Interviewer: You came to Northville in what year?
Rosella Lee: In 1930. In the fall of that year.
Interviewer: You were a married lady?
Rosella Lee: I had just been married in June of that year. We lived among relatives most of that time because we knew we were coming here in September. We came, and we drove over here from Pontiac, which was my husband’s home, and we came in off Eight Mile on that beautiful boulevard type. We just fell in love with that first entrance to Northville. And even now, it’s more beautiful than it was because of our flowers and shrubbery and things. And we parked by the old high school and my husband went in to find out about his job, and where we could find a place to live and things of that type. And so we spent the rest of the afternoon after we left the superintendent’s office, to look for housing. There were only three furnished places in time, at that time, and we chose the one we wanted, which was about two blocks from the school. We had the whole upstairs of the house, and now today, it is one of our redone houses in the historical part of the community and they did such a beautiful job in redoing it, and now they have made the house into four apartments, up and down, two each.
Interviewer: What street was that on?
Rosella Lee: It’s on the corner of Wing Street and Dunlap. The pretty house right across from the parking lot, and that was close to town, close to school, everything was right there for us, so it was lovely because we didn’t have a car then. We had to work forward to that. But while looking for houses, we went into one that was down on Randolph. And that was owned by a dear old lady, who was the organist of the Methodist church here. And she took us through the house and showed us the apartment and everything, and she really wanted us to take it, but we liked the other one better. But our connection with her grew from then on, even though we didn’t rent her house. We arrived in town on a Wednesday with our furnishings, what few they were. And on Thursday night, she had us at choir practice at the Methodist church and that’s how we got started in our church life in Northville. This was the very day after we arrived. And she became a very dear friend of ours.
Interviewer: What was her name?
Rosella Lee: Her name was Arabella Tinum. She must have been in her late seventies when we first knew her. And she had played the organ in the Methodist church for many, many years. And so we got off to a good start and through that we got to know a lot of people, both in school and in church.
Interviewer: What did your husband teach?
Rosella Lee: He was hired to start a music program here. They had a little trouble in their school and they were having a new superintendent the year we came. And the man they h ad hired was Mr. Knapp, who came from Highland Park. He had been in Highland Park for many years. And we were both interviewed, my husband and I, as teachers for the Northville system, in his home while he still lived in Highland Park. He owned the family home in Northville and he wanted to come back to this area to fill out his retiring life, but it was good, he became superintendent, because he had so much experience and the school needed a very strong leader at the time. And he was the one that hired my husband, who had only one year of teaching experience down in Hamtramck, and he wanted him to come here, which was not as good a salary as my husband had down there, but the future looked brighter. And so we came. I did not get a job, even though I was interviewed for one because there just was no spot for me. But he told us (this was in spring before we were married) he interviewed us for the future and he said if we cannot place you, I will see that you get enough extra work of some kind that it will pay you to get married before coming to Northville. He didn’t like to hire an unmarried man. We found that out later. And he held true to that. Because he found that the English teacher was overworked, but they did not have enough money for an extra teacher, so he hired me to help correct her papers. And so I, for 50 cents an hour, corrected themes of the high school English teacher, and we worked together for that whole first year. The he also placed me in the library because they needed additional help there; all at fifty cents an hour. It was fun. It gave me something to do and it gave us extra money. These were hard times. Think back to 1930. These were the bad years. The depression did not hit our banks in Northville till almost 1931. So we weren’t here very long before the banks closed and what little money we had earned up to that point, it was all in that Northville bank and everybody was caught in the same thing. But we had two banks in Northville at that time, and the other one was still going, and the people in town with money in that bank had a little easier time of it than the rest of us. And another thing that was not in our favor, in those years, teachers were paid on a ten month basis, now they are paid twelve months/ year. So we had no money coming in at the end of the summer of our first year of teaching here, so we did not have anything to bank on at all. So it was very tough here. That’s the year that we had a man living next door to us who didn’t like gardening and he had a whole garden spot in his backyard, and we pleaded with him to let us have that garden spot. And that’s the summer I learned to eat greens and I’ve loved them ever since, but everybody did something to help themselves.
Interviewer: Did the school have the money to pay the teachers or just those two months?
Rosella Lee: It was just those two months, from June till September. There was no money coming in. It was our first year here, and we didn’t have too many contacts at the time. But we made it. We had to borrow a little money, but we got through. It was tough times for everybody, very tough.
Interviewer: Was the bank closed for very long periods of time?
Rosella Lee: Eventually, we got our money back, but it was in such little trickles.
Interviewer: What was the name of that bank?
