In the fall of 1934, Lillian began teaching high school in Lake Alma and never returned to teaching elementary school on a regular basis. Hulda and Eddy had been living in Lake Alma for several years by this time, so Lillian was able to live at home while she taught. She was happy for the opportunity to get into the field which she had already recognized as her specialty.

It was a two room school, and she taught Grades Eight to Twelve in the high school room. She had no training past high school and normal school herself, so she had to study intensively all year long. As she looked back on that year later, she felt sure that those classes weren't taught very adequately, although some of her students have said differently. It was hard work and at the end of June she said to her family, "I'm going to bed and I don't think I ever want to get up again!"

Eddy contracted tuberculosis that year and spent several months in the sanatorium. To help make ends meet, Hulda did a variety of things. She baked bread and sold it to the Lake Alma bachelors at three loaves for twenty five cents. This was during the depression and carloads of dried, salted cod were arriving from Ontario. Hulda was the community expert at preparing the fish, and often did it for other families as well as her own. Her method of preparation was to first, soak it to get rid of the salt, then soak it again in a mild lye solution. When it had puffed up almost like fresh fish, she would rinse it. Norwegians will recognize this as the traditional delicacy, lutefisk. Some of the neighbours simply gave their fish to the Jacobsons, so lutefisk was often on their table.

Baby sister Clarice was now in high school and her teacher in Grades Eight, Nine and Ten was Lillian, "who really made us work! Everybody considered her a good teacher because she did so many extra things. She introduced debating and Mock Parliament; emphasized current events and what was going on in the world. Whenever there was a political meeting, no matter what party, she took students along with her, sometimes out of town, and sometimes even during school hours in the afternoon!"

Clarice remembers her getting Tommy Douglas to come and talk to them and recalls him saying, "We sit at desks much like these, but there's no gum under them." Special days were always celebrated and she remembers that Lillian had an old Scotsman in the district come on Robbie Burns Day to read some of his poetry. Clarice concluded, "Nobody who ever took his or her high school from Lillian was afraid to get up in front and say something."

Lillian was delighted that Signe Jelsing was the junior room teacher and for that first year, they exchanged some classes. Lillian taught both of her sisters, a cousin, a future brother-in-law and a future sister-in-law. She also had to teach science and French, both of which were new to her! But she was young and overflowing with energy so she survived.

Corporal Punishment was not something she used commonly, but there was a situation she thought called for it that later turned out to be rather amusing. A girl in the junior room was causing the teacher a great deal of trouble. The teacher had tried everything she could think of and finally brought her to the principal - Lillian. The girl was ten but only in Grade Two or Three and considered to be lower than average in intelligence.

Since talking hadn't worked, Lillian decided that she needed to strap her. She took her into the hallway, gave her two light taps on each hand and when the girl looked up at her with a dull look she thought, "I can't do anymore. The poor girl doesn't even know enough to react." She felt like she was punishing someone who was incapable of any real improvement. But she obviously wasn't as lacking in intelligence as Lillian had thought! A week later the junior teacher told Lillian she had heard the girl talking about the strapping, "Oh, it was nothing," she said, "Just like a little mouse tapping on my hand."

Because she had missed out on extracurricular activities during her own high school days she tried to give as much enrichment as possible. She encouraged sports and involvement in field days; she had the students participate in oratorical contests, community programs and other entertainment. She recognized the power of drama in increasing self confidence and self esteem, so that too be- came an important part of her program. She frequently directed skits and was gratified to see a number of people changed by their parti- cipation. She considered it to be not only fun, but therapeutic as well.

Because they were so isolated, they did a lot of things to make life more interesting. One of the highlights of those years in Lake Alma was the trip to Weyburn to see a Shirley Temple movie for the great sum of twenty-five cents. The fact that they had car trouble and didn't get back until close to school time the next morning only made the trip more memorable!

In the three years she spent there, she didn't make much money. Because of the continuing depression, wages went down instead of up. Her salary was five hundred and fifty dollars per year, but what she actually received was one hundred and thirty five dollars and a promissory note. These really were desperate times on the prairies; if she had two dresses for winter, two for summer and one pair of shoes, she considered herself fortunate indeed. She didn't know one other person who owned more than one pair of shoes.

