For 53 years, Myrtle Anderson has influenced an impressive number of students. Now a young 99 years of age, she looks back happily on her career and can recall much of it in detail, filling in any gaps with her album packed full of information from that span of time.

It was a frigid day in December when she welcomes me into her warm and tidy apartment. I instantly feel comfortable and at ease as we begin to talk. I can see where she would be a great teacher; it feels like I was talking to a grandparent. We look through her album together, heavy and fat, filled with every contract she’s signed, pictures taken over the years and other highlights. She is a treat to listed to as she takes me back in time to how it all began. 

She explains a bit of her background. Her father, from Denmark and her mother, from the United States, married and lived South of Irene. They had 16 children; Myrtle was the 6th youngest.

“Dad was very good that if the kids would work and got their education, he would help them finance it,” she reflects.

Anderson received her grade school education in a class of 33 students at Mayfield Rural School, with four of her siblings right beside her. She then attended Irene Consolidated High School and received her high school diploma four years later. Recalling challenges from her school days, she quickly mentions the daily half-mile walks to and from the school bus, having to take that walk no matter what the weather forecast showed. 

She continued her education by attending Southern State Normal School in Springfield, SD. Summer school and many evening classes paid off; she obtained her Elementary School Certificate and then acquired her master’s degree from the University of South Dakota. She is very grateful that her dad encouraged her to go into the teaching career. “He did everything he could to help me,” she recalls with emotion slightly breaking through her voice. She remembers advice from someone before she started college and I laugh because it really is good advice – “Don’t go out and get a boyfriend but instead focus on doing well in school.”

She already had her mind on the same track with her sights only on the upcoming school year.

After graduating, she began her career in 1939 at a rural school near Viborg, SD and recalls her annual salary of $450. She found room and board for the school year, staying with a widow and walking to and from school. “I didn’t mind when I started (the school year) because it was the fall, and to get out in the fall was good for me.” In winter months, she had to bundle up in layers of clothes to stay warm on her trek to school, explaining that they didn’t have snow days. “We had to go in. They would come, the kids thought it was fun to get out.” She recalls several of her students having a lengthy daily walk as well.

She had six students her first year of teaching, four elementary students and two 7th grade girls. She graduated the two older girls that year and the second year she then taught the remaining four students. Her father made sure that she and students stayed warm during the winter, starting the fire in the schoolhouse wood stove on Sundays in hopes that it would stay lit until Monday rolled around. She added logs to the fire during the week to keep it going.

After her second year at Viborg, she talked to the principal about her desire to work elsewhere, where she could have more pupils in the classroom. The challenge with teaching such a small class, she explains, “I had to find more extracurricular activities and teach them at the same time.” She often found that she ran out of things for them to do over the long school day. Her desire to change schools soon became essential when her father made an alarming discovery as he lit the wood stove one Sunday.

A bum had been living in the school during the winter, seeking warm shelter during the bitter winter nights. Switching schools for her was now a necessity for her safety.

She began teaching near Mission Hill at another rural school a couple years later, her dad requesting that she continued to get more teaching experience before moving forward to try teaching in Yankton.

She enjoyed the larger classroom size at Mission Hill, now having a class of 21 pupils of different ages. She structured the students by pairing up the 1st and 2nd graders with whom she spent more of her time with. She grouped together the 3rd with the 4th grades, the 5th with the 6th grades and 7th with the 8th. The 7th and 8th grades were sometimes split because she had to prepare the 8th grade students for their exams at the end of the school year.

During that time, Anderson met her future husband and later they had a son, David. She continued teaching while her husband traveled for the military. She taught in rural schools for a total of fifteen before she was hired in the Yankton School District in 1955, with a salary of $2,400 annually. She started off her first year teaching math classes and soon realized that she wanted something more. “I needed something else, because they weren’t all interested in math!” Her matter-of-fact response makes me laugh. Some of the spelling curriculum was then added to her agenda. She explains her teaching style, keeping the students accountable for their work. “I kept them going. They had to turn in papers, and they had to get them done in class so that I knew it was done in class and not somebody else helping.”  

After approximately 13 years as a math teacher, Anderson became the Math Department Head and stayed with the school system until 1987. During this time, she saw her salary climb to more than $27,000, which included an additional $606 for her Department Head duties. She saw her class sizes increase each year to approximately 24-25 students in each class. After 32 years with the Yankton School District, she took on a new experience of teaching an evening Algebra class at Mount Marty College for three years and then tutoring first graders at Beadle Elementary School.

Anderson has made an impact on the lives of many students over the years and still has prior students recognize her; she recalls many of her previous students as well. At a recent event in the Majestic Bluffs activity room, she was approached after the event by a former student who recognized Anderson as her former teacher. It was a good feeling for her.

She enjoyed her years teaching in all venues. Thinking about her career, she is most proud of the fact that she received a large enough salary to support herself, not having to depend on her father for assistance. She is thankful that she put money away to help her cover living expenses throughout her retirement.

As Henry Brooks Adams states, “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” Myrtle Anderson’s extensive teaching career of helping young minds blossom will, for many, carry on forever.