Rosella Lee: It was the one where Orin Jewelry store is now, it was on that corner. I think it was called Lapham Bank. Mr. Lapham was the head of it at the time. He was very wonderful and very sympathetic, especially with the young folks who had nothing to bank on. And yet, he couldn’t do a thing. He couldn’t release any money until the government said he could and we got it back. Of course, we didn’t have much in to begin with, because we were just starting out and we had lots of college debts, so we had to finagle in many ways to take care of everything and that was the year I also was expecting my first baby and that put another damper in it, for awhile financially. We struggled through and got over it, very gradually. During these hard times, teachers received depression or war days (because right after the Depression you had the Second World War). They were all bad times financially. Teachers for a whole year were paid scrip money, like monopoly money. And it was a good investment if you could buy something from some store and the manager could hold it until it was redeemed and if they could, they would. But we only had one store in Northville that wasn’t a chain, (chain stores couldn’t do it), but the EMB, Mr. Bogart’s grocery store, that is where Genitti’s is today, and that was a meat market/grocery store. Mr. Bogart was financially able to hold the scrip so that we could eat. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know how we would have gotten through. We used our scrip money, he held it, we got the food.
Interviewer: Was it at the end of the first year when the scrip was redeemed?
Rosella Lee: Just about a year that they held it. The only other store that we found around here that would take our scrip was Mr. Willoughby in the shoe store in Plymouth. And so we could have shoes on our feet and food, but that was about it.
Interviewer: Was this something particular to Northville schools or were other schools also doing this?
Rosella Lee: I don’t really know, but I imagine it was in many places. We were so concerned with just our place, and we had no idea just how long it would be held. But, as we look back, it was good for us. It was very good for us. We learned to save early in our married life and that was very beneficial later in educating our children and all the other things that needed to be done. That part was good. It was about a complete school year that we had that type of money, and lived through it. Later on, I did get a full time job in the Northville system, but in the meantime, I did a lot of substituting work. And that was interesting, because they called me (even though my training was for high school students) I subbed for kindergarten through twelfth grade. Many times, I got in situations where I knew very little about. That’s what happened when I was called to substitute out at the little Pindman School. This school was an old one-roomer, one room schoolhouse, on the corner of Meadowbrook and Seven Mile. And they called me to fill out a couple of weeks because their teacher was very ill and I went out there as a substitute then, and the first day I went in this little school, I was just overwhelmed. I had seventeen pupils, from grades one through eight, and they were representing every class. The only grade I skipped was the third grade. And I had to teach all the grades, every subject. And I had never been in a one-room school before in my life. But I struggled through. And that word struggled is very necessary there. I struggled through those first two weeks. And then the president of the board called me to her home one night, and she pleaded with me to take the job because the other girl had resigned. I don’t know if it was her illness or she just did not want to come back to face those children. I don’t know why I signed the contract for five dollars a day for teaching because I was so overwhelmed at that point. But I said yes because I like a challenge and this was certainly a challenge for me. And I stayed there four years. So this Pindman School became mine to manage and control for that period of time, but I gained so much for myself and I hope the children gained likewise, but we had some wonderful experiences together.
Interviewer: Did you have to tend fires or do the extra things?
Rosella Lee: Ask in this frame, how does one measure the jobs that we’re doing? Many winter mornings, I got there and had to shovel snow away from the front door before I could even open the door, and that was long before the children had arrived. And if you stoked the big pot belly stove inside which I had to build the fire in everyday, if you stoked it well enough at night, you might find a few sparks there in the morning, and those were glad mornings, when you didn’t have to start another fire. Of course, children had chores to do and we had a chart where we listed the chores and their names and they changed the job every week and those included carrying coals from the shed and water from the well, or brooms and mops from the closet. The floors of that school were always cold. A board member told me that there were three floors, they just put a new one on top of the old one, hoping that would help because it was right on the ground and it was so cold. But they were always cold. We kept our boots on most of the time during the winter. And we found that even working math problems with gloved hands was possible. Since 1940 to 1944, those were the years I was in the school, for the War years, we received all kinds of food surpluses so the teacher and one well-trained eighth grader from her mother’s kitchen, experimented with stews and soups which simmered on the big stove while the aroma beckoned our thoughts away from the printed page. Another memory is our recesses. Remember, these children of mixed ages, but they were all in the same recess ground. And sometimes that became dangerous. The variance of ages allows the little ones to come into too close with the more mature games. And that resulted, one day, in an injury of a fourth grader. We had no car, no phone, no principal, no supervisor. What does the teacher do? She stands out on Seven Mile Road and flags down a car. The student was bandaged by the doctor and sent home to rest. But that memory of that incident is still very vivid in my mind. One day, while we were working quietly except for the ones reciting up front on this long bench that was there in the front of the class, a huge wheel from a truck released itself and was rolling swiftly across the road to our school. There was no escape as we watched ever so closely. But it veered a bit to the left, as it smashed through our picket fence, thus shattering only a small corner of the building. But that was a tense moment for all of us. Another highlight of the one-room school would be the Christmas program to which all the parents were planning to come.
Interviewer: You had to plan that out?