Clothes continued to be of little importance to her. She was grateful to her mother for continuing to make all of her dresses, and actually thought it would solve a lot of problems if teachers had to wear uniforms. It was some years before the fine sense of style she has maintained into her later years evolved.


After three years at Bird's Hill School in Lake Alma, Lillian thought it was time for another change. She decided to be mission minded and go some place where there was no congregation of the Church of Christ and try to start one. And so in the fall of 1937 she took a position at Robsart teaching high school in another two room school. Her sister Eleanora went with her for company and they rented a little cottage. The other teacher lived with them and Eleanora did the cooking.

There were twenty-three students in her class, some of them very clever. Charles Lightfoot was a particularly bright student and she took pleasure in urging him on to additional challenges. He was older than most of the students and was two months late starting because he was farming. He took four classes and quickly caught up to the others. At her suggestion he took two more classes, then in March he picked up another class and in April he took French! He got all of his high school and went to normal school the next year. It is worthy of note that in a speech he made at normal school the next year he said that he wouldn't have been there if his teacher, Miss Torkelson, hadn't encouraged him.

The superintendent gave her an excellent report and was so impressed with her ability to organize all the work in all the grades that he had her speak about that very thing at the Teachers' Convention in Shaunavon. He was also the one who was responsible for getting her started taking university classes.

She'd always wondered how she would handle a critical situation and she got the chance to find out during that convention! She and Yvonne, the other teacher from Robsart were resting and reading in their room during the evening, and the first thing they knew in walked a young man who invited them to his room for a party. They declined, he left, but they still didn't think to lock their door. A few minutes later the door flew open and there stood the same young man with two others carrying several bottles of liquid refreshment, and ready to party. Lillian shot up in her bed, said very loudly, " GET OUT!" and they beat a hasty retreat. After that she always locked hotel room doors!


She made good friends with several of the ladies in Robsart and enjoyed doing things with them. She joined a Young People's club and again got quite involved in putting on programs in the community as well as in the school. Christmas concerts were always a major event, as were oratorical contests and plays. In one three-act play she co-directed with a young man in the district. Eleanora was one of the actors. She got quite angry with her co-director because she thought he was too critical of Eleanora. Although the incident amuses her now, she has concluded that blood is, indeed, thicker than water!

Something else new for her that year was Badminton. She describes her learning process:

She played twice a week and even got quite good at it, which was a surprise to her; she enjoyed it immensely. She also learned to play monopoly there because it was the game to play among the young people.

One of her most enjoyable excursions, during her time in Robsart, was going to Shaunavon with a young man to see Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy starring in a Broadway musical. They introduced her to the beauty of vocal music, and she particularly liked their interpretation of Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life.

She met more of the people in the community and deliberately got more involved in community affairs for the very reason she had moved there, her desire to share the love of Jesus with others. She had arranged for Cecil and Lavine Bailey to come in the Spring to hold meetings for a month. They did that each of the two years Lillian was in Robsart, and while visitors did attend, no one became very interested.

She and Eleanora broke bread together the first year, and when Eleanora left, Lillian moved in to a boarding situation but continued to break bread by herself. "It was just God and Christ and me." She was very lonely for spiritual companionship and took every opportunity to visit Christian brothers and sisters. She knows that many in the church today don't feel the same way that she does about the necessity of breaking bread every week. She believes, though, that it has been a very important part of her remaining faithful through the years. In the nearly seventy years that she has been a Christian she has missed communion only twice.

Again her salary was minuscule. Cash was practically nonexistent and she bought her groceries with promissory notes. On one occasion she didn't mail a required letter to the Department of Education and when the Board asked her why she simply replied, "I have no money for the stamp." It needed a three cent stamp! The Board gave her twenty-five dollars and that was all she got from March to June.

After her second year there she left because she felt she had not accomplished her primary aim in going there. She applied to both Radville and Oungre and when Oungre offered her the principalship she accepted. After she had accepted, she received an offer from Radville, which made her very sad, because she would have loved to be back in Radville. She knew though, that she needed to keep her word and honour the agreement she had already made. It all worked out for the best for her in the end, because being in Oungre encouraged her to pursue her university degree.


