Jefferson Elementary celebrates golden anniversary

Simpler times were recalled and an exciting future anticipated as students and staff – past and present – celebrated Jefferson Elementary School’s golden anniversary Oct. 22.

Remembering classroom days from decades ago, Chris (Lust) Johnson (right) and her first-grade teacher Merrilee Kinney get caught up during Jefferson Elementary School’s 50th anniversary celebration. Photos by Sue Austreng

Remembering classroom days from decades ago, Chris (Lust) Johnson (right) and her first-grade teacher Merrilee Kinney get caught up during Jefferson Elementary School’s 50th anniversary celebration. Photos by Sue Austreng

As current and former students toured the building, seeing how the school house has changed over the past half-century, others greeted former teachers and classmates, catching up on old times.

Retired first-grade teacher Merrilee Kinney wrapped her arms around Huggy Bear – the classroom mascot who would escort one child home with a basket of books each week – as one of her former students, Chris (Lust) Johnson, laughed and relived those long-ago school days.

Kinney recalled how her six-year-old students would sharpen pencils with a crank sharpener, how some would sample paste from the jar and how rainy days meant sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor to watch a film strip during recess hour.

Meanwhile, leaning over a table set up near the main entrance to the school, Jefferson fifth-grader Kiaya Bezak searched a collection of old photo albums, looking for her mother’s school picture from the 1970s.

“She went to school here a long time ago, and now I go to school here,” Kiaya said, flipping the pages and scanning each photograph hoping to find her mother, Kari (Parkos) Bezak.

Former Jefferson Elementary School student Stacy Carlson is now a teacher at the school and her children are among the students.

“I loved coming to school here,” Carlson said. “I remember being so excited to get to fourth grade – in fourth grade you could have a hard cover math book and take it home. I just couldn’t wait.”

Howard Scherzer was one of those fourth-grade teachers handing out those coveted hard cover math books.

“The students here at Jefferson are great – always were. And the teachers have always been good about sharing and helping out. Jefferson is a great, great school,” Scherzer said.

Sharing his memories of the early days at Jefferson, Scherzer recalled that when he started teaching there, the rules stated that girls had to wear dresses to school every day all year-round. Teachers wore suits and ties.

Jefferson fifth-grader Kiaya Bezak looks for her mom’s school picture in an old Jefferson Elementary School photo album.

Jefferson fifth-grader Kiaya Bezak looks for her mom’s school picture in an old Jefferson Elementary School photo album.

“Times have changed, but Jefferson is still one of the best schools – the best staff and students – around,” he said.

Diane Stritesky, retired teacher/director of technology, described the timeline of advancement in technology at Jefferson.

“We were the forerunners of technology in the school district,” she said, describing dozens of examples of technology used at Jefferson.

Former students and staff also memorialized Jefferson’s long-time principal, Kenneth Kunshier, who served in that capacity during a 29-year run beginning in 1967. He served as Jefferson principal longer than all other principals combined.

Kunshier died this past spring.

“Mr. Kunshier was a kind, good-hearted man,” said Kinney, who began her 35-year-long teaching career at Jefferson during Kunshier’s time as principal.

“Ken’s theme was ‘family first’ and he treated us like family. He loved the students and the staff. Ken made the school a safe, fun, enjoyable place for the Jefferson family,” she said.

That love of family extends today, as second- and third-generations of Jefferson students learn and grow inside the school house walls.

“This school always has wonderful kids. It’s a place we all call home,” said Stritesky.

“It’s one of those schools where everybody knows you and if they don’t, they introduce themselves and get to know you,” Carlson said.

“I’m so happy to be part of this whole staff and school and family.”

To end the Oct. 22 golden anniversary celebration, a traditional treat of cookies and punch was served in the school cafeteria.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

up arrow