- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - For the past 46 years, two women who never knew each other - Katherina Post Buss and Laura Ingalls Wilder - have helped Jeanne Lorenzen with her life’s work.

Evidence of the women is everywhere in Lorenzen’s third-grade classroom at Trinity Lutheran School: A lunch pail in the cupboard, a doll with hoop skirts sitting on a fireplace mantel, a “spooner” in the drawer, the rocking chair and the antique sled, the old-fashioned desks and a trundle bed with a straw tick mattress.

The antiques - collected by Lorenzen over the past four decades - were a part of both women’s lives, which spanned the same 90 years: 1867 to 1957.

One of them is Laura Ingalls Wilder, who started her life in the now-famous log cabin in the “Big Woods” of Wisconsin, taught school at 15, married Almanzo Wilder and wrote the classic children’s book series.

The other is Katherina Post Buss, who was born two years earlier than Wilder and worked as a housekeeper for a widower and his two children in Illinois, later married her employer then traveled to Nebraska in a covered wagon and settled on a farmstead near Beatrice.

Years later, Lorenzen - Buss’s great granddaughter - grew up just a few miles from that farmstead, where she milked cows, fed chickens, watched her grandfather run a horse plow, devoured the “Little House” books and came to love the world in which those two women lived.

And when she walked into her first classroom in 1968, she took her favorite childhood books with her to the small Lutheran school in Papillion.

The “Little House” books were her favorites, and she figured it would appeal to the girls. She planned to read a second book geared toward the boys. Turns out, Wilder’s books appealed to them, too. So she stuck with those.

And she’s stuck with them since, reading a portion of Wilder’s books every day. She took that tradition with her to Trinity Lutheran School in 1971, and she’s expanded upon it every year - until now.

At the end of the school year, Lorenzen, 67, will retire, taking her books and her antiques home to spend more time with her husband, Richard. To garden and travel, to read and learn to play the harp.

She’ll also take a fierce devotion to her students.

Over the past 46 years - 43 of those in Room 202 at Trinity Lutheran - Lorenzen has taught 1,024 children. She knows exactly how many because she’s kept a list, making notes on the pages when she finds out what they’re doing, where they are now.

Often, they come back to visit her.

Alan Snodgrass, a veterinarian in West Point who was in Lorenzen’s first third-grade class at Trinity in 1971, contacted her when his own daughter was in third grade. Her teacher was wonderful, he said, and made him think of Lorenzen and Room 202, which he loved.

“We learned a lot in school but we did a lot of hands-on stuff,” he said. “I would have to say she was one of my favorite teachers.”

About a month ago, he brought farm animals to show to Lorenzen’s students.

Over the years, she’s taught her students’ children, she’s traveled across the country to attend their weddings - and every morning she prays for all 1,024 of them.

“I feel I can help by praying for these kids,” she said.

Principal Merv Dehning said Lorenzen’s concern for her students is what has made Room 202 such a great place to spend third grade.

“She knows each student individually, she knows what their needs are, she knows what makes them tick,” he said. “That’s how she reaches the students in her classroom.”

She also does it by sharing her love of history - and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“My family has always been interested in history because it tells you who you are and where you come from and possibly where you’re going,” she said.

An antique lover, Lorenzen has scoured antique stores and garage sales and shared her family’s own treasures to illustrate things mentioned in Wilder’s books.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then actually being able to touch and hold it is so much better,” she said.

The “Little House” books are a great way to introduce third-graders to history, particularly before they start studying Nebraska history in fourth grade, Lorenzen said.

“Then when you say history, they don’t hate it, they love it,” she said.

They love it because they’ve lived it. Every year on Feb. 7 - Wilder’s birthday - they dress in pioneer garb.

And each year, she takes her students to Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum. They also go to Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, one of the first documented Nebraska homesteads and the one-room Freeman school, where Lorenzen went to kindergarten.

They visit a friend of hers who teaches them to churn butter, which they eat on freshly baked bread.

For Mother’s Day each year, students embroider and sew pillows for their moms - learning skills Lorenzen says many don’t know anymore.

And her classroom includes its own cabin under a loft built in the 1980s by the parents of one of her students.

The upper part of the loft is a reading nook, complete with a trundle bed like the one in which Mary and Laura slept. Underneath is a “cabin” with a fireplace (it’s electric but flickers like a real one), a rocking chair, antiques and enough room for students to sit and listen to the “Little House” books each day.

Although Plains history and Laura Ingalls Wilder may be a trademark, Lorenzen pushes her students in all subjects, she said.

“I just love third grade. They’re still teachable. They’re excited about everything. They are no longer learning to read, they are reading to learn - and they’re voracious.”

They work hard - then play hard, rewarded for reaching reading goals with an overnight in the classroom that ends with breakfast served by their teacher.

And while she may be closing up shop in Room 202, she’ll still pray for her 1,024 students every day.

“Once you’re my kid you’re going to stay my kid.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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