Rosella Lee: It had to be planned. It had to be worked out. But it was a lot of fun. You’re just like one big happy family there, with all these age groups there, and the older children were so good at helping the little kids who couldn’t do it. They were always there to give a helping hand. And it was especially the boys that did that. That was nice to see where they would help the first and second graders do things they couldn’t otherwise do. So this Christmas program was though out carefully, remember war years, nobody had money for anything, so we had to do everything in the cheapest way possible. And so we improvised. The children would gather nuts and cones and we silvered them and put a screw in them so we could hang them on the Christmas tree. And a father had donated the Christmas tree and we had fun doing that. The smaller children would string popcorn or make paper chains and the older children wrote their own Christmas play, including every person in the school. Every person had a part in it someway. We performed it with the gusto of a Broadway show. That party was a success because each one had contributed and that created good family spirit towards the school too. Thinking of the four years again, 1940-1944, we found that the surroundings and many things were changing, especially the surroundings concerning the district the school was in. They couldn’t afford to keep this school open anymore. It had to be closed. They tried it one year after I left, and then it closed forever. And that was hard. It was hard for them to do and the parents didn’t want it to happen. But they had no choice.
Interviewer: Was it part of the Northville School District?
Rosella Lee: No, it was separate because we had a supervisor that came up from the county. It was more like what they called a county school. We didn’t use the word township as much as we do now. It was a county school and a supervisor came from the county. She was the only boss I knew in all the four years I went there. She helped as much as she could. But they had to close it finally. They had no money for a teacher anymore, even at five dollars a day, but it had to be closed so they put it up for sale. Now, during the war years, you couldn’t buy any lumber that was any good. If you did, it was green lumber. It was very touch and go if you used green lumber, but a couple in Northville bought this schoolhouse and had it moved and attached to their home, and this home can be seen today on Main Street, near Rogers. They attached it to this older lovely landmark home, and put a new entrance to the house and it just looked like it had been there forever. They did a beautiful job on it, and I was pleased when the owner invited me in to see what they had done after they had attached it. And the windows were just the same and the old pot belly stove and the blackboards and the desks and the long bench were just a memory now. I am very glad we have a one-room school in our historical center because I feel they are truly a part of our history.
Interviewer: How did you get to school?
Rosella Lee: I rode the bus. In those days, Maybury Sanitarium was a very popular place and they ran a bus from here to Five Points, which was Grand River, and this bus was driven by the father of a couple of the children that I had in school, and he had to go right by my door here on Seven Mile Road, and I would see him coming, but he would say, “Now you stay inside your door on these cold mornings and I will just drive the bus slowly and that will give you enough time to get out to the road,” and I don’t think people ever caught on that we had that little thing going. He was very good about it. And the same thing at night. The bus would come along shortly after the last child left and …
Interviewer: You were in this home at that time?
Rosella Lee: Yes, I lived right here. I’ve lived in this house for close to 54-55 years. We moved here in 1935. But we rented it at that time. We didn’t have any money to anything then. We rented it for $25 per month and it was quite a new home. We came into it in the 1930’s and the home had been built in the early 1920’s, so it was probably a ten-year-old home when we came into it. It was in the estate of a lawyer. The people who bought it never lived in it. The man died, and the wife became incapable of taking care of things anymore. She was very senile they said. So the lawyer handled the whole thing. Eight years after we rented it, we came home from school one night and found a for-sale sign on our front lawn. And we panicked for awhile. It had a number there to call this lawyer. It was in the hands of the estate because the woman was unable to take care of business anymore. And the lawyer had no personal interest. He just wanted to sell this Northville property and get rid of it. So we pleaded with him over the phone that if possible, could he give us the first chance at buying it? We didn’t have a cent of money to give him. But we did find some folks that loaned us a little money, and we put a down payment on it. And I worked another year in this school, in the Pindman School, and I put all my money of that year on it and so were able to gradually own it. But I don’t know what this property would bring today, but we paid less than $5000 for it. And that was a very fair price at that time. It turned out to be the best investment we ever made in our life, so we were very fortunate to have had that.
Interviewer: Now, was the fish hatchery in… in…
Rosella Lee: Yes, that was another thing. The buses and the people who had patients out of this Maybury San would pass our door and they had to pass the fish hatchery then on to the edge, which would just about block up the street here and that was a very famous spot to stop and many times on Sunday afternoons, we could not get out of our own driveway because somebody had parked too close to our driveway. It was just way down here, and they’d walk up there. And I think it was mostly sanitarium people that were interested in it, because they passed it every Sunday, and they’d stop. They were curious. And it was beautiful then. It was well kept up. It was worth seeing. The government was taking care of it and it was a very beautiful spot.
