The Last Teacher of Abelein School: Leonard Fretts

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CraigBaird

From 1913 to 1941, many teachers came through the doors of the one-room school called Abelein. Teaching at a small school was a unique experience, and something that many of the teachers enjoyed.
This week, we are going to look at the experience of one teacher named Leonard Fretts, who taught at Abelein School from 1938 to 1941, and was the last teacher at the school.
Arriving at the beginning of the school year in September of 1938, he had signed a contract with Superintendent Harry Sweet to earn $600 per year. While that may not seem like much, his room and board was only $20, meaning he had a lot of extra spending money. Living in nearby Medicine Hat, he could travel there for 35 cents one way.
For the entire three years, Fretts lived on the farm of Colonel Horace and Hattie Jenkens. According to Fretts, they were a wonderful couple to him. 
“To say they were a wonderful couple has to be an understatement. I have very found memories of the time spent with them.”
Living with them involved going out hunting, horseback riding, playing cards in the winter, reading around the coal heater and much more.
While living with the couple, he lived in the upstairs room with only the stove pipe running through serving as any sort of heat in the winter. When he would sleep at night, he would take his clothes with him and put them in his bed with him to keep them warm.
Fretts would continue teaching at the school until June of 1941 when he left to fight in the Second World War. He would stay overseas for the rest of the war. He lived again with the Colonel and his wife, now with his own wife Evelyn, for part of 1946. It was at that time he was teaching at Irvine School, which was also another one room school in the area.
It would be four decades before he returned to the area he once taught. In 1988, a former pupil by the name of Stan Walker drove Fretts out for a visit. Upon seeing his old school, all that remained were the concrete footings and a slab for the front door.
“It was hard to realize that the school was that small but what it lacked in size, it made up for in character and a place of education for quite a few good citizens.”
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.
Information for this column comes from Plains, Trains and Wagon Wheels
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