University Avenue celebrates 50th anniversary

About 375 people came to University Avenue Elementary Sept. 29 to celebrate a significant milestone for this Anoka-Hennepin school district building.

(Foreground to background) Betty Craig of Blaine and Jennifer and Sydney Stodolka of Coon Rapids look at some of the old photos hanging up in the University Avenue gymnasium during the school’s 50th anniversary celebration. Betty had three children go to this school. Jennifer’s last year at the school was in 1990. Photo by Eric Hagen

(Foreground to background) Betty Craig of Blaine and Jennifer and Sydney Stodolka of Coon Rapids look at some of the old photos hanging up in the University Avenue gymnasium during the school’s 50th anniversary celebration. Betty had three children go to this school. Jennifer’s last year at the school was in 1990. Photo by Eric Hagen

The special occassion was the school’s 50th anniversary. Former students who are now grown up came back to see the building that shaped their early lives. Some were even able to re-connect with former teachers. Not long after Betsy (Wahlquist) Struzyk of Andover talked about Mr. Bunker being one of her favorite teachers, she spotted him walking through the door of the gymnasium where many people had been gathering. They all smiled as they looked at a photo of Mr. Bunker and one of his classes. He still has a beard, although it is now more gray.

Many people knew Barb Karst because this is her 44th year at the school. She is currently teaching third grade, but has taught second grade as well.

“It’s fun to see some of the children now grown up,” Karst said. Some of her former students are now teachers themselves. Some are parents of students currently at University Avenue Elementary, which draws kids from both Blaine and Coon Rapids.

Sherri Wahl, which is her maiden name, remembers planting trees by the school in the 1970s, which are still standing.

Betty Craig of Blaine remembers all the parent-teacher organization (PTO) activities such as bingo night when her children Angie, Joe and Scott were at the school during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

Arnie Ridolt of Coon Rapids was at the school between 1966 and 1972. He said he often got into trouble, but his sixth grade teacher Mrs. Strong was instrumental in his maturation and she taught him many lessons that have helped him as he became a husband and father. She was also a great math tutor for him.

Struzyk remembered doing a musical about famous historical figures such as Thomas Edison when she was in the fourth grade.

Some of Karie Ouellette’s favorite memories are the holiday parties and taking field trips to the Minnesota Zoo and children’s theater. She was a student at University Avenue Elementary from 1994 to 1999.

Oullette fondly remembers her second grade teacher Mrs. Kerntik making her feel better about having to get glasses and how Mrs. Kerntik dressed as a mad scientist every Halloween. Ms. Olson was her fifth grade teacher and was instrumental in preparing her for middle school. Ms. Olson encouraged her to read more advanced books and they often exchanged books.

According to statistics from the school, University Avenue Elementary currently has 580 students and it has been under 600 students for much of the last 30 years.

Debbie Blatz, a volunteer coordinator at the school, said University Avenue Elementary had an enrollment of 1,154 during its first year. The numbers kept declining in subsequent years and was down to 608 students by the 1980-1981 school year. Since then, the school only surpased 600 students in 1990 and 2002. In the 1980s and 1990s, enrollment was typically in the 400s and 500s, Blatz said.

Paul Tinquist, who still lives in Coon Rapids and came to the anniversary celebration, was the principal of University Avenue Elementary from the fall of 1980 through the spring of 1997. He attributed the declining enrollment to suburban expansion and people moving further north. Families seemed to be having fewer children as well, Tinquist observed.

The current principal Anissa Cravens is in her third year at the school, so she enjoyed learning more about the history of the school and hearing the stories.

“It was nice to see everyone come back and share their memories,” Cravens said.

The school last year became District 11’s only aviation and aeronautics specialty school and thus is called University Avenue ACES (Aerospace, Children’s Engineering and Science). The kindergarten through fifth grade students can now learn real-world applications to the science and math lessons.

“I hope it really gets kids excited about the fields of science and math,” Cravens said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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