Interviewer: Now, you mentioned way back about going to choir practice at the Methodist church. I think that would be interesting to talk about. Now, your husband was in music. That was a natural then…
Rosella Lee: So we just sang in the choir at first, and I don’t know just how long we did that, but he finally became choir director. I don’t remember the other man who had it. Mr. Roy Clark was his name. And he’d been there and had that for years, so he was one of those standby people at any church. He probably became too old to do it anymore, I don’t remember that part of it too well. But anyway, my husband directed the church choir. He directed it for thirteen years and during those thirteen years, we had one very unusual thing happen in one church service. My husband came from the South, and he was very… he had no bias at all as far as color was concerned and in our school, at that time, we had some Salem children in our district. At that time… the district has been changed since. But they came to our school, and one family had two girls, two sisters, who were very good singers, so they were naturally in the choir, the high school choir. And wonderful girls, and a wonderful family, and because of my husband’s unbiased attitude towards everything, he just without asking anybody about it, he asked this Ernestine Louis, which was the girl’s name, with a beautiful soprano voice, to sing in our church choir one Sunday morning, to sing a solo. And we had people, Northville people, who did not walk out, but stomped out of the service that morning because a black girl was singing the solo. Now that was way back in the 1930’s or early 1940’s. That wouldn’t happen in Northville today. But it did then. And that’s a lasting memory of the lack of education we had on that at that time compared to what we have today, and our attitudes have certainly changed for the better in many relationships that way. Then later, we left this choir because he… well that’s another story. During the Depression years, you had no gas to travel anywhere. You had no money to do anything west. We had to be very careful with what we had. But you had to have entertainment nevertheless. You just had to do something. Well my husband decided that it was time to organize at least the men in town and get a chorus started. He was quite successful. They sang around in different and they pooled their gas money together and pooled rides in their cars to get to the places where they sang, because gasoline was so scarce. But, it was a release. There was so much tension at the time, singing, if you liked to sing, with a bunch of men… Well, it grew, it just grew miraculously fast and it included Plymouth, finally, and Wayne, and Redford, Novi, Northville, Salem. Just all over, people came to sing. They would practice one night a week, but they got pretty good and loved doing it, and so they went around to different… Oh, they traveled quite a distance finally, before that disbanded. Then, out of that grew a community chorus including women also. The men still kept theirs separate but they also joined the other so we had a good basis for the men singers, and then we joined in a larger chorus and that chorus started to learn Handel’s Messiah. The first few years, we didn’t do the whole thing. We learned a few each year. We weren’t trained well enough to sing the massive work, but that Messiah grew the same way because of the need at the time of the people to get together and to do something that would make them forget all their hardships in life. And so that increased. They gave the Messiah in this town to the Presbyterian church, for two reasons. It was community-wide, anyway, but they had the better organ at the time, and they could seat us in the front of the church better than any other church in town at the time. That’s the old Presbyterian church where you went in the front door instead of the side door. And that’s before they remodeled and so, we all sat there. And that chorus grew. We always had between 75 and 100 in it when they sang. Later, as it grew, not right at first. We noticed… we tried to use just local talent at first to sing the solo parts and we had to because we didn’t have any money to hire anyone, and we did for a couple years, until times got a little better. We were very lucky… I remember one singer who was a member of the Presbyterian church and a very well known townsmen at the time was Carl Brian, and he sang the solo parts for a couple of years. Another girl, even after she was in college, came back and sang with us because she had a beautiful soprano voice and wanted to do it for her town, and that was Evelyn Ambler, that would be Sherrill Ambler’s daughter, and Sherrill was known by everyone. I don’t remember the other two soloists… but we did use local talent for a few years because we didn’t have the money to hire anyone… but as times improved, we did get our soloists from the University of Michigan and we were able to pay them. And they were very helpful. But it grew. And out of that, it almost became a special alumni association. We gave it the last Sunday before Christmas every year. And the student, because they had been with the high school choir, would naturally be singing in the community chorus. The students would keep coming back from college and wherever at Christmas time just to sing in the Messiah, and afterwards, they would have refreshments for us. The church would come by and serve the refreshments and these students would get a table by themselves. It was an alumni evening for them. Good old times, you know… Some of these students wrote letters back to my husband when he was ill and would say that of all the things they got out of their high school years, and after that meant the most to them, was singing in that Messiah. So that was… it was a worthwhile project. It started during the War period and Depression period and grew into something that hung on. I think they did it for thirty or thirty-one years, they did the Messiah. And his health broke and he couldn’t do it anymore. No one picked it up.
Interviewer: Now, didn’t you teach in Northville later on?
Rosella Lee: Yes, I took time off to have my family. I had three children. I subbed all these years but I didn’t have a contract until my youngest was in the fourth grade. Then, they pleaded with me. They only needed half a teacher, so the principal called me in one day. He said, “We need an English teacher half time and would I be interested?” I thought, well maybe that would work out. At least I would be in the same place everyday and have a regular schedule and the pay was a little better than subbing was, and so I said yes. And that was in June. And he called me in September and said, “The half job has turned into a full-time job.” That’s when I went back to teach full-time and my little one was in the fourth grade then, and I think I stayed thirteen more years in teaching.
