The events in Connecticut triggered a memory. A memory from nearly 60 years ago at a time when I was in grade school.
The school I attended was rural…a country school of three classrooms with a peak enrollment around seventy students. There were three classrooms, first through third grade, fourth and fifth grades, and in the largest room, sixth through eighth grades.
There were three teachers—Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Rhodes, and Mr. Helfritch the Principal; one full-time janitor/school bus driver and two older ladies as cooks. The school was rich. It sat in the middle of a half-section of land; property deeded to the school district after WW1. The property also contained two oil wells whose royalties made the school one of the best funded in the county.
This incident occurred early in the fall of the school year. A family rented an old dilapidated house about 300 yards from the school connected by an overgrown track reduced to a foot-path. That family had three children in our school; one boy my age, a younger sister and a younger brother.
The family could best be described as…white trash. The father and his several brothers were drunks. They worked occasionally at one of the nearby mines but only long enough to qualify for “relief.”
On this day, the older boy had done something, or perhaps, not done something to cause the ire of his father. We were at morning recess when we saw the father enter the front of the school, followed shortly by loud voices and words we weren’t suppose to know, much less speak. The father was quickly escorted out of the school by Mr. Helfritch.
I don’t remember his first name. I may not have known it. All our teachers had similar first names—Mister, Miss, or Misses. I remember Mr. Helfritch as a slight, blond-haired man of medium height with a flat-top haircut. He was a WW2 veteran and a state policeman before being recalled for the Korean war.
Lunch recess was the longest of the day; an hour at least. I suppose it gave the adults time to savor lunch, coffee and to talk a bit. On this day, Mr. Helfritch was, uncharacteristically, outside watching the kids. Some friends and I were playing marbles in an bare area we’d hacked from a small grove of man-high saplings and briers. It was “our” place. We hadn’t been there long when we saw the father returning accompanied by two of his brothers.
They walked up to Mr. Helfritch demanding the older boy. My friends and I were close enough to hear some words, enough to understand some of the conversation. When Mr. Helfritch refused, one brother took a swing. In an instant, two of the three visitors were on the ground. The remaining one had a knife in his hand and Mr. Helfritch had a .45 pointed at the knife-wielder’s nose at a distance of about two feet. He carried the pistol in a shoulder holster every day my Father later told me.
Someone called the Sheriff and Mr. Helfritch kept the three covered while Rudi, the Janitor, looped a few turns of rope around their legs. They were going nowhere quickly. A Deputy arrived some time later and hauled them off.
My Father, who was an auxiliary Sheriff’s Deputy, told that Mr. Helfritch was a reserve police officer. He had been a full-time state trooper before being recalled for the Korean War. When he came home from Korea, he decided to be a teacher instead of a state trooper, but, like many in those times, he kept his reserve police commission. It was the only way he could legally carry a concealed weapon in Illinois. It was the same reason my father was an auxiliary Deputy Sheriff.
I’d forgotten that incident for many years. Dad told me Mr. Helfritch said the school kids were under his protection. He would allow no one to threaten his students. I have no doubt, and it was proven in Connecticut last week, teacher’s today would do the same…if they had the tools to do so. Unfortunately, as was proven last week, those tools have been denied and those teachers did their best—dying defending their students.
It should not have happened. The best defense for our children is still people—armed people—armed teachers willing to do what is necessary to protect their charges.