Former students and teachers gathered Tuesday to reminisce about their time spent at Coultrap School at an event planned months before the Geneva school board decided to tear the building down.
"Somehow, everything kind of worked out to what is going on in the community," said Geneva History Center executive director Terry Emma, welcoming about 40 people to a lunchtime talk about the Peyton Street school that served as a high school, junior high and then elementary school. The session was video-recorded for the center's archives.
"It runs very deep in my heart," Emma said. She attended junior high there in the 1970s; her daughters attended in the 1990s and 2000s when it was an elementary school; and her mother and great-grandmother attended it as a high school.
History center educator Mary Dolan reviewed the history of Geneva high schools, noting the building was built in 1922 at a cost of $205,000. The first students graduated from it in 1924; the Class of 1927 had 49 students. Showing a picture of the study hall, she related how mischievous students used to try to toss pennies up into a large heating vent. And Glorianne Campbell said students perfected note-passing in that study hall. Today's students, who send text messages by cellphone, "are not developing the skills of ingenuity," she said.
Campbell, Class of 1959, and her husband, Colin, are organizing an effort to save items from the building, and to document it by video. The school board Monday agreed to do so, and appointed Trustee Kelly Nowak to work with them.
She recalled a cramped gymnasium, where a basketball player who followed a ball out of bounds could also end up out of doors, and relayed an anecdote from a friend who recalled locking an unpopular gym teacher in an equipment cage in the girls' locker room. The teacher climbed out, and never reported the incident.
"On behalf of my class, anything we put in the walls, we don't want you to find," said Maureen Emma Radecki, who attended junior high there from 1971 to 1974. Radecki said if she could make a time capsule of her experience, it would include the oatmeal burgers she ate every day at lunch ("I thought they were delicious"), and the yellow one-piece gym suit girls had to wear in sixth and seventh grades, which proved to be see-through when the girls stood in sunlight.
Gloria Emma, Class of 1948, recalled wanting to fit in as a freshman, coming from a Catholic grade school. That meant wearing the fashion of the day: penny loafers, bobby socks, pullover sweaters and plaid pleaded skirts, And, for reasons she can't fathom now, a homemade fringed wool babushka, she said. Her first sewing project in school was making one of those skirts.
Cathy Crispin taught in the building in the 1970s, in at least nine of its rooms. "There is hardly a space I am not familiar with," she said, speaking of attending staff meetings in the former high school chemistry lab, or teaching language arts in the former high school art room. "I was a little bit amused at the nostalgia, at the love of the building, and I was aware there was a certain consideration about tearing it down," she said. But "The building is not the school ... part of the nostalgia has to to with the sound of children laughing and playing."