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For some reason, I always associate President’s Day with several of my Washington Elementary School teachers.  Washington Elementary School, located on the West side of Elwood, Indiana, was built in 1894.  My great-great aunt, Florence ___ Barmes, was one of its first students.  Years later, my mother, her brothers, and cousins, all attended Washington.  It is the only remaining school of its generation still standing in my hometown.

Washington Elementary School had something over her sister schools, Oakland and Edgewood.  For a number of decades, Elwood Junior High School teachers were known to comment, “You can tell the difference from the students who went to Washington.”  Some junior school teachers thought Washington students were better behaved, and very team-oriented.

Walking up the front steps, and through the arched opening, was quite overwhelming to a six year old entering kindergarten.  Once inside the front door, there was a wide flight up green marble steps that led to the main floor of four large classrooms with long cloak rooms.  The classroom doors were tall, heavy, carved-wood structures topped with transoms (windows that were opened with a metal turn-rod to allow cool or warm air to move through).

On the North side of the main level, an imposing flight of marble stairs led to a midway level, then split up each side of the East and West walls in its ascension to the second floor where four more classrooms, and the library/office (depending on the era) collected around the large culdesac.

The basement contained the kitchen, cafeterias (two separate rooms), the teachers’ cafeteria off the main student cafeteria, restrooms, and some storage rooms.

The playground, across the street, took up half a city block with playground equipment, a basketball court, a baseball diamond, and several large areas.

I will always have the fondest memories of this building.

During my seven years in the building I had Mrs. Naden for kindergarten, Mrs. Singleton for 1st grade, Mrs. Cassidy for 2nd, Mrs. Hennegen for 3rd, Mrs. Lane for 4th, Mrs. Brugger for 5th, and Mr. Pyle for 6th.  The collection of educators truly made this school the heart and soul that impressed fellow educators at the junior and senior high schools.

Two teachers, in particular, had a tremendous impact on my love for history: Diana Lane and Garnetta Brugger.

In the fourth grade, I learned my passion for reading, and will forever be grateful to Mrs. Lane for fostering this love which was instilled, and modeled by my mother at home.  One of my most favorite memories of fourth grade was Mrs. Lane reading to the class in the afternoons – ironically, my favorite time to read is in the afternoon.  I can still vividly recall her vocal inflections for each character, the emphasis on the more colorful words, and the energy she invested in the story.  My favorite stories were OLD YELLER…  FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER… MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE… and another about the ponies of Assateague Island.  These books I also ordered from the book club Mrs. Lane made available to us. I still have my paperback copies of these books on the bookcase by my bed. In 1999, I took a three week vacation which included, finally, the islands of Assateague and Chincoteague so I could actually see the wild ponies.

My fifth grade year I was introduced to the formidable Garnetta Brugger. Perhaps because Mother had been a fifth grade student of Mrs. Brugger’s, I was not intimidated; however, many of my classmates were. I found her to be a wonderful advocate of my Lincoln fascination.  We all knew that one of our major assignments was to memorize the Gettysburg Address, and recite it before the class, and this was sheer heaven for me. As we neared Lincoln’s birthday, Mrs. Brugger pulled me aside one day, before heading out to recess, and asked, “Mr. Jolliