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New Oregon School #8

This school, originally located about 1 1/2 miles northeast of the farm, was built in 1865. This is the same school Norm's father, Henry, attended.  His cousin and teacher, Sina Borlaug, saw the promise in young Norm and encouraged his parents to let him go to high school.

Life in a One Room Rural School

Norm attended New Oregon Rural District School Number 8 through the eighth grade. His teachers were Lena Halvorson, and later, his cousin Sina Borlaug. Norm recounted many memories of his school days to author Noel Vietmeyer.
“Each school day opened with us shouting the Iowa Corn Song refrain: 'We’re from I-O-Way, We’re From I-O-way. State of all the land Joy on ev-‘ry hand. We’re from I-O-way, I-O-way. That’s where the tall corn grows.' We were so proud to live where the tall corn grew.” 

“Our elementary schooling was a preparation for life not for academic achievement. Overall, we gained what is, I think, the first requirement for a life achievement: a solid place to step off from.” (Vietmeyer p.37)

“Apart from a little foyer for wet coats and lunchboxes, the building was a single room, with high windows, bare floorboards, and two rows of desks. Usually a dozen or so students attended, but when the fields were too frozen for farm work an additional half-dozen might come.” “The desks were burnished by half a century of use and most had been secretly scored by the jackknives boys carried. I even noticed my father’s initials, which added a sense of continuity. He, my grandfather, an aunt, sundry uncles and cousins had all occupied those very same desks.” “Sharing their lives was a comfort. They’d walked the same route to school, some from the same house I lived in; they’d suffered the same problems and surmounted them. That knowledge smoothed my progress; if they could do it, I could to.” (Vietmeyer p.38)

“A potbelly stove provided our only heat. Each day an older child brought in firewood or coal from the pile outside.” “Progress in school was judged less by going from grade to grade than reader to reader. These books, which taught by English and moral fiber, came in five levels of difficulty.” “Graduating from one reader to the next was a big deal. Adults often asked which we were on, and if we were behind for our age we felt the sting of shame. Everybody knew exactly which reader you should be on; they’d been there too.” “Each day the teacher led all eight grades through their separate lessons. Most session were 5 minute briefings; the learning was left to us. Seldon was there more than three students in each grade, and we’d be called to the front of the room, given our instruction and handed an assignment. The work was done on our reserved section of the blackboard or on slates we kept in our desks.” (Vietmeyer p.39)    


Vietmeyer, Noel. Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, Bracing Books., Lorton, VA, 2011


Norm played football, baseball and wrestled at the high school and collegiate level. He even dreamed of playing second base for the Chicago Cubs. He is also instrumental in bringing litlle league baseball to Mexico while he was working there.

A Spartan Mat Career: By the 1930s, Cresco High was already a wrestling powerhouse in the state of Iowa. That mat legacy was born in 1921, when the high school started its wrestling program. It became a force to be reckoned with in 1925, when Dave Bartelma became head coach. In his first three seasons at the helm, Bartelma's teams were undefeated in dual-meet competition … and Cresco's first state champ was crowned.

Dave Bartelma left Cresco for four years, then returned in 1931. Under his leadership in the early and mid 1930s, the Spartans had seventeen individual state champs, and won two team titles.

Among Norman Borlaug's teammates on the Cresco wrestling team who went on to some fame after high school: Harold and Don Nichols (each winning NCAA titles in the late 1930s at the University of Michigan), and Dale Hanson, who won the 128-pound crown -- and Outstanding Wrestler honors -- at the 1939 NCAAs for the University of Minnesota.



In 1932 -- Norman Borlaug's senior year -- the wrestling program won all eight of its dual meets, beating teams from Waterloo, Dubuque, New Hampton, Carroll, and Eagle Grove, Iowa. However, according to the yearbook, the team was "handicapped during the latter part of the season by a flu epidemic, which kept several of the boys from competing at the District and State meets." Despite that illness, the Spartans won the state district meet, and qualified six wrestlers for the state tournament, including Borlaug.

At the 1932 Iowa high school state championships -- held at Iowa State in Ames -- three Cresco wrestlers placed: Don Maland won the 85-pound title … Davis was third at 115, and Borlaug third at 145. Borlaug was one of sixteen wrestlers to earn a varsity letter.

(from IntermatRewind: Norman Borlaug. Mark Palmer, InterMatWrestle Senior Writer, 9/25/2009.

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