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St. Patrick Catholic Church in Imogen, Iowa

Academy Memories


These were memories collected for the 2001 St. Patrick Academy Reunion.

Therese Martin Sunderman

I went to school at St. Patrick Academy in Imogene, IA where nuns taught us in a small town parochial school and where the church was as big as the town spirit. The school building was three stories high and flanked on both sides by three plateaus, each with a smooth, rounded top. These served as pretend horses that we would ride before school and at recess. Other times at recess we would play basketball, baseball, volleyball, Red Rover, or play on the playground equipment. When it was real cold in the winter, we would huddle against an inner corner of the building for shelter.


In my primary years we got the north side of the building as our play area. It was an area with many large pine trees, shady and very cozy. The dirt was powder soft and the tree roots stuck out in such boldness that they made perfect pretend houses all around the base of the trees.


I remember fire drills when we all lined up after the warning bell rang and walked silently outside and lined up parallel to the row of pines southeast of the school. It was a fun interlude from learning. It was so hard to keep quiet and even harder to keep your arms at your side. The urge to giggle and wiggle was strong.


West of the school and down the hill past the two ball diamonds was a short wooden ledge that was great for walking and balancing on, back and forth, with arms in the air for balance. A real dare devil act except it was only twelve inches from the ground. Beyond this ledge were thousands of violets that bloomed violently wild in the spring. Thousands of violets became thousands of bouquets for the nuns who gave thousands of thanks. Above the flowers were massive pine trees that gave birth annually to pine cones, so there were two pickings a year in the meadow-like area.


At the end of the year the Coke man would come in his Coke truck and hand out short little green bottles of Coke to all of the kids. He would park on the east side of the school and we would move down the steps in great anticipation of our treat. The day was usually hot and the drink was refreshing. I’ve liked Coke ever since.

Delores Maher Claypool

Some of my memories include cleaning those beautiful altars at the church. Also going through books in the library at the rectory and finding baptism records on slips of paper, then recording them in the church register.

Sister Baptist

I was newly professed as a 19-year old Sister when I was assigned to Imogene, and was there only three months before going to Madison in the fall of 1947. Sister Philip Neri was our superior and I well remember our long walks and the wonderful families in the parish. I’m sorry I can’t join you for this reunion. Blessings on you!

Kathy Higgins Dilley

I have great memories of my years at St. Patrick. We went to Mass at the convent most mornings. I stayed with Miss O’Brien and helped her with the rectory when Father Doyle was away. I remember helping the nuns close the school in June and going through the library to pick up the books. Sister Francis de Paula would give us a book for helping. I still have one of the books she gave me. It was wonderful growing up in Imogene and being part of the community.

Lila Hughes Breedlove

I was in the eighth grade when I first went to school at St. Patrick in Imogene. Before that, I went to the Honey Creek country school. I’ll never forget when my first day at St. Patrick was almost over and it was time to put our books away and clean up our desks, the nun said “We’ll pass the basket now.” In a panic I whispered to Patsy McGargill, “I didn’t bring any money.” The Sister was referring to the wastebasket so we could toss our junk.

Margine Laughlin Henry

What I remember about St. Patrick Academy: Father Doyle visiting with his “hey”, Sister Francis de Paula who we were afraid of and Sister Roberta who could sing like an angel. I still correspond with Sister Francis de Paula – funny how she doesn’t seem stern at all anymore.

Joe Hughes

Stories of our school days are many. I remember one time when Bill Nebel and I were trying to sneak a smoke up in the attic of the school. Sister Bridgeteen smelled smoke and sent someone to get the Superintendent. When the Superintendent arrived, she slapped Bill and as she did, Bill took a step back on to me and we fell part way down the stairs. Another time, again dealing with fire, I was in the basement of the school with some friends and I lit a match. There was a brand new mop they had put oil on to shine the floors. Well, they never got to use it because the match caught it on fire. It went up quicker than you can say “fire” and you never saw four boys try to put out anything so quick in your life. News soon got around to the Superintendent and we were sent to get an earful from Father Doyle.

Joe Nebel

I remember: Father Doyle lining us up across from one another and then saying. “Start swinging boys!” …long recess for sleigh riding when the snow was good; Stanley Ditmars was the fastest!…Larry Head always having coffee for lunch in the downstairs lunch room…the big guys playing softball…Father Doyle giving out the big candy bars for chores…the day Sister Francis de Paula made me memorize my birthday…sitting in church, waiting for the new priest to arrive, and one of the Sisters came in and said he had been killed in a car wreck on his way to Imogene and we said prayers (this might have been a dream)…Kenny Doyle always in trouble (this was not a dream!)…going mushroom hunting with Father Cunningham, Joe Hughes, Roger Meyer and all the boys over by Joe Ryan’s place and finding bushels and bushels of mushrooms

Tim O’Connor

I remember how the school building would sway when the wind blew…how strict the nuns were…and Father Doyle’s laugh…also the kindness of Frank Dorsey, the janitor. Thanks to St. Patrick’s I believe we all turned out a little better in a lot of ways.

