) for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.