Lakewood Elementary celebrates school’s 50-year anniversary

From AAPSNews Service

Lakewood Elementary students stepped back in time last month, celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary as a building, 10th year of reopening as an elementary school, and looking at area history, including a nearby one-room schoolhouse.

A culminating assembly on Jan. 28 included songs of the era when Lakewood first opened – Jan. 31, 1961 – and other patriotic tunes that were popular in the late 1800s when the one-room schoolhouse on Liberty Road was in operation.

50th birthday at Lakewood
Lakewood students look at a display case in their hallway that showcase's the school's history. Lakewood was 50 years old on Jan. 31.

Lakewood operated as an elementary school through 1985, when it closed and was used for a variety of school district programs and storage. It was reopened as an elementary school in 2001.

Original teachers and staff and students, as well as school neighbors, were all special guests for the day, enjoying a program that included some student time travel back to 1874 when the one-room schoolhouse opened. Students in all grades did research for the program, said Media Specialist Eileen Thomas.

She said a former student contacted her for some school history and “he got me really interested in this school’s history. This fall … we explored our school’s history.”

Fifth-graders found some “fun facts” including that John Fitzgerald Kennedy had just been inaugurated when the school opened in 1961 and that a chimpanzee named “Ham” returned safely after a test flight into space on the day the school opened.

Third-graders took a walking tour to the nearby one-room schoolhouse as part of their research, she said. Students attended the school – known at various times as School District No. 5, Liberty Road School and Arabelle Wagner School – before Lakewood was built.

Rick O'Neill
Retired Lakewood Elementary Principal Rick O'Neill tells students about what it was like to reopen Lakewood in 2001.

“At Arabelle Wagner, kids walked to school, brought their lunch in a pail or a bag, there wasn’t a kitchen and a hot lunch, just one room for the whole school,” Thomas told the group. “There was a playground behind the school.”

Herm Steinman was principal when Lakewood opened in 1961. He recalled all of the trees that were planted over the years around the school, including third- and fourth-graders who planted saplings and large fir trees in front which were originally Christmas trees donated to the school.

Nearby Lakewood Woods was once vacant property and there was concern in the neighborhood about whether it might be developed. He said Bill Stapp, the author and founder of the district’s environmental education program, played a huge role in saving the woods. “Bill Stapp was all energy,” Steinman recalled. “He got together with the school board, city council and some parents and got a government grant to buy that property so its been professionally saved for you guys. That was one of those things that somebody took care of.”

Rick O’Neill, principal from when Lakewood reopened in 2001 until last year when he retired, recalled when staff and students were moved to this “new” school and had to do any variety of painting and cleaning up before it could be reopened.

“All of our students said they liked Lakewood better than any of their other schools. Here we are 10 years later, 50 years after the school was built and … we’re still a great school because of all of the wonderful children, students, families and staff that make it that way.”

Also attending the event was Florence Gasdick, who served as Lakewood principal until 1985.

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