Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Celebrators bid Grant farewell

May 25, 2002


Sure, Grant School teachers on Friday taught their final classes at the 39-student country school. Chattering students filled the hallways for the last time.

But the spirit and sense of unity that has bound the Grant community together for more than 40 years lives on. That was obvious Friday evening at a celebration that filled the small school's gymnasium with about 400 students, alumni, teachers, staff and family members.

"The heart and the soul of this school will move with the kids," Lawrence school board president Sue Morgan told the crowd. "You've done a great job, and wherever you move, that school and those people are going to be very lucky to get you."

The school board in October voted to close the rural elementary school in response to dwindling enrollment. Although the decision didn't come as a total surprise to Grant supporters  there has been talk of closing the school for some 20 years  Friday's festivities were bittersweet for many.

"I had some wonderful times here," said Dwayne Shepard, a Grant alumnus who flew in from Chicago to attend the "Four Decades Celebration."

He recalled he and his brothers were the only black students in the school when it opened in 1961. They transferred to Grant from Bismarck, one of four tiny schools  including White, Oak Ridge and Burnette  that consolidated to form Grant. As Shepard conjured up memories of singing in the school choir during Christmas concerts, a former classmate approached.

"Dwayne? Man, it's good to see you," Mike Garrett said. The men's hardy handshake melted into a hug.

Susan (Meuffels) Hatfield scanned class pictures posted on the walls around the gym.

"That's me," she squealed, pointing to a young girl in a faded photograph of the fifth-grade class of 1967-68.

Hatfield, of rural Tonganoxie, remembers racing other boys and girls around the school yard just east of the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

"I know kids in town don't have the same space to run and play," she said.

Friday's party began with a ceremony for Grant's sixth-graders  the last 17 students who will "graduate" from the school. Each of them spoke briefly, thanking their teachers and parents and speaking highly of their years at Grant.

"I'll miss the kids and the parents," said sixth-grader Michael Westheffer, who will attend Central Junior High next year.

Grant students who aren't moving on to junior high will transfer to Woodlawn School in north Lawrence.

Despite the somber reality behind Friday's occasion, spirits were high, reflecting the saying posted on the bulletin board outside the school's office: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

"This is what our hope was  that it could be a celebration, that we could send the kids off on a positive note," said Jan Dicker, who has spent the past 18 years teaching various grades at Grant.

Wayne Propst, father of graduating sixth-grader Lou Schmitt, said no matter what experts said about larger schools providing better educational opportunities, his son had a valuable experience at Grant.

"What they get an opportunity to do is know every child in this school," he said. "The teachers know every student in this school."

Alumna Susan (Heck) Holcomb, whose father was on the school board when Grant opened and whose nephew graduated Friday night, said one of the Grant community's greatest assets was the way it embraced its members and nurtured a family-style atmosphere.

"I think that will always be," she said, "whether we have the building or not."

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