Sister Marie Joan O’Keefe

I remember a field mouse entered my classroom and scared me so that I jumped on a chair. When I saw it at the legs of the chair I went up on the desk, habit and all! The Superior told me the students would put mice in my desk drawers and really give me a hard time. Just the opposite. A boy named Gray set up traps after school and emptied them each morning. He’d check my room before I’d enter each day. Everyone was protective and kind. I started the first science fair at St. Pat’s. I went to the Jardon Dairy Farm to view some calves that were to be part of the science fair. I was so intrigued by the milking process. It was a learning experience for me to be sure. Father Doyle knew my brothers Bob & Denis O’Keefe of Omaha, so of course I was treated royally. Sister Wilberta taught me to play the organ bells for Christmas. Music was not my forte so we practiced for hours and I was a nervous wreck. God bless all the students and parishioners of St. Patrick’s, the greatest Catholic School in Imogene.

Carolyn Gilmore Sunderman

Some of my best memories are of my girlfriends Barbara Laughlin, Rosalyn Saner, Geraldine Maher, Marilyn McGargill, Carol Ann Maher and Eloise McDonald and all of us fitting into Marilyn’s dad’s Lasalle and going cruising. Also, I remember how special the May Crowning of the blessed Mother was for me at St. Patrick Church.

Barbara Laughlin Walters

I remember our class being the largest in Imogene for quite some time. We started with 13, so we always had plenty for a softball game at noon, with other classes helping to fill the roster. I’m sure we drove a couple of nuns to retirement as they couldn’t keep an eye on such a “large” class.

Jerry Regan

One of the funniest memories I have happened one year during trapping season. Most of us boys would check our traps each morning before coming to school. One morning Bill and Duane Maher had checked their traps and then came directly to school. It didn’t take the entire school long to realize they had trapped a skunk.

Joe Maher

My favorite nuns were Sister Devona, Sister Adrian and Sister Clotildas. My closest friends were Hughie Laughlin and John Gutschenritter. My best girl friend was Helen Sweeney.

Marilyn McGargill Skahill

When I was in the elementary room our teacher, Sister Herman, found out that some of us were in the habit of drinking coffee with breakfast and she wanted to stop it. She put a cardboard box in the front of the room that she called the Black Box and if you were bad, your name went into the awful Black Box. Then every morning she would ask if we had coffee to drink. Some of us soon figured out we could still dunk our toast into coffee and not tell a lie by saying we didn’t drink coffee.

Don Doyle, Sr.

Marty Laughlin was always trying to steal a base. I remember giving Marty and Paul Laughlin the football so they could make a touchdown.

Betty Torpy McGargill

Memories of high school were playing softball at noontime, sneak day (official and unofficial), May Crowning, school picnics at Porter’s Lake and graduation day three of us – Tom Harms (my best friend), Mary Hughes Ditmars and me.

John L. Torpy

I remember Sr. Brigitene who had a lot of patience with the four boys in my class-John Hughes, John McDonald, Frank Nebel and me.

Fannie Dempsey Martin

In 1920 I started school at St. Patrick Academy in the first grade (they had no kindergarten) and my teacher was Sister Devona. The first three grades were in one room called the “Baby Room.” The school wasn’t accredited until I was in the 7th or 8th grade and the ones before us had to take County Exams. When I was in high school, Sister Clotilde was our Superior and our teacher along with Sr. Janetta and Sister Concordia who taught science as well as sewing. The school had no sewing machines so we learned to cut out, baste, etc. and then take the piece home to sew. We had cooking classes in the basement and the best part was eating what we cooked.


I believe ours was the largest class to graduate with fourteen students in the class of 1932 – Marie Dorsey, Mary Leahy, Mary Scheibeler, Gert Regan, Margaret Ryan, Loretta Maher, Margaret Maher, Catherine Maher, Mary Regan, John Saner, Art McGinnis, Philip O’Dowd, Julius Dinville and me.

Sister Francis de Paula

During my six years in Imogene the Dominicans had a relaxing and happy time thanks to the wonderful support we had from the people. The discipline of the home followed over to the classroom and I cannot think of any real problem. Of course there were times when my lack of knowledge about farm life brought laughter from the darlings, but it did not last long because of the look God gave me with my famous quote, “Mother in Ireland!” which soon brought things back to normal.


