The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By James Walling
The Courier 

A Penny for Your Thoughts

The Strommens School Grandchildren, Welcome Newcomers


Carlos Valle / For The Courier

The Country School Gallery and Vandalia Pottery welcome visitors by appointment.

It's hard to imagine a family less interested in publicity, but that didn't stop Penny Strommen and her husband Eliot from making time when we came calling. They opened their doors gladly for a couple of out-of-town scribblers and one of Glasgow's first-rate photographers during the past week.

When I drove into town to take the job as your new managing editor nearly a year ago, the Strommens' iconic white school house at the crossroads in Vandalia was the first place I made a point of visiting. At that time, Penny's Country School Gallery wasn't open, but it didn't lessen my pleasure at taking in the virtual ghost town. Since then, I've fancied tracking Penny down; assuming, falsely, that the inside of the structure was collecting dust and possibly worse.

Entering the gallery on April 1 (no, this isn't a joke), Carlos Valle and I were greeted by a smiling Penny and room full of antiques, as well as art (Penny is an award-winning painter of original watercolors), historic artifacts, and wheel-thrown pottery (also Penny's). Along with the recent addition of a new roof, the Strommens are also installing new windows as part of an ongoing process of restoration and basic upkeep.

The history of the family and its impact on Vandalia's past is too varied and complex to recount here. See the Courier's Christmas Gift Guide circa 1997 for a more thorough treatment (it's on the wall at the gallery). The Strommens' current activities are what we were after this time around. On a return visit to the gallery, Ginevra Kirkland and I were treated to a tour of the Strommen family home, or rather, homestead, during which Penny described making the couple's rural idyll accessible to their ten grandchildren, ages 1-13.

As the long summer days stretch out in a mix of sports and other activities, the family gathers on various weekends for "Camp Imagination." It's a doting, but dutifully educational summer camp. The focus is on teaching the children "life skills," such as cooking, sewing, and even how to sell their own handmade wares. There are nature walks, piano lessons, and lessons in painting, pottery and antiquing, among many other things.

This camp is not open to the public, nor are they adopting any new grandchildren anytime soon (we asked if they'd be our grandparents, too). Instead, Penny hopes that her blueprint can be a model and inspiration to other grandparents who have the resources and time to organize their own brood into a similar setup.

Needless to say, the aforementioned homestead contains many intriguing stories and pieces of local history, but we promised Penny and Eliot a little bit of privacy. If you want to peruse the antiques, art and pottery available at the gallery, you can do so by appointment.

The Country School Gallery and Vandalia Pottery are located at 105 Nelson Avenue in Vandalia. Call (406) 367-5211 for more information.


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