Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

May 11, 2014

Past, present students say goodbye

Edgewood Grade School open house a time for memories

EDGEWOOD — Former and current students of Edgewood Grade School came from around the country to honor the school they had attended at an open house Saturday.

The elementary school is closing at the end of this school year, which will mark the first time since 1863 that there isn't a functioning school in the Village of Edgewood.

Balinda Edwards, formerly Waller, came from Arizona to catch up with her old classmates.

"We have a group that still gets together, because this is one big family," said Edwards. "Instead of a high school reunion, we have an Edgewood reunion."

The word "family" was used throughout the day to describe the relationship between the school and community.

"In a word, this is sad," said Tina Moore, whose child attends the school. "It is going to be rough on the kids making the transition to Southside and Central grade schools when our school closes."

Moore is concerned about the lengthy bus rides, which for Edgewood students can be an hour and a half.

"That is too long of a ride for a kindergartener," said Moore.

Several parents expressed a level of uncertainty from their children because of their class placement.

"My son is upset that he won't be in the same class with his best friend," said Moore.

Like Moore, Greg Ingram, who attended Edgewood Grade School in the 1970s, is concerned for the well-being of students and the village.

"This is going to hurt the town," said Ingram. "When Mason lost their school, everything left."

Ingram reminisced about the small school atmosphere, which he believes served students tremendously.

"Everybody looked after one another," he said, adding the community revolved around school events.

Because of declining state aid and enrollment throughout the district, Unit 40 school board voted to close the school in February.

The closure was a blow to all that had attended and worked at the school, but none took it  harder than a former teacher.

"Everyone at this school is like a family," said Linda Lewis, who retired from Edgewood in 2005.

Lewis, who also taught at the Mason school before it closed, is concerned for the future of the community.

"I think Edgewood is losing some of its identity," she said. "The school is the heart of the community."

Visitors listened as former teachers, administrators and students recounted fond memories of growing up in a small town with a school.

Local historian and retired Effingham history teacher Delaine Donaldson shared the history of the school, which started in what would become Faulk's Opera House in 1863. The school opened in another location in 1917 before the current location was constructed in 1938.

Donaldson encouraged the community to cherish the memories by keeping them alive through the oral tradition of history, along with bringing items to the Effingham County Courthouse Museum.

Although there have been many changes in the district over the years, Donaldson said the goal of educating young people remains the same.

"There is a cyclical nature to life," said Donaldson after the open house. "This is part of that."

Former Edgewood principal Bill Altman, who oversaw operation of the school in the 1950s, reminisced about the nights spent coaching Edgewood Eagles basketball teams and the fine teachers that taught at the school over the years.

"Those were the finest years of my life," said the 92-year-old World War II veteran.

Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet spoke of his time growing up near Edgewood and at the school.

"One thing God has given us is the ability to have memories," said Monnet. "We will always have those."

Current Edgewood Grade School students will be visiting Southside and Central Grade schools over coming days, followed by a Parents Day on May 20.

"I think kids are a little excited and a lot nervous," said Edgewood Principal Cheri Marten of the move.

"Today is about remembering great memories," added Marten. "And it is about the new memories we are going to make."

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com or on Twitter @Ednthuffman.     

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