Working with Father Doyle was very comfortable; he deserved my respect and loyalty. After two grunts and his walking away, I knew what was coming and it did. My first encounter with Father was the first Friday of school when I told him that I told the children there would be no school Monday because of Labor Day. I was informed that we did not observe Labor Day. So I just said I did not know Iowa had not joined the Union. Then came the announcement at Sunday Mass, “No school tomorrow.” Because I have been touched by each of you in some way, know that you are remembered in my special daily visit.

Geraldine Laughlin

When I was in high school three students were to stay in after school for detention. When Sister came back after dismissing the other students, they had jumped out the window. The students of St. Patrick’s took turns having card parties and square dances in their homes on Sunday nights.

Helen Laughlin Lewis

I remember coming to St. Patrick’s from Country School for 6 weeks of instructions before making First Communion. Grace Maher Hebenstreit McGuire sat behind me and pulled my curls every time she had a chance.

Jane Laughlin

I remember being so afraid of Sister Francis de Paula when I was in the lower grades, but when I got to the 7th and 8th grade I found out she was pretty cool and also a good teacher! During the World Series she took us on a “field trip” to the convent to watch some of the afternoon game.

Marty Laughlin

Bonnie Skahill Sturm organized a high school sneak day. Unfortunately, her father found out and Bonnie was one of the two or three students at school that day. I remember that every time Father Doyle came to the Baby Room he made Barb Smith and Mary Lou O’Connor sing “ Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

Mary Laughlin Lightfoot

Memory of school days…Father Doyle coming to visit our classes…our nuns who gave their time and knowledge to us…softball games at recess…all a background of which I am very thankful.

Gerald “Fry” Martin

When I started high school in 1936 I was not yet 14 and was small. The song Small Fry was big then and I was stuck with the nickname Fry. When I went into the 9th grade there were 22 students and by 1940 we only graduated 4. People had moved away and others quit to farm, etc. Imogene and St. Patrick’s hold a lot of memories for me.

Jane Martin Brannen

My memories of St. Patrick’s take place out of the classroom…getting a new merry-go-round and Sister Clarentia riding it and getting sick…getting to watch the World Series on TV – I didn’t have a clue about baseball but it meant getting out of school…going in the church at recess to make a visit…Sister Remigis having orange slice candy under the front of her habit-it was like magic wondering where she put them…being chosen in 7th or 8th grade to go with Peggy O’Connor to the convent about 11:30am each morning to turn on the stove and electric percolator for the nun’s lunch and we had a key to get in!…getting out of school for Father Doyle’s birthday…Miss O’Brien and Baby Ruth candy bars…fresh flowers and pastel dresses for processions…the Coke man’s yearly visits – and I just found out that Bob Tyler of Shenandoah was “the Coke man”…and if you got all A’s, you got a carton of Coke!

Emmett McDonald

I started to attend school in Imogene when I was in the seventh grade. Sr. Imelda was the teacher in both the 7th and 8th grades and she kept order. In high school I would take Sr. Eleanor and Sr. Agnes to Shenandoah on some errands in the old Model A Ford.

Margaret Dorsey Hall

I remember Sr. Rosella reading a Winnie the Pooh book when I was in the 4th grade. The plays in the basement of the church were real fun.

Mary Martin Fischer

I remember wondering if nuns had hair on their heads and it was certainly a curiosity what nuns ate. The town kids – Pelsters, Grays, McGargills, Perkins, etc. could run home to eat, but the country kids always brought a sack lunch. Margie Meyer was a little more daring than most of us and I think she planned to lose her lunch to find out what the nuns ate. One noon she got to go over to the convent with them (as a spy for the other curious girls in the class). When she came back to recess, I remember being terribly disappointed as Margie reported they ate peanut butter sandwiches and apples!


Sister Kinga was a strict, stern nun whom I was convinced must have loved God a whole lot more than she cared for students. She didn’t have a habit of yelling at us; her tactic was much more fierce. She stared. The class would come to a dead quiet and all the students turned to look at the guilty party. I remember studying away in my little desk in fourth grade when one such quiet came over the class. I looked up to see who was in trouble and Sister Kinga had the evil eye on ME! The only sound in the room was my industrious feet, swinging back and forth under the seat. Her eyes sure put the brakes to my feet, and I never forgot the importance of sitting still. I remember we had to swing with our skirts pointed to the church because Sister didn’t want the wind blowing our skirts up while facing the fifth and sixth grade windows!