Interviewer: It was mainly English?
Rosella Lee: Mainly English and advanced reading and things of that type. Whatever was needed. Then I had another decision to make, I taught at the junior high level until the new high school was made and I had to make a decision. Do I stay back because the junior high stayed back in the old school and the rest of it went on? So I had a decision to make then. I could do it either way. So I finally chose to go up to the high school and finish my years up there. And I think I was up there eight years before I retired. And that was a sudden retirement because my husband and I…my husband and I were the first husband and wife to have ever taught in this school under contract, although that high school even then was spread out so that he was at the far end where the music was and I was at the other end, and we saw each other hardly ever, except in the meeting after school for the teachers.
Interviewer: I remember your husband had honey for sale.
Rosella Lee: Oh yeah! That was a good summer project. We always had a big garden, as much as our land allowed us to have, and we planted a lot of fruit trees so we always had a lot of work of that type, which was summer work, which was good for the teachers that are off at that time, and we started pollinating our fruit trees with a couple of hives of bees. Those two hives of bees accumulated to a 135 hives before we were finished. Then it became a business. It was a fine business because the older children could help in the summertime, and we had to haul it in and process it and bottle it and sell it.
Interviewer: You did it right here in the basement?
Rosella Lee: Right here in the basement, and it really helped us out of our financial difficulties at the time. That was the beginning to get us up on our feet again. We couldn’t do it on the teachers’ salaries alone because we were too far behind with all the college debts to begin with and then the Depression and the War years.
Interviewer: Where had you gone to school?
Rosella Lee: We both went to Albion College and then he got his Master’s degree over at the University of Michigan and I was enrolled in the same, but I never could make it because I had another baby that year, and so I couldn’t focus on the work.
Interviewer: You were talking about Mr. Knapp?
Rosella Lee: Coming back to the school situation here… Mr. Knapp had been the Superintendent for so many, many years and was just full of new ideas and he wanted to come back to the hometown and really make a showing immediately. He was so wonderful, but he ultimately had to go carefully because of the times and because of the situation of the superintendent before him, he to move carefully in many areas. He definitely wanted to put in more language study. He interviewed me for German, which I was prepared to teach and I’ll never forget. He is a very austere looking man until you got to know him, which I did, just his stern look. But, as I said earlier, he interviewed me in his Highland Park home. When he interviewed me in German, I didn’t know if he knew German. And he asked all the questions and I was supposed to answer them in German, which I did, and I thought… they were questions about my life and what my goals were and things like that. And when we finished, he repeated one sentence I made and said, “You should have used the subjunctive mood here.” And I thought, “My goodness, he’s a perfectionist.” But after you got to know him, he was a dear man and his wife even more so. Dearest lady of this town ever.
Interviewer: For how many years did he stay on that post?
Rosella Lee: He was here less than two years when he died. He died very suddenly. He’d been to a high school play the night before and died in the night. Very sudden, leaving her alone… They had no children. They lived over on Dunlap, right next to where the Ellison’s live now, just one house down from Aubrey’s on Dunlap. But I never did get to teach German. He didn’t dare put it in that first year he was here. He wanted to, but he didn’t dare. They had French here. They were still teaching Latin. I found out he had nine years of German at the college level, so he knew his German a lot better than I knew mine. But he always had that in mind that he wanted to start German, but he didn’t live long enough to ever do it. And I never got to teach German. I almost did one other time. They called me in and that was when Mr. Ellison was principal. He called me in. He said, “How would you like to teach German next year?” which was a shock. It just came out of the blue. But, here he had all my credentials out on the desk that morning and he said, “I noticed you are eligible to teach German and we’ve never had German before. How would you like to put it in?” I said, “I’d love to, but I don’t know if this is the time,” because Spanish was coming in at the same time, you see. Times were changing. German was going out. Spanish was coming in. Latin was going out. It was changeable. So I never really did get to teach it. I did sub in German. They did have it later on for a few years. It didn’t last long. I don’t think they have it now, but I’m not sure. At least, I never got to teach it. So, therefore, I’ve forgotten most of it. But Mr. Knapp was very good at our… he never gave you a compliment without a challenge. Maybe he liked a song that my husband’s chorus did. Maybe he liked it. Maybe they did a good job of it. But he wouldn’t say that. He would say, “I think in this number, this one part could be improved.” Or, “Could I make a suggestion for the next time you sing this number?” which was a beautiful way to challenge you and that’s the kind of man he was. Teachers adored him because… they worked harder for him all the time. He was so marvelous. I didn’t teach under him. I subbed under him. And he kept his word and gave me a lot of work that year. Just as a call-in person. But it was sad when he was here such a short time before his death. As I think of it, it would have pulled us up faster than we did because he had so much experience but it was a wonderful step for Mr. Amerman.
