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home : features : canyon corner February 26, 2015


1/26/2010 2:43:00 PM
Recollections:Memories of Grand Canyon School
Former GC teacher reflects on her years spent at Grand Canyon School
Photo/Betty Bartlett
Grand Canyon School students were very involved in their music in the fall of 1959 thanks to the efforts of teacher Ingrid Neilson. According to Betty Bartlett, former science teacher at Grand Canyon School, nearly every student at the school was involved in the music program.

Photo/Betty Bartlett
Grand Canyon School students were very involved in their music in the fall of 1959 thanks to the efforts of teacher Ingrid Neilson. According to Betty Bartlett, former science teacher at Grand Canyon School, nearly every student at the school was involved in the music program.
Photo/Betty Bartlett
The graduating class of 1958, led by school Superintendent Carl Guthrie and school board member Peggy Verkamp (center.)

Photo/Betty Bartlett
The graduating class of 1958, led by school Superintendent Carl Guthrie and school board member Peggy Verkamp (center.)

Patrick Whitehurst
Associate Grand Canyon News Editor


The more things change, the more they stay the same. While kids these days may carry cell phones with them, uploading to MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, students at the Grand Canyon in the late 1950s and early 1960s had their fair share of diversions to keep them occupied as well. That included a visit from television's Lassie, according to former Grand Canyon science teacher Betty Bartlett, as well as other diversions.

Bartlett, 84, taught at the school from 1956 to 1963. She first came to the area as a tourist in 1949 with her mother. Both even took a mule ride while they were visiting.

"We fell in love with the place, also my mule, Oscar," Bartlett said. "In 1950, we were able to arrange a special with our own mules and guides and took the plateau trip and also two days at Phantom Ranch."

With every trip, the family grew more attached to the South Rim. The family returned again in 1951. During these trips, Bartlett said she got interested in geology.

"We made the big decision, moving from West Hollywood in September and entered Arizona State College in Flagstaff," Bartlett said.

Bartlett soon became a geology lab assistant, which allowed her to continue trips into the Canyon, as well as continue her relationship with a number of the area's mules, three of which she said she "wore out" on trips in and out of the Grand Canyon.

"Oscar, Whistleman and Ichabod. Ichabod, I must say, had a Ph.D from mule college. He was very helpful in helping me write some articles for the Lumberjack," Bartlett said.

Bartlett's mother took a job with the Fred Harvey Company at the Grand Canyon in 1952 and, upon her graduation, Bartlett herself moved there as well. They both worked for Buford Belgard at the laundry facility located at the South Rim.

"My mother went on to become housemother for one of the Fred Harvery dorms. She got to meet Mary Jane Colter," Bartlett said. "In the meanwhile I had a job offer at the Grand Canyon School."

While she was not able to accept the offer at the time due to her school obligations, Bartlettt finally accepted the teaching position in 1956. She began by teaching English for seventh and eighth grade students. Due to a teacher shortage at the time, she soon found herself instructing a number of other classes as well, including music, geography, physical education and more.

"Finally I got to the point where I could teach all science, which of course is my major, but then came the high school building, which was unbelievable. The lab was really great," Bartlett said, adding that her background in writing also made her the perfect choice to head up the yearbook committee.

"Fred Bart, who worked at the Post Office, he helped with photographs for the school yearbook. He was just a good friend of the school," Bartlett said.

The teachers, she said, "did everything," which included a chance to learn about Monarch butterflies - following an instance when a large number of the insects began to appear at the South Rim.

"They sat on the milkweed that was around the railroad tracks and we were hatching monarch butterflies all over the lab. It was really fun," Bartlett said. "We did a lot of wild things, all in the name of science."

Becoming a teacher also meant Bartlett was also eligible for her own housing inside the national park.

"We got a teacherage. All this time we had all our stuff in Flagstaff in storage. It was wonderful to get it back again," Bartlett said. "We had a teacherage right next to Mr. (Carl) Guthrie, and his wife and their parrot Frederico, who was bilingual by the way."

At that time, Bartlett said there were only two buildings at the school.

"We had one graduate and then, in the following year, in '57, we had three graduates," Bartlett said. "Peggy Verkamp, who was on the board of education, was wonderful. We had a lot of things going for us."

She said it was thanks to Peggy Verkamp's efforts, as well as others, that the high school eventually got its own building.

"I got to the point after seven years of being exhausted, to one degree, and also the housing situation got to be a little rough. We had plumbing problems and the park service, being a bureaucratic situation, never could come up with the things that needed to be done. They would say this was the year they needed to paint. Well, we didn't need the paint, we needed the plumbing fixed, and it got a little grueling. We came and got the place in Flagstaff. I worked one extra year, that was in '62 to '63. Then I said farewell. I came over here with a job offer over here in Flagstaff."

In 1999, when taking part in a class reunion at the school, Bartlett said she was "flabbergasted" by all the computers at the school.

"Some of my former students said 'Gee whiz, Mrs. B, we didn't have computers, but we had a hell of a good time."

(Editor's note: look for more memories of Grand Canyon School in next week's edition of the Grand Canyon News.)

Related Stories:
• Recollections: Memories of Grand Canyon School Part II


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