In late August of 1939 she began teaching the senior room at Lyndale School in Oungre and stayed there for three years. Her coworker in the junior room was Alice Bodnar who was an excellent teacher and an inspiration to Lillian. They boarded at the same place and became good friends. That friendship is another that has lasted through the years. They lived in a hotel that didn't have central heating which meant that the water in the wash basin was frozen in the morning and their hands were so cold they had to go down to the kitchen to comb their hair. She got home to Lake Alma more often now, partly because there was train service, but also because more and more people had cars and she was offered rides more often.

As usual, she was very busy but life was very good in Oungre. She continued her enjoyment of badminton by starting a badminton club in the community hall. She was the only one who knew how to play so she got to teach the others. It wasn't very long before some of them were beating her because, as she put it, "I was a better teacher than performer." Kathryn Groshong, one of her students there, recalls that badminton night was the highlight of the week and wonderful recreation for the young and the older people too. She remembers Lillian winning several tournaments.

At school, extracurricular activities were, as always, an important part of her program. In addition to sports and clubs such as the Junior Red Cross, she got the students started on a school newspaper, and formed a Literary Club which was very dear to her heart. Out of that club came skits, plays, debates and musical events. She felt very strongly that these kinds of challenges gave the students poise and self confidence. She also continued taking university classes for her own growth.

Lillian directed several two or three act plays in the time she was there. Kathryn remembers how much she loved every minute of the process; the evening practices were great fun and excitement was high the night of the actual performance in the town hall. The whole town was enthusiastic about Lillian's first rate skill in raising these productions and were grateful for her enthusiasm and energy.


The annual Picnic at Foster's Grove was a significant part of the life of not only the school but the whole community of Oungre as well. A local physician, Dr. Brown, had started the idea as a means of holding the community together during the depression, and it was a resounding success. There were parades and banners and everything was very festive as they all gathered at Foster's Grove.

All twenty five schools in the Souris Valley municipality came, as well as sometimes others. Friendly rivalry was part of the pleasure of the day. Lillian remembers taking RCC students there in the late '40s. In addition to the seven to eight hundred students who would be there, parents and whole communities came. There would be in excess of two thousand people. These picnics continued from 1931 to 1955, and the Souris Valley History says of them:


After her two years in Robsart, she really treasured the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the church in Oungre. There were about twenty members and they met in homes. In addition to church services, they enjoyed being together at parties and other gatherings. The church was her family there as well as in many other congregations since then. The church has been a very great blessing to her throughout her life.

She was particularly delighted that her dear friends Signe and Lavine were each there for parts of her time in Oungre. She got to spend a good deal of time with them and it was wonderful to be able to talk openly with these two who had been her bosom friends since they were in their teens. Lavine remembers with what delight Lillian bought each of her students a Christmas present, wrapped it, and wrote on it.

Lavine was married to Cecil Bailey by this time and Lillian was often in their home. This was the nursery where the vision of a Christian high school in Saskatchewan was coddled and developed as they talked late into the night. They dreamed of establishing a residential high school and college that would have enough land for the students to work rather than have to depend on donations. At that time all rural students had to leave home after finishing Grade Eight. A Christian residential school would provide a good environment for students going through the most difficult time of their lives, Christian supervision and instruction, and perhaps most important of all, Christian companionship.

It was also during this time that she began urging Cecil to go on with his education so that he could direct the school when it became a reality. And so, a married man with a family, he pursued that dream by embarking on his high school studies. He is still grateful for the way she helped him with those studies, especially with mathematics.


World War II began shortly after she moved to Oungre and this presented her with some difficulty. She had always been very proud to be a Canadian; but... she was also a pacifist and was philosophically opposed to war. She believed, as a Christian, that it was wrong to participate in war. She also believed, from a historical point of view, that war never settled anything, that World War I had laid the foundation for World War II and that the usual results of war were centuries of hatred and bitterness. She was a strong supporter of the League of Nations.

