Dorothy Finnen (Keffen)
Killarney, Manitoba, Canada
Only the joy derived from the love and respect of “her kids” constitute the important awards acquired by this rural teacher. Even now, when she and her husband meet them, the greeting is, “Hello, Mrs. Finnen, Hi, Russ”, even though she has told them to call her Dorothy. They usually respond, “No, you are Mrs. Finnen to us.” She had so impressed her love for them in those long ago school days that it cannot be removed.
Dorothy was born in Brandon, Manitoba, and lived on her family’s farm ten miles north of Souris, MB. She attended the rural Glenvale School up to grade 10, followed by grades 11 and 12 at Souris Collegiate. After a Permit Teacher course in Winnipeg in the summer of 1949, she taught at Northcote School, north of Killarney, MB. After graduating from Normal School in 1951, she went to teach at Hernefield School at Waskada, MB. After that, she returned to the Killarney area, and subsequently taught at Fairfield, Northcote, and Hullett Schools until she retired.
She taught all of her ten years in rural one-room schools as she loved the total independence, soon realizing that each school had its own traditions, ideals, and pride. These were very evident on field days, at school concerts, and at social gatherings, where the school’s performance was on the line. Each school was the social centre with card parties, dances, last day picnics, and a meeting-place to discuss local issues. The students were always proud to have their art and achievements posted on the walls for their families and friends to see.
Enrollment varied from school to school, especially if families arrived or departed during the term. One school decreased to 7 students while another had 24 in all grades, including grade 10 correspondence. The latter school was a small building, resulting in the desks being jammed against each wall. To add to the challenge, there were three large teenage boys with attitudes. She perfected her stern look on them, but it impressed only the five beginners! Everyone survived, with all those students still being good friends to Russ and Dorothy.
Rural schools came with different heating systems all tempermental. Usually, an older boy would take care of furnace stoking; but there was often smoke and no heat or too much. Outside, the children loved to dig snow caves and tunnels and to build forts. The result was always the fragrance of drying mitts and boots that had to be placed on the big square register in the floor. Her idea of classroom achievement resulted when the students were learning and happy. At the final school picnic one year, the board chairman, who was also the father of several of the children, said that he had never realized children could be happy and still learn. That truly made her day!
The older students helped the younger ones with reading or preparing for outdoors activity. They listened to each other’s classes being taught. The little ones would become absorbed with the older ones’ subjects and often answered oral questions unexpectedly. Since they loved to listen to someone read, Dorothy devoted the last fifteen minutes of each day to story-time. She would always conclude her reading at an exciting spot amid groans of “Read some more!”
She considers her helping the slower learners and trying to teach them skills which they would need for life rather than to follow a rigid school course as being an achievement. This policy led to intense discussions with the inspector, but he just learned to sigh and bear it. One beautiful fall day after a lesson on seed dispersal (to which all the kids listened regardless of age), she sent the whole class to the schoolyard to find seeds to prove the point of the lesson. Off they scooted in every direction! About 15 minutes later, the door opened and in strolled the inspector uh, oh no industrious students! What is going on here? Fortunately, this old stone school harboured a large, mostly unused, bell in the belfry above the entrance. Hurriedly, she tugged on the rope connected to it. Its unexpected peal alerted the children that something was amiss. Wide-eyed, they dashed back to the classroom and into their vacant seats. Dorothy’s worst day was suddenly over!
During a very snowbound winter, the road was solidly blocked. Her husband drove a team of horses one mile east where his 1940 Chevrolet car had been left overnight and pulled it to start the motor. He then drove two miles south, three miles west, and three miles north. Since the road west to the school was blocked, Dorothy walked one mile west and on south to reach the school. No students arrived, and since there was no phone to use, she stayed all day and then retraced her steps at four o’clock. She could never figure why a rural school did not have a telephone. However, the next year she taught at her local school where she had access to a telephone at a neighbour’s home one-quarter mile away.
After retirement, she became a full-time farmer partner with her husband Russell and learned to drive some machinery and eventually engaged in all the farm jobs which she could. Every time that they renovated the farm site, Dorothy planted a new bed of flowers they are her weakness. This habit followed her to town after their retirement from the farm in 1989.
Their daughter Denise was educated in Killarney, studied nursing in Brandon, married, and became the mother of twins a boy and a girl the same year that Russell and Dorothy retired. Besides gardening, she enjoyed sewing clothes for the grandkids when they were little. She also sewed nurse and doctor operating room hats for teams going to overseas clinics. She crocheted newborn caps and sewed orthopaedic shorts for Denise to give to hospitals in the RHA where she worked.
Dorothy advises student teachers to learn to “read the child”. The student is the important part of teaching not the rigorous prescribed course. Read each child as there is gold in every one of them.
Health dictates life as she and her husband grow older. They feel very blessed to have lived when and where they have. They can no longer visit their family in British Columbia, but they can remember and relive the trips which they did take.
(This page was updated in August 2012.)