By upper grades, flirting was at least somewhat acceptable and Sam McGargill showed his affection by breaking girl’s pencils. If he came to your desk and wiggled his ears, or broke the pencil in your well, it was pretty sure you were worthy of attention.

Paul Martin

I’ll never forget my first Halloween at St. Patrick School and the masked “hooligans” running around. One of them, whom I believe was Terry Maher, hung me up on a hangar in the cloakroom and left me hanging there to dry

Veronica O’Connor Keasling

I remember really liking art class on Friday afternoons in the Baby Room. At the beginning of Advent we were given a large poster paper and instructed to draw the nativity. This was a special project that we would be given a month to complete and at the end of art class every Friday the best picture in-progress was thumbtacked to the center of the bulletin board in the back of the room. My picture always got the center, with the perfect Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and finally on the last day, the completion of animals in the manger. I had the prize won hands down until Herbie Leahy, who I thought was cute, told me my picture would look better if I drew Superman in the sky. And I was dumb enough to do it. Sister Mary Victorine was no longer impressed with my artistic abilities and my masterpiece went from the center of the bulletin board directly into the wastebasket below.

Maureen O’Connor Campin

Mary Anne Martin and myself were probably 8 years old and during noon hour we always sat on the cement basement window well. The high school had ping pong tables in that room downstairs. One day we sat down and the window broke. We went running to my sister Mary Lou who was in high school and could protect us. She told Sister Calixta what had happened and Sister must have thought she’d have some fun. She went stomping down the steps where the high school boys were hanging out in the ping pong room and asked who broke the window . From outside all we could hear was, “Not me, Str,” “Not me, Str.”


Another memory also includes Mary Anne Martin and our use of the outdoor 2-hole privy. Mary Anne always had a little hat to match her coat and one day after using the facilities, she bent over to pull up her panties and her little hat fell into the dark hole. Once again, we ran to Mary Lou for help…like she could get it! If you made visits to the church you had to hold your hand on your head if you didn’t have a hat or hankie. Maybe that’s why Mary Anne always had a hat. And we cannot forget Francis Hughes bringing a truckload of watermelons to the school every Fall. Classes would dismiss early and everyone was treated to all the slices of watermelon you could eat. (And you didn’t have to steal them).

Mark Laughlin

What I remember most about St. Patrick’s are the nuns. They loved listening to their little transistor radios. I remember Sister listening the day JFK was shot. They also loved listening to the Cardinals baseball games. I remember Father Doyle staring at the men in the back of church while he was walking in to begin Mass. I remember boxing at St. Patrick’s. Some events were scheduled and some were impromptu. My only recollection of these matches was getting hit so hard by John Hughes, who was a left hander and two years younger than me. I still have TMJ in my right jaw from his punch. I played football and softball when Father Doyle would allow us to get out of class and put on an exhibition for him.


There were only three boys in my class – Jerry Hughes, Dick Royston and myself. There were no boys in the class ahead of me so official activities were limited to sneaking off campus at lunch time to pick up a pack of gum at Steck Skahill’s Grocery Store or a coke at the Post Office. The nuns worked very hard with all of us. After some adjustments for the pace in subsequently attended schools, I thought I was about as well prepared as anyone else present. I didn’t date much at St. Patrick’s. My mom and dad and father Doyle frowned on dating cousins!

Lucille Laughlin Jardon (submitted by Kay Jardon Palmcook)

One year the Sisters decided that the girls should wear uniforms. With wheat prices at 67 cents a bushel, area folks considered the $14.95 uniform price prohibitive. When Theresa Laughlin found a similar dress on the Shenandoah J. C. Penny’s rack for $2.95 she brought it to the Sisters. The dress was approved and more were ordered. Concerned about the hemline, their teacher announced, “By Monday, the dresses should be lengthened to fourteen inches from the floor.”

Kay Jardon Palmcook

When I was in second grade Sister Wilberta enthusiastically spoke of a large gathering of church people that would be meeting in a few months. Citizens, Priests, Nuns, Bishops, Archbishops, and even the Pope would be there. To help us understand the event, Sister asked us to imagine a picnic or gathering where friends and family got together. Since the church and school family had just met at the Francis and Catherine Hughes farm for the annual watermelon feed, I envisioned the upcoming Council to be something where folks ran, played tag, and ate watermelons, forkless. Sister had my attention for most of the discussion. I only missed one small detail. When I got home I shared the news with Mom. “There’s going to be a real big party in Imogene. The Bishops, Cardinals, and EVEN the Pope will be there!” Mom stopped peeling potatoes, looked at me and asked, “Where is this party going to be?” “At the church!” I said. “What church?” Mom asked, and I confidently replied “Imogene!” I was sure disappointed when Mom told me that the 2nd Vatican Council would be held in Rome instead of Imogene, Iowa.

