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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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.