Interviewer: He was the next…?
Rosella Lee: That’s when Mr. Amerman decided … they offered it to him and he said, “Well, I’ve been principal here a long time. I’m never going to do anything more. I’d better do it now.” And he did. He took the job over. And he was here for many, many years. I don’t know how many, but it must be in the high twenties. So that’s the way times changed. I had a girl who talked to me just the other day, saying, “I envy you that you lived in Northville when it was a small town.” They were talking about the growth of Northville now and how things are changing so rapidly you can’t keep up with it. You go to a club meeting or a church meeting or anything and you don’t know half the people anymore. She said, “I envy you. You knew everybody in town, and you knew them thoroughly.” And I thought, well yes, I have been lucky that way. Northville has given me that small town type of living and it’s been able to broaden my attitudes about a lot of things in the time that I’ve lived here. I think we are a wonderful town and I think that about our relationship with the environment around us. We’re close to Ann Arbor which gives us many opportunities. We’re close to Detroit, if we have to get there for anything, and all this in consideration, we have been very blessed. And whether we like the huge build-up now, we’re going to have to accept it and learn to live with it. We knew it was coming and it’s here, and we’ve got to learn to adjust.
Interviewer: You’re still teaching as I understand… the church?
Rosella Lee: Once you’re a teacher, you never get away from it. I’m still teaching a Bible study class at our church. It’s an ecumenical class. It just happens to meet at our church, but it’s open to anyone. I got sort of talked into that. I could use the word roped in about nine years ago. I can’t let it go because first, I like to teach and because it is helping me keep busy in my older years. I know I’m way too old to be up there with all the young girls, but I’ve had the most wonderful class this year again. Every year, I think I can’t have that many again, but they came in September. We opened for our ninth year. It was astounding how many had signed up for my class. So I can’t stop as long as they’re coming and as long as I have the health to do it, but it’s keeping me young to be with these young girls. I just marvel at their outlook on life compared to my outlook at their age. I also marvel at how they do all these things when they are raising their families. We didn’t do that in our days. We stayed home with our children. When they were old enough, then maybe we went back into teaching or something, but now, some of these girls arrive in class every Thursday morning with three youngsters for the nursery. And how they get three youngsters ready and up there, and their lesson studied and give all morning to that type of thing, I don’t think I could have done it. I don’t think I would have done it. I would say no. But that has been the … I have been very active in my church and that is my life now. A lot of other societies and clubs around town…
Interviewer: You have been a member of Woman’s Club?
Rosella Lee: I’ve been a member of Woman’s Club. I think right now, I’m the oldest member who still comes to meetings. We have some older members that probably joined before I did, but they are living in Arizona or Florida or something but not here, and we hardly ever see them. Btu I am still an active member that way.
Interviewer: What changes have you seen, especially with Woman’s Club?
Rosella Lee: Oh, there’s a lot of change at Woman’s Club. I think I came in, really in 1931. And I know exactly because it was just before my first baby arrived. I was very pregnant at the time and the girl that went in with me was also pregnant at the time, and in fact, our babies were born three weeks apart and that was Pat Stalker, who was very well known in this town at one time, and who is also a former teacher here. Woman’s Club was meeting at that time in the old library, which was on Wing Street, where MAGS is now. It was a beautiful setting for a club. Imagine bookshelves all around you. You had a fireplace there, and, in winter, they often had a fire going when we met there. You had a balcony at the top, at the back where if it overflowed downstairs, they’d make you climb the stairs. It was a warm cozy setting for a group of women to meet. We met every week when I first joined, that was in 1931. Every week. Now to get a program up for the same women every week from October to March was a job. But they did studies then more than we do now, now we have to be entertained, but there the women themselves studied different things, books, topics, and things. And worked together and got better acquainted that way too. My first part in a program, I joined in the fall in October of 1931, and those were bad years, and in the Spring of 1932, three months later, I was pregnant when I joined. My baby came in December and in the spring of that year, we had a program that they wanted me to be in and it was a shawl program. They dug out of the trunks of Northville all the old shawls that they could find and they built a program around these shawls, a history of the shawls, what they were used for and so on. Well you can imagine which one I got, I got the baby shawl. And I had to perform that afternoon, sitting in a rocking chair, rocking my own child about two to three months old at the time, and singing to her Brahms’ Lullaby in German. Now that was my part. That was my introduction, performing for the Women’s Club programs, and it’s a big memory in my life because it’s so personal. And we had some very talented women who put on some beautiful programs. We used to really work hard on those programs. And it wouldn’t be alone. It was with a group, but you’d be responsible. We had a beautiful Christmas program, another musical. I generally worked on the musical ones and that became so well liked because it just got to be loved. It was a group of Christmas songs put together with a setting and one person could be… we had a narrator to sort of mend them together. Then we had our own chorus singing the songs, a small chorus, we weren’t as many members then as now, but that pulled it all together, and we had fifteen or twenty people in the program or some part of acting out of that and it became a beautiful program of Christmas music of the unusual carols that you don’t hear of so much, from foreign countries and we’d have a setting accordingly. And that became a very popular program for some years. Then they changed it to meeting only every other week. I don’t know when that change came in, and that’s the way it is today. Twice a month instead of four times a month, which lessened the pressure of the programs, but I think we lost something too, in stopping it every other week because there, it just became a habit to go every week. It was just a beautiful day you looked forward to because the programs were so excellent. And, as I say, they studied hard, they worked on these things, just like any other… like reviewing a long thesis you’ve been working on a long time, but they were marvelous, marvelous women in that group, because it was formed as a study group and it continued like that for many years. But now it’s good, it’s good in another way. Just a change that has taken place.