Sister Mary Helen Schmitz

The only shadow moment of my stay in Imogene was the day Father Cunningham called Sisters Gilmary, Janice and myself together after school to tell us about the school closing. Many tears were shed at that meeting and for many a day after. Some memories for me during my short three years there were such celebrations and events as May Crowning, Halloween, Christmas plays, Valentine’s day, birthdays and even a watermelon spitting contest (thanks to Francis Hughes). Also memorable was the St. Patrick’s Dinner with decorating, setting up and serving. I still have the apron someone made for me to use serving. The most memorable imprint is the kindness of the people as well as the children. You were always friendly, generous and welcoming. You had time for one another as you did for the Sisters.

Lois Marie Williamson

The nuns were wonderful and very educated. They were kind and caring. Some funny things – like Frank, the janitor’s empty boots smoldering in the basement sending fumes up the stairs – the “guilty party” hurried down to calm the fumes with water…I know “who” but won’t tell! On class day we went CLEAR to Omaha. Eleanor McDonald and I had free makeups at a department store. Our driver didn’t laugh when we returned, though maybe choked a little. One Principal placed Air Wick in the back of Study Hall. Some boys must have chored before school.

Sister Joel (Margie) Torpy

Sister Gemma was my first grade teacher. Sister Roselle was my 5th & 6th grade teacher and Sister Eleanor was the Principal. Sister Clarinda was the housekeeper. The students used to take dandelions to her so she could make dandelion wine. Whenever a baby was baptized, the students would accompany it to the convent so all the nuns could hold the baby. Sister Eleanor would pin a little gold medal with a pink or blue ribbon on the baby and the students would get a holy card.

Rosemarie Laughlin Korshoj

Memories – hanging around with the Leahy girls and Don Scheibeler…had lots of fun with Anna McGargill and the Hughes girls…have great memories of the nuns…got a good Christian education that set me for life.

Sister Mary Ann (Wilberta)

I enjoyed my seven years of teaching grades 1, 2 & 3 from 1959-1965. Imogene was my second teaching assignment. The children and parents cooperated very well with the Sisters. I remember all the generous donations of delicious food we received.

Rita Gutschenritter Gibson

I remember Father Doyle liked to watch us play softball and if it was bad weather Mrs. Gutschenritter would have cards to play. Theresa Hughes and myself would go over almost every day and start the ovens at the convent so the nun’s lunch would be ready at noon.

Nancy Maher

I remember baseball games west of the school building…Father Doyle squeezing our hand and rapping us on the head with his knuckles when he greeted us, not realizing his own strength.

Mike Saner

Those days at St. Pat’s were filled with great memories and times when life was much simpler. Halloween 1956 I was with the guys who tipped over the boy’s outdoor can, the first time this had ever been done. We were named the Pipe Wrench Gang because we used a pipe wrench to break the steel rod holding the “house” in place. No one had a sense of humor the day we were caught except for Bernie Laughlin.

Mary Lou O’Connor McGinn

I remember my first week at school. The high school study hall was across the hall from the Baby Room and my uncle Jim “Steck” Skahill was a senior. My first grade intuition must have guessed that it was Sister DeLourdes first teaching assignment and I really picked up on that. The first day I cried and she went to get Steck to come out in the hall to talk to me for a while. That was neat, so the second day I cried, and the same thing happened. Then someone with a bit more experience must have gotten to her. The third day I cried and she told the class “Don’t pay any attention to her – she’ll get over it.” And I did. John Rosemond would have cheered.

Sister Janice Matthews

The love you showed for all the Sisters stationed in Imogene made a bond that years, distance and non-communication can never destroy. I will be with you in spirit on your reunion day. The people of St. Patrick’s gave me the trust and courage I needed to believe in my call to serve.

Sister Alice Marie Lawler

I taught intermediate grade school in a second floor classroom and I recall one time the students and I heard the bell that indicated a fire warning! My class and I managed to make a fine exit as we had been drilled and appeared on the street side for safety as we had practiced only to discover we had heard the public school fire warning! Their students were leaving the building and all the rest of the St. Patrick teachers and students were in their classrooms busy with classes!

It has been over 45 years since the doors on St. Patrick Academy closed for the last time. With each year memories of the Academy, the nuns and the students will fade even more. If you would like to share some memories for this section, please email your information to “Academy Memories” and they will be added to this section.