She was indeed in a predicament, with feelings and convictions pulling her in opposing directions, so she had to choose according to her conscience what to participate in, especially as a teacher. She bought war bonds because she wanted to help Canada, but they were earmarked for medical aid only. She did some sewing for the Red Cross, specifically making baby layettes, but she wasn't too proficient at it and suspected no baby would ever be able to wear them!

Lillian was always very interested in politics. Her political awareness probably began in 1918. The law was changed that year to allow married women over the age of thirty to vote in federal elections. Hulda not only took advantage of that right; she informed her children of the importance of voting in such a way that seven year old Lillian remembered! Cecil Bailey remembers her as having always been very political, and always very well informed.

When she was in high school, her mentor, Mr. McKay, nurtured his students' interest in politics without ever revealing his own political leanings. She grew up in the midst of politics; both her father and stepfather were very interested in politics. Eddy Jacobson was good friends with Tommy Douglas, who was often in the Jacobson home for coffee. As a high school student she had become very interested in politics and government, and used to laughingly say, "When I grow up I'm going to become the first woman Prime Minister of Canada."

She always took her students to hear not only Douglas but politicians of all stripes whenever they were in the area. When she was living in Robsart she even went to hear a communist, just to hear what he had to say. During her years at Radville she continued her great interest in politics and went to listen to political speakers whenever possible.


She encountered a discipline problem while she was there in Oungre that distressed her, but taught her a worthwhile lesson, "Difficult times teach more than pleasant times." She had rarely, if ever had any kind of a discipline problem in the classroom. She had two main rules: (1) "When I talk, you be quiet and listen." and (2) "When you talk, you'll talk one at a time, I'll listen, and so will the class."

As principal, she did occasionally have problems with some of the older boys on the playground. In this particular instance, she had five boys who had, for several days been in one escapade after another. Finally one day, very exasperated, she said to them, "You come back before 8:30 tomorrow morning and tell me you're going to behave yourself or I'll call the superintendent in Radville and have him set up meetings with your parents." And then she started to worry! She didn't really want to go that far. What if the superintendent didn't think it was that important, or what if the community got up in arms about it?

She didn't sleep much that night, but got to school early, waiting and wondering if anyone was going to show up. Just before 8:30, the oldest boy (the ringleader) came in, took off his cap, stood at attention and said, "I have decided to turn over a new leaf." and then, "My brother has too, but he couldn't come." RELIEF!! That was the end of the matter and there was no more misbehaviour. That ringleader became an excellent student and earned high grades on his exams.

She was at a women's gathering about a week after the incident with the boys, and happened to be seated beside one of the mothers, who gave her wholehearted support to the way Lillian handled the situation. Lillian understood then, as she has many times since then, that the support of the parents was the key to the success of the discipline.

A postscript was added some time later, when the teacher who followed her had decided to suspend a student for misbehaviour. The father of her ringleader, who was also a member of the school board told him, "Instead of suspending him, why don't you do as Miss Torkelson did?"

She learned another valuable lesson while she was in Oungre! Lillian took the students to play ball in a number of the communities around southern Saskatchewan. They usually travelled in a big open truck driven by someone from the community. One Friday they went to Lake Alma to play ball and she decided to stay home for the weekend. She got the students into the truck for the trip home and was saying good-bye when she realized the driver had been drinking. They had no sooner left than she started to worry about the possibility of an accident.

She will never forget that weekend! She knew she should have gone back with them, but her desire for a pleasant weekend at home had clouded her judgement. There was no phone, so she spent a miserable weekend imagining all kinds of dreadful misadventures. Of course, when she returned, all was well, but she didn't need any further convincing that, "It is much better to put duty and responsibility ahead of pleasure, because not only is the conscience clearer, but life is more pleasant." She was reminded again of Verna Husband's motto, "You should always learn to do what you ought to do, rather than what you want to do."