Interviewer: You remember the Northville Review. How long has that been in place?
Rosella Lee: I don’t know when that started. I came in after I stopped teaching. It had been going on a long time, but I don’t know when it started.
Interviewer: But mainly, it was to review books?
Rosella Lee: Just to review books and get to know a different group of people, which is, I guess, our main reason for joining any club. To be included in a group and work together and that’s worthwhile. To get back to the school, this is not in sequence at all, but before we get away from the old high school here… we definitely needed that new high school. The crowded conditions the last few years in the old one… have you ever read that book, Upstairs, Downstairs? In the school systems of New York, you… that was Northville there for awhile. In the past, in the classes, and this was when I was teaching full-time for the junior high, we had to have upstairs and downstairs ways of commuting, of getting to the next class. Otherwise, we would not have made it in the time allowed. So the one stairs became the downstairs and the other end of the h all was the upstairs, and you’d better hurdle it fast because you couldn’t go against it. And that was very necessary that they built the school on the hill, and now, they’ve expanded even more so. Changes come and go.
Interviewer: What would be some of the curriculum when your husband started?
Rosella Lee: Well, in his department… he could pretty much do what he wanted to do because there was nothing here when he came. There was no band, there was no chorus, there was nothing. It had to be built up completely from scratch which, in a lot of ways, is good. He didn’t have to tear down anything. There was nothing to tear down and build up in its place. We were very proud. The first year that he was here, he started with the younger ones. He knew that to start doing too much with the seniors, they would soon be gone. But his theory was to start and build up from the base. And so he started with eighth graders and found these eight girls with good voices and he trained them, took them to a contest in Lansing that same year, and they won first place. And that inspired this town so much, just these eight eighth graders that did that for their school, and that was his first big, there were many honors after that, but that was his first big one, and it meant a lot. He also took students every summer up to Interlochen. The music students that desired that type of construction for two weeks. It was a different setup up there, than it is now, but then they had a two week period where you could go up there and have this special training in music and get a taste of what Interlochen was all about. And that was interesting and that was very… we never had any trouble to get folks to go up there as long as they had that program. Then they changed it too, later on. But you have to build up the love of music, and that is what had to be done because if you don’t have anything here for all those years, you have to start somewhere, if you have the desire. He had great success in building the choir, which was his first love, I think, over the band. The band, they tried to have a community band when we were first here, they were still struggling with a little community band, and a man from Detroit, by the name of Mr. Head, and he came out, but what he would do, he had several sons that were good players, and he’d bring his family out to play in this group, and it was wonderful because they were all good players, and he was a good director. But you see, it was not just a community band then, we were importing people. But as the high school started its band, the other diminished over the years. He died and I think that’s what killed it. He did die about that period of time. Then the band started to grow, but it took a long time. There again, we have to start down in the grades in order to get the value of the polished player before he graduates. So it is a constant turnover in all you high school work, well, in every department that way. But we did have a lot of success. One of our townspeople who helped the band a lot financially and gave them the lift when they needed the lift, was Ed Langfield, who had a place up here on Rogers. I don’t think he himself was a musician of any kind, but he loved to help people that needed help, and he bought them their first uniforms, and he started the process of feeding ice cream cones or something here on Memorial Day to the children who marched and so on. And he was a great backer of the band. That helped the children a lot. And they got proud of their band, and prouder and prouder as it grew. It was hard. Instruments were so very expensive and the school had no money where you could have a rental program so the parents had to buy the instruments. The school just couldn’t do it. And that took time too. Later, they did own a few instruments. Some of the bigger ones that the child could not afford, but it grew and became popular. For years, they were the ones chosen to play at the State Fair every Labor Day. They looked forward to that each year. They played a very short time, and had fun the rest of the day. So Memorial Day they marched, Fourth of July they marched, and Labor Day they marched. And he was pretty strict with them. They gave up other things to play in the band if they were members. They knew that when they came in, and they were pretty loyal. That was good too. His choir also grew, and I don’t think they had a financial backer in that, but they did get rows and they did look nice on stage, and they grew to be over a hundred in number in a couple of years, and that is tremendous when you think of how small Northville High School was at that time. A hundred there today would not mean the same as a hundred in those days. I know, in the last yearbook when my husband was up there, it took two pages to put the choir picture in the yearbook. So they grew and they were good. They put on some mighty fine concerts. Then