Los Tulares is a quarterly publication of the Tulare County Historical Society that appears in March, June, September and December. Members of the society look forward to receiving their issue in the mail every quarter. It serves two basic purposes. First of all, it keeps members informed about news and activities of the society, but more importantly it documents the history of Tulare County. Through stories and articles from contributing authors, Los Tulares has become a trusted source for our county’s history. Published continuously since 1948, Los Tulares is an amazing source for researchers throughout the world. The editors work hard at keeping it the pride of the society. The issues are fully indexed, and back issues may be ordered through our online gift shop.
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Please enjoy the following story from the June 2018 publication of Los Tulares:
Surprise School Memories 1950-56
By John Bergman, 65 years later in 2018
Author’s Note: The school was on my grandfather, Carl Bergman’s property and when it was closed, title was transferred and deeded back to him. The location was at the ‘T’ intersection of Road 144 where Ave. 184 intersects. The school faced directly east on Avenue 184. Carl and Amelia Bergman had four sons and one daughter who all graduated the 8th Grade from Surprise School. In the following generation, 12 of us grandchildren all went through Surprise, so you can see why the interest.
At 8:00 am the big bell in the belfry would ring. It could be heard a quarter mile away by half a dozen homes that were relatively close to the school yard. When it was rung the kids from all over the yard would come running and line up in front of the tall flag pole.We lined up by age or grade. The flag was raised by the “big kids” who were taught the proper folding, unfolding and raising the flag etiquette. It was a chore that we all looked forward to doing when we were old enough. Once the flag was up we would give the flag salute as an entire school. The day’s instructions were given by the principal or the teachers. Then we marched in rows to our class and into our respective rooms.
At recess we had monkey bars, teeter-totter, a big slide, merry-go-round, tall swings and the usual outdoor sports of football, basketball, and baseball. We had organized sports teams and played other country schools that were nearby in football and softball. The big kids (upper three grades) got to be on the team and the little kids (younger grades) would watch from the sidelines and cheer accordingly.
As kids, the usual horseplay of tag and other chasing around games was always prevalent. In the upper grades of 4th through 6th we had a garden down by the west end football goal post. We grew things used in our cafeteria such as tomatoes, corn, beans, etc. This did not happen every year but I remember Jack Pell, one of the teachers, taught us all to work and keep up the school grounds. In those days the teachers and school board members helped to do it all including cleaning the classrooms, the bathrooms that were out back, and even the yard work. I remember my dad and others on the school board also mowed the lawn and irrigated the grounds. My dad, who was on the school board, got his foot severely cut by a rotary mower while mowing the lawns at Surprise.
Other memories of Surprise School include the old pump house as it had its own well and water source. In front of and east of the pump house was the washhouse which was a semi open building with washbasins and drinking fountains inside. It was a place to be in the shade and cool off in hot weather. We kids did get dirty. Out in front of the school were two long bicycle racks where we all parked our bikes. Over to the south was the big (or as we called it “giant”) Eucalyptus tree that provided shade during ball games and other events. It was near the football goal posts and baseball backstop. As little kids we would collect and string those Eucalyptus cone shaped seed pods into chains and make little bracelets or necklaces.
In the back of the school, on the west side next to Uncle Dan and Grandpa Carl’s fields, were the restrooms separated in the middle by the storeroom for school supplies. Just north of the restrooms was the school residence provided in the early years for the teachers and their families. By the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade the teachers all lived in town so it was converted into the cafeteria. At the same time the home was converted into a cafeteria, the old horse stables were torn down. They were also used by the teacher/tenant as a garage in the later years. The classroom on the north side of the property was converted into an audio visual room and classrooms were consolidated into three grades in each room. This 1st and 2nd grade class (there was never a kindergarten) came because of the closure of Rankin Aeronautical Field and fewer children came to the school.
In the mid-1950s the 7th and 8th grade students began to be bussed into Cherry Avenue School in Tulare. Also, the Surprise School District was consolidated into the Tulare Elementary School District. Dad, (Rush Bergman, son of Carl Bergman) who was on the Surprise School Board for many years, became a board member in the Tulare City School District as well.
After my cousin Tim moved to their new home on Road 152, we became close and developed our own miniature farms in our backyards. We had toy trucks and tractors that worked the farms. We developed irrigation systems, built little barns and planted alfalfa, grain, etc. and grew these in small patches we called our farm. As we grew older and were working in the fields, we would enjoy driving tractor together. I remember one summer while trying to develop the old alkali fields on the north of our ranch, Tim and I chained two International Harvester Farmall M tractors together and pulled the old single shank Killifer Ripper. We pulled it about 3’ deep and that was all those two old tractors could pull. The last time I looked, that old ripper is still down in my cousin Craig’s equipment yard. Today those same fields produce nice revenue crops for the current owners. Our work was not wasted or in vain.
One of the best parts of Surprise School was that every week we were allowed to have a one day “released time” for about 2 hours. All of the kids were allowed to go to my grandma’s house or to my aunt’s home which was a short walk from school, and there we were taught to sing and have a Bible lesson taught. We were released, and all just meandered down the side of the road to the home where we were given instruction. Everyone in the school looked forward to this “released time” as it was a good break from the routine of school and we were able to learn more than the usual “readin’ ‘ritin’ & ‘rithmatic.”
Surprise had a distinct history of having more four-year college graduates with BA’s per capita or student attendance than any other school in the Tulare City School district. There were numerous students who attained masters and PhD degrees particularly in the latter years when working on the farm allowed students to pursue higher degrees of education. Two aunts taught at Surprise (Gertrude and Jean Bergman) and several cousins were involved in teaching.
Yes, I am proud and feel privileged to have attended Surprise School. The teachers kept law and order, provided instruction, and the older kids helped teach the younger ones.Teamwork was taught from the earliest years. We had time for outdoor activities, but we also learned music, how to read music, and art was taught along with all the other elementary education courses. I had four teachers for those first six years of my elementary education.
My sister Susan Bergman DeVries wrote of her last year at Surprise as follows, “The year starting 1960 was my 6th grade, and that was when I was invited to join a class at Garden Avenue School in Tulare. The other students chose to remain and stay at Surprise and it was the final year it had students.” She went on to describe her first year at Garden Avenue School where my Aunt Jean Bergman was a teacher, “It was the year I first became friends with Richard Zack, Sam Magill, etc. Our teacher, Mr. Lamb, came from Georgia and for the first three weeks I thought he was speaking a foreign language!”
These are just some of the fun memories and events of a country farm kid from Tulare, growing up and getting a good country education. The closing of the school officially came in June 1961.
As handwritten in the upper left corner of the photo, in 1948-49 Surprise School had 115 students, 3 teachers, and 8 grades. [Courtesy of the author]