Valentines illustrate beloved teaching career

Late Cedar Grove-Belgium educator saved every card she received from students during her 39 years in the classroom; now one of her former pupils is working to preserve them

RICH DYKSTRA HELD albums of the valentines teacher Jean DeRuyter received during her 39-year career. He gave a presentation on the collection on Tuesday at the Cedar Grove Public Library. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

said Jean DeRuyter had a heart for education, and he has 845 pieces of proof.

DeRuyter saved every valentine she received from her students from 1958 through 1997 in photo albums. Dykstra presented the albums in a program at the Cedar Grove Public Library on Tuesday.

DeRuyter died at 81 on Oct. 26, 2018. Her sister Marion said Jean hoped the valentines would be given to a museum. Dykstra, one of her former students, is in the process of finding a permanent home for the collection.

DeRuyter closed three schools in her first five years of teaching, including River Valley, Liberty and Lima. She started teaching when one-room schoolhouses were beginning to close.

DeRuyter taught at Lincoln Elementary in Belgium and finished her career at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School.

The valentines represent a history lesson in culture.

Dykstra, a retired engineer, went through the albums and compiled some statistics. He expected many homemade cards but found only 11.

The fact that DeRuyter, a quiet and straight-laced woman, saved all the cards was unexpected.

“A lot of people didn’t know Miss DeRuyter was that sentimental,” Dykstra said.

DeRuyter never married and always lived close to where she taught. Dykstra called her the “prototypical one-room school teacher.”

He has memories of her discipline since he and his friend David TerMaat got into their fair share of mischief.

 The two were once caught talking and ordered to put their heads on their desks. They kept chatting and were kept inside during morning recess.

The two were “mad” and hatched a plan of revenge. They got powder paint from a closet in the school and decorated DeRuyter’s car during the noon hour and afternoon recess.

The glitch, he said, was that one-room schoolhouses utilized natural light and were full of windows. DeRuyter saw what was going on and met the boys in the afternoon with a bucket and rags. They stayed after school to clean her car.

“I remember some of the specific things she taught me. Behavior was not one of them,” Dykstra said.

When it came to valentines, he said, poor families often gave the smallest cards and signed all the children’s names instead of giving individual ones. He has a theory that the largest valentines came from affluent families or “often came from people in trouble with the teacher, and that fit David TerMaat to a T.”

DeRuyter attended Sheboygan Normal School, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and earned a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee.

She and Marion took over for their parents at First Reformed Church in Cedar Grove, with Jean teaching Sunday School to children and Marion leading the adults.

Marion said her sister’s favorite story was of the lost sheep and she would have a student hide in a corner while others went on a search.

In 2018, DeRuyter left a $1.5 million endowment to the Cedar Grove-Belgium Education Foundation.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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