Biography of Dr. M. Chester Nolte

Educational Advisor, WPA, Company 769, Indianapola, IA

          Many young men dropped out of school in the 30s to find work and support their families. Thus every CCC Camp had an Education Advisor, who set up classes and hired instructors. There was a vacancy at Co. 769, Indianapola, IA in 1934, and I applied. I was a student at Simpson College in that town, By that time, I'd already taught four years in rural schools and was working my way through college, along with my brother Glen. We needed work to keep ourselves in school, and the $50 a W.P.A. teacher could make sure looked good. I got the job, and would attend college in the daytime and teach in the camp at night.

    I was a WPA teacher hired by the camp Educational Advisor to teach classes that I could and did proceed to organize for 2 ½ years. I had taught in a rural one room school so I was experienced. I don't recall the name of the EA but he was just another teacher our of a job. He lived in camp and managed the educational program. I was hired by the Camp EA but got a check for $50 each month from Washington from the WPA. That was good money at the time. 

     There was only one Educational Advisor (EA) to each camp. The EA set up the courses and got the instructors lined up. No semesters, no grades, no discipline was the rule. NEED was the criterion, do we need this, and how many want it?  Companies under the leadership of their EA could put on any classes they could get ten men signed up to take.

     There were no standard texts, the instruction being mostly oral and on the job. One great need was the use of tools and most project superintendents required their LEM's (Local Experienced Men) to give the instruction. Of course, these ranged widely in quality and extent, some being of a tutorial nature on the job, catch as catch can, sometimes under the tutorship of assistant or leaders who were also enrollees just as their students were. There was to be no charge except for materials used in the course and most did not have formal texts.

     The EA was assigned by the Area HQ and most had the support of the commanding officer ( a military man). In my camp the CO ordered that everybody had to take at least one course so we had no problem getting classes. The lights burnt bright every night. We had a building like the other barracks buildings which was the Education building. It had a wood shop, sometimes mechanical drawing, seats or desks and all the blackboard you needed. Classes met after work and after chow. Usually they met for 2 hours until lights out. Men were tired from working outdoors all day and easy to teach, they appreciated it. In some camps arrangements were made with the local school district to let the men meet in the local high school and credit issued accordingly. This applies also to the local junior colleges, any kind of arrangement the EA could whomp up.

     For the classes in camp, rather than the ones for credit, there were no registrars to keep grades and records of courses taken, no central depository of these items. Each camp was free to do whatever it wanted to do without interference from any other company. The certificate issued at the conclusion of the instruction, such as it was, amounted only to bragging rights for the holder. They did not move up into another grade or position. All it showed that this enrollee had had certain numbers of hours of a subject loosely called safety, carpentry, et cetera. That and five cents would buy you a cup of coffee anywhere. In other words it was worthless except as a morale builder. Kids actually worked for these things mostly to brag about them. In real life, they meant absolutely nothing ( Curators Note: The biographies on this website are filled with men benefiting greatly from their CCC education. The writer here means merely the certificate itself was not in and of itself a diploma or degree which conferred any particular status such as a high school diploma or college degree. They were doubtless used to help an enrollee prove schooling in a skill in later job searches).

     Every EA had an enrollee "assistant" who did the leg work, etc. And every camp was required to hold first aid classes. With a full belly and a feeling of peace after working all day, most enrollees were very thankful for the program. The CCC students were dropouts from 5th grade on. They all wanted an education, so they were good students.

     Instructors did not have to be certified. Some men taught others, especially if you were an assistant leader or a leader. Blue print reading was popular since they used it on the project.

     On the job they learned stone mason skills, wood working, truck driving, cooking (KP was common for infractions) and any other skills learned best on the job.

     A list of classes we offered at Co. 769 was; Surveying, Auto Mechanics, Letter Writing, Reading, Remedial Arithmetic, Algebra, Mechanical Drawing, Wood Shop, Furniture Repair, Band, Chorus, Basketball, Printing, Photography, Tools, Truck Driving, First Aid, Swimming Lessons, History, Typing, Book keeping, and any course to which ten men signed up.

     I worked out with the EA which class I would teach. I taught Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, music appreciation, letter writing and various other courses as needed at Co. 769 for 2 ½ years. I also formed a band with instruments rented from a local music store. The COompany slush fund paid half the rent, the enrollees the other half. I led the Band at retreats and affairs around the country. We rode to county fairs and oysters suppers in the back of the GI Khaki covered truck (cold as Antartica in winter hot as heck in summer ). We even played over the radio and once broadcast by remote control from camp. One of the Chapter 7 members was Howard Neumann, who played the sax in our band. I have kept in touch with some of the band members over the years and found they all turned out OK even though they were poor at the time.

     They worked hard for a buck a day building dams and trails for what is now one of 45 state parks built in Iowa by the CCCs. It is called Ahquabi ("restful place") State Park 17 mi. south of Des Moines, where you'll find 774 wooded acres with a 130 acre lake, rocked trails, docks, 166 campsites with 36 electrical outlets. Modern showerhouses, picnic tables, a stone lodge and all that makes for the comfort of the visitor.

     It is good to know that out of the dust bowl and the poverty of the Great Depression, such beauty could emerge, all because somebody cared enough to do something about it. For 2 ½ years, I worked with these boys who became men in the camps, helping preserve the beauty of Nature and the wealth of our nation, a satisfaction that lasts even to this day.

     The story has a happy ending. On the $50 a month I was paid as a WPA teacher, my sweetheart, Gwenneth and I were married on June 30, 1936, over half a century ago. What made it all possible was the Civilian Conservation Corps

----- Dr. Chester Nolte




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