he got known also for the operettas. He loved Gilbert and Sullivan, and he was told that high school people could not do Gilbert and Sullivan. It would be too difficult. He proved them wrong because the youngsters loved it, and he gave five different Gilbert and Sullivan operas. So that if you were in the choir all the time you were in high school, you could be a performer in four of them, at least, and they looked forward to that. And some of them were in it for four years. And some went into Gilbert and Sullivan training. We had one… Jim Drew, one of the big family of children here, the Drews, he went up to New York and worked on Gilbert and Sullivan there. Many of them went on into other performing ways. So that was interesting. But there again, they were comparing with other schools around here. It seemed to me that music sold itself during the hard times better than anything else. It brought people together in groups, it have them something to do, it was a little bit more relaxing than a textbook in front of you all the time, and there grew a love for music at the high school at the time. The children were full of it. The whole faculty was backing it, and it was successful. The part that my husband liked the least was the marching band for the football games. And he was glad when the school finally hired his assistant to do that part of the work. He did some good ones, but his heart wasn’t in that part of it. If you have a backing of anything, you want to go on and do better all the time. I think he reached Northville just at the time when the school ready to have something like t hat, and that’s what helped. And he stayed 38 years on there. They used to call him Mr. Music Man around here, but then his health broke. He collapsed at school one day, three weeks before his operetta was to be put on. They had had no stage training at all because one of the high school plays was being performed by Ms. Panatoni the month before, and she had use of that. So they knew their music, but they hadn’t had the acting on-stage yet. He was hospitalized that same day, and he was in the hospital when they gave it three weeks later, but the rest of the teachers rallied around and the children rallied around and they put that on, and it was a success. They did it for him. And that was the “Pirates of Penzance.” And now, we have those same things around us yet. Even our local theatre has them occasionally. So we still have Gilbert and Sullivan. But it proves that some of these things that college age levels say that high schoolers cannot do, sometimes they can do them. And I think, more so today than ever before because they’re just smarter than we were. They’ve had more advantages that we ever had at that time. So we should expect more from them. Well, I don’t know of anything else.
Interviewer: That was very interesting. Thank you.
(Cut in tape…)
Rosella Lee: … talking about burning of buildings, we watched the burning of the fish hatchery building, and I have slides to prove that. And we watched the old grade school burn in the middle of the night. I don’t know what year that was, but we can look it up. And that was lucky that it happened at night. It might have harmed a lot of children, had it happened… And they said there was so much oil on the floors, that it made a beautiful fire because of the oiled floors. That’s what they did. They used to oil the floors. And that would help the fire along. But, it burned to the ground that night. And then, another fire that we watched and all the townspeople sat where the depot is… in the big bank there, across from there, the Globe Factory, a part of the Globe company, but we watched that in the middle of the night. When there was a fire in town, the whole town turned out for it. We sat there, staying till the fire was out, and that’s community, again. That’s the small town attitude toward it all. So those were three fires that I watched in this town in my time of living here. Another thing I haven’t mentioned, when we came here in 1930, the interurban tracks were still on Main Street. They went from Pontiac, down Eight Mile Road, into Northville and then on to Ann Arbor some way. But the tracks were still in Main Street pavement there. That was interesting. There was the Crow’s Nest there, where they had something in the middle of the street, but that was gone, but it was just recently gone when we got here. I had seen pictures of it. And that was when the urban tracks were there too. And comparing that with the way it looks today makes you think back. I never saw the interurban cars. They were gone, but the tracks were still there. The vacant corner on Main and Center was vacant the year we came, so that’s been vacant a long time. So that dates back… it must have been in the 20’s when that fire happened, but we didn’t see that one. And that would make a good story. I didn’t mention one other thing, talking about the music. Every spring, my husband organized a Music Week. There would be concerts of some kind the whole week. And during those weeks… one year, we had the Ann Arbor Little Symphony come over. He had happened to be in school, when he was doing his work in Ann Arbor, with the director of this Little Symphony, so he was glad to bring his Little Symphony out here. And that was quite an honor to have the whole symphony, it wasn’t a big one, but it was very adequate, come out here. And then, one other year, that the Detroit Symphony came here, and I have a picture of that somewhere here. In the old gymnasium of the old high school, this was downstairs in that place. And we have a good picture of that one, showing that Northville brought in a lot of entertainment of various kinds, improving the culture of Northville at the time. But those were two outstanding ones that I remember, and they were both in the old high school gymnasium.
Interviewer: Well, I think you’ve covered a lot and it’s been most interesting.
Rosella Lee: Well, if you think of anything else, you can always come back.
Interviewer: Thank you.