Saturday's back-to-school picnic for Rondout Elementary School near Lake Forest will have a decidedly different feel, with the focus on the past rather than the future.
"It's been a significant part of the community for a very, very long time," District 72 Superintendent Jenny Wojcik said of what has remained a single-school district since the Civil War era.
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Local mayors will judge a pie-baking contest and hand out ice cream, and scores of alumni from throughout the country are expected to share memories to be recorded for posterity during a split day of events to mark the beginning of Rondout's 150th anniversary celebration.
"We have about 238 alumni on our Facebook page," noted Juliet Towne Stephenson, Class of 1986 and president of the revived Rondout Community Foundation. "They're coming from everywhere for this event."
Tours and old-style games, such as a sack race and hula hoop contest, will be among the activities at the ice cream social from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the school on Bradley Road, south of Route 176. The evening agenda features dinner, a slideshow and other presentations from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Marriott Lincolnshire.
Planned for about a year, the events represent a combination fundraiser for the foundation, which is looking to build a scholarship program for alumni, and the start of a yearlong history lesson for students and the community.
"We have documentation of a teacher's salary that dates to 1864," Stephenson said. Records show Jeanette Simpson earned $18 per month and Kate McCartney was paid $22 per month teaching at what was known as Bradley school, said to be a log cabin on Bradley Road at Old School Road.
Another school was built but was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by a third building. That was deemed too small, and in 1917, a local couple sold a 1-acre site for $750. A one-room brick school was completed on the current site that November and housed about 46 students. Alumni will gather for a picture at the original entrance at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
A second room was added sometime between 1918 and the 1930s, and additions were built in 1973, 1999, and 2009. Enrollment the past few years has been about 150 to 160 students.
"We've grown so much over the years, but the thing that never changed was the deep-seated commitment of the stakeholders," said Roxanne Greenberg, who has been at the school more than 30 years and was Stephenson's second-grade teacher. "Even though we've grown significantly, we've never lost that sense of family."
Before the industrial parks and office buildings sprung up around it, Rondout for much of its existence was a true country school -- surrounded by farms and woods and attended by multiple generations in local families.
"She loved it," Stephenson said of her mother, who was among seven students in the graduating class of 1959. "She used to ride her horse to school because Bradley Road was a gravel road."
Because of its size, Rondout students go through all eight grades with the same classmates.
"I had classmates who were in my wedding," Stephenson said. "I've known them since they were 5."
Each school week includes a segment in which students work as members of various departments within the "Rondout village." The historical department will be working on various aspects of the sesquicentennial, including chronicling alumni stories and selecting materials for a time capsule to be buried next year.
Celebrate: Alumni picture will be taken Saturday morning