Late in the summer of 1940, just before school started there was a terrible hailstorm. Lillian was still at home in Lake Alma. There was hardly a building in town that didn't have some or all of its windows broken. While the town hotel had windows broken on all four sides, only the windows on the north side of Jacobsons house were broken. Clarice had just made some lemon pies and set them on a bench right under those north windows. Hail and glass totally destroyed them. The wind was so fierce that hail was projected throughout the whole house, making an awful mess. Trees were even torn down by the hail and wind.

Elvin was farming a field that could be seen from the north windows, and he had a beautiful stand of wheat all ready for harvest. In fifteen minutes it was completely flattened, and sadly, he had no crop insurance! Eight miles west at Blooming, where Lavine Jelsing was teaching, a barn had been blown down and a two-by-four had been taken by the wind and impaled through the wall of the school! Fortunately, the building was empty.

And during all of this, Eleanora was walking home from the school where she was teaching, a few miles south of Lake Alma! As she left the school she noticed that it was getting awfully dark and then she noticed a rabbit running lickety-split right past her. She thought, "That's sure funny."; and then the storm hit, with a terrible impact of wind and rain, and hailstones the size of golf balls beating on her head and body!

It was open prairie and there was no place to go. She screamed and screamed and there was no one to hear her. She finally found a bit of a scrawny tree that gave her a little shelter until the storm ended. She made her way to the nearest neighbour's house where the lady washed the blood off her face and head and the husband brought her home. Her family knew nothing about it until Lillian noticed a car stop and Eleanora get out, battered, bruised, and in a state of shock. Lillian's school started a week later, so she taught for Eleanora for several days while she recuperated. The experience left Eleanora with some permanent memory loss; although she remembers the ordeal of the storm very well, periods of her life prior to that are simply not there.


By the time Lillian had finished her third year at Oungre she had taken enough university courses by correspondence and summer school classes, that she could complete the work for her Bachelor of Arts and her high school teaching certificate in one year. So she resigned and set out for university. That year will be covered in the next chapter. She figured that her last superintendent's report at Oungre showed that while she may have been a slow learner as far as teaching is concerned, that she eventually got there. He said, "Miss Torkelson is a industrious worker. Her work is carefully prepared and she is stimulating and inspiring in her teaching. She is doing excellent work."

Bert Husband taught in that same school after she left. He recalls Mr. Bolton, the Superintendent of Education, telling him that Lillian was the best and most effective high school teacher he'd had in his jurisdiction. Bert says, "Both from my own knowledge, as well as her peers, she was recognized and judged as outstanding."


After her year at university in Winnipeg, she returned to Wawota as the principal of the three room school in town. Her fellow teachers, Jean Cowan and Arlene Brown became her good friends; they enjoyed being together and doing things together. Jean married and left teaching after one year, but they have continued to keep in touch. Lillian's salary in Wawota was seventeen hundred dollars and she considered herself to be "rolling in money".

After her first year there, the school board added another room, and for the first time in her life (and much to her delight!) she taught only Grades Eleven and Twelve. It still was not the custom for single ladies to live in apartments, so she boarded with a family in town and spent her weekends out at the Husband farm. She didn't realize at the time just how great their hospitality and kindness was. She just took it for granted as someone came in to town to pick her up every Saturday morning and brought her back again Sunday evening. Sleep had often evaded her, even as a child, but at Husbands, she relaxed and literally slept like a log. They played games and sang a lot and every weekend was a real retreat for her.

Her first days at Wawota School presented her with her biggest challenge ever. She had been forewarned, but it was still somewhat of a shattering experience, because she just didn't have discipline problems in the classroom! The previous year there had been three principals in that school. The first had been there for sixteen years and had left to join the Armed Forces. The second found it so difficult to attempt to follow in his footsteps that she left after a very few months. When students know they've forced a teacher to leave they certainly don't get any better, so when the third arrived he really had his hands full! By the end of the year he too had had enough. When Lillian entered that classroom in September, it was absolute bedlam!

She knew it was going to be difficult, but nothing she'd ever experienced had prepared her for just how hard that first week was going to be! But she had decided beforehand that "If anyone leaves, it will be the students, not me!". She was absolutely determined to bring order and peace and quiet to that classroom and, not surprisingly, she finally succeeded. Once that was accomplished, it became the pleasant experience she had known in her other schools. She believes that the maintenance of an orderly atmosphere was one of the primary reasons she was able to remain in the classroom for as many years as she did.


That first year back in Wawota she was introduced to curling. Everybody in the community did it and the curling rink was the town gathering place. She wasn't much of a curler, but she enjoyed it and it was good for her because, in addition to the exercise, she got to meet many of the people in the district. The next winter she curled on the team that won the big bonspiel, and her prize was a beautiful red wool blanket that she still has. She still remembers those bonspiel days when she would curl sometimes three games in one day and then all night in her dreams! She always played lead, but often had good skips.

The high school curled regularly too, with both students and teachers participating. As always, the many different activities and clubs she had her students involved in were a big part of her enjoyment of her teaching. Sometimes she would take an evening of entertainment to neighbouring towns, and the following comment appeared in the Moosomin paper after one such evening:

She was indeed very much appreciated in Wawota. Quite a few of her students there did very well academically and several became teachers.

The curling rink wasn't the only place that was chilly. The classrooms were so cold in that school that some winter days she had to wear her coat and mitts all day. One day it was so bitter cold that several boys didn't show up for school. The next day she said to them, "You are much tougher than I. Surely if I can stand it, you can too." And that was the end of that issue.


During the summer of 1945 Lillian corrected departmental examinations for the first time. She thoroughly enjoyed it, especially meeting new people and exchanging ideas. She decided that she learned almost as much correcting exams as she did by going to summer school, so she continued to do that for many years, except for the summers when she took more summer school classes or went on trips. Her summers always gave her a feeling of renewal and she believes that was the reason she was able to continue teaching for so long without even taking a sabbatical. "They provided a change and people have to have change to vitalize and keep alive, both physically and mentally."

1945 was an extraordinarily busy year for Lillian. In the fall she organized a high school badminton club. They met twice a week which added to her already very busy life. That year she also taught Grade Twelve physics for the first time. She had eight students who needed it to go on to university. They begged her to teach it and so she reluctantly agreed, although she had no university training in it at all. She had taken Grade Twelve physics, but hadn't looked at it since 1928. Needless to say, she worked hard every night to stay one lesson ahead.

One day in physics class, as she was teaching a lesson on radio, the Superintendent arrived, and ten minutes into her lecture she realized she was teaching it wrong; she had to make an instant decision - continue on and correct herself after the superintendent left, or just say "That's all wrong."? She chose to say, "That's all wrong. This is what it should be.", but expected a negative reaction of some sort from the superintendent. She was amazed that after she had explained the whole situation to him and her concern that the students do well, he didn't scold her, but rather agreed to do some testing to make sure they were learning. She was relieved that the students did well on their final exam, with all eight getting over seventy percent and most of them over eighty percent. She was sure that good result was because they took such a personal responsibility and cooperated so well.

In the spring of 1946, she again had trouble with some of the boys, and again it was not in the classroom, but during their out of school hours. Some vandalism had occurred that involved coat hooks, and as principal, it became her problem to deal with it. She told the students that whoever had done it must come forward to admit their guilt and also replace the coat hooks. The hooks were replaced but no confession was forthcoming. She finally took the matter to the school board who cooperated fully with her although she suspects they thought she was too rigid. She was so upset by the whole incident that she didn't want to be principal anymore. It amuses her now that after that incident she said to some of her friends, "If I ever accept a job as principal again, anywhere, somebody needs to shoot me!" She resigned as principal, but agreed to stay on as teacher and vice- principal.

She didn't return to Wawota that fall as she had thought she would, because Radville Christian College opened and it was automatically assumed that she would be the teacher. She was, at that time, the only accredited high school teacher among churches of Christ in Western Canada. That's certainly not true today, which delights her greatly. She hated to leave Wawota, and probably nothing could have pried her away from there, other than the fulfillment of her lifelong dream of teaching in a Christian school.

Before we move to Radville though, let's go back to 1942 and Lillian's decision to take a leave of absence from teaching.

Published in The Old Paths Archive

Previous Chapter
Table of Contents
Next Chapter