Do you like celebrations? I think everyone does. I know I do.
But, celebrations don’t just happen. They are a lot of work. They take time and energy to plan and implement. Attendees usually have a good time. It’s always fun to hang out with people we haven’t seen in a while.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017, Tom and I attended the 100th anniversary of Williams Avenue Elementary, his old grade school. Although North Norwood had been my grade school, I was familiar with the Williams building since I had worked in the Board of Education offices, which were located in the wing added in 1952.
Although, there was a little snow on the ground, we got up early and headed to Norwood. Since we both had lived in Norwood for years, we had no need for directions. I think we could have driven there with our eyes closed. Landing a great parking space right in front of the school, we headed up the front steps.
As we entered the building, there was a buzz of activity in the front hall; people hugging old friends, picking up name tags and tickets for lunch, and everyone talking excitedly in expectation of a fun day. Happy sounds in an old, familiar setting.
Everyone, alumni, teachers, and friends were reminiscing about days spent in the beautiful old building. Moments from other school celebrations crowded into my mind. Williams was the last of the Norwood School’s five elementary schools to celebrate a 100th birthday. Norwood High School had celebrated their centennial in 2014 preceded by Allison, Sharpsburg, and Norwood View. North Norwood had celebrated its 97th anniversary when the building was closed because of low enrollment. It now functions as The Hamilton County ESC Learning Center. I am grateful the building is still educating students. I find empty school buildings once alive with activity and noise from kids laughing and learning so very sad.
Looking around the building on Saturday, I was pleased to see that Williams was still in such good condition. I wasn’t surprised because all Norwood schools had been built to last; standing as strong anchors in this wonderful city for over 100 years. As I stood observing the happy faces, the conversations, the joy and laughter; I teared up seeing first-hand the evidence of a rich heritage of community.
How many people had roamed the halls of this beautiful old school? How many lives had been impacted, changed by spending time here?
How many dedicated principals and teachers had inspired students to learn lifelong skills that would help prepare them for their grown-up life in the future?
How many parents had attended parent-teacher nights, participated in PTA, attended plays, music concerts, and basketball games? How many had served as a volunteer in some capacity? Always showing up, offering encouragement and support, just being there for the kids.
How many neighbors had bought candy bars, wrapping paper, candles or whatever the Williams kids had been selling?
How many people working together to help kids grow and gain confidence. How many people making a difference in lives and helping kids become who they are today?
Crowding into the auditorium, the celebration started with Mark Gabbard, current principal of Williams, welcoming everyone. Although the seats in the auditorium seemed a little smaller, the old grads were enthusiastic as congratulatory letters from local and state leaders were read and when current students presented a brief look back at 100 years of history.
The keynote speaker was Eric Benken, who had attended Williams Avenue from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Eric had a distinguished military career, but his talk on Saturday was from the perspective of a former student happy to be back in his old grade school. His memories were vivid as he named every teacher he had while at Williams; even revealing that his first love was his second grade teacher. He shared his pride to have been a member of the Safety Patrol and a flag boy with the responsibility of raising and lowering the American flag every day. His words of gratitude for all of the teachers who planted seeds and helped shape his life were touching. Laughingly, he even thanked those teachers with eyes in the back of their heads who kept him on the straight and narrow.
I know his words echoed the thoughts of many in the auditorium. We learn from everyone we meet in life as we encounter different experiences and circumstances, but elementary teachers are truly instrumental in our early learning. Their loving support and positive encouragement carries a lot of weight. They are just special people.
As the program drew to a close, everyone was invited to stand and sing the school fight song. As I looked around at people of all ages singing, “We’ll be loyal sons and daughters of Williams Avenue…No matter where we go, you can count on us Williams Avenue,” I once again teared up. Simple moments like this are among the best times of life.
Alumni took off in all directions, walking down the hall, recalling which teacher taught in the various classrooms. Entering the library, Tom was quick to tell me, “This was the old Home Economics room.” I often tease him about not being able to remember what he had for dinner, but his memory was running on all cylinders with details of his old grade school.
At lunch, everyone had a good laugh as we tried to figure out a dignified way to sit at the picnic tables on wheels in the cafeteria. The wooden tables and chairs had made way for modern seating, but what works for young kids doesn’t seem to fit old alumni bodies very well.
Tom saved the best till last, as his last place to visit was the gym. He was delighted with the changes. A big W in the middle of the brand new gym floor and a bright red Wildcat logo painted on the wall. No doubt recollections of some of his free throws and Wildcat wins would surface on the way home.
As we left, I ran into an old high school classmate, who was also a former Williams Wildcat. I hadn’t seen him in about ten years, so we played catch-up and talked until we realized we were freezing. What a treat to see him.
The best thing about growing up in Norwood is that going to a celebration of any kind means you are going to see tons of people you know. Some who went to school with your kids, old PTA buddies, longtime friends or friends you haven’t seen in a long time.
Anytime you talk to anyone from Norwood longer than a few minutes, you are bound to be asked two questions. First question, “What year did you graduate?” and second, “Which grade school did you go to?” Norwood grads are extremely loyal to their grade schools.
Tom and I were so thankful we got to attend the 100th anniversary of the beautiful old Williams Avenue Elementary School building. The staff and volunteers are to be commended for their hard work and devoted effort that made the 100th celebration a big success. It was a wonderful day.
Norwood was such a great place to grow up. No matter where our life takes us after graduation–no matter how long it has been since we have seen one another—we still remember the happy days of going to school in Norwood. Today, that school just happened to be Williams Avenue Elementary. Happy 100th Birthday, Williams Avenue!
Ending on a Positive Note: As Norwood grads, let us all be grateful for the significance of Norwood, the schools, the teachers, the people and the experiences that made and continue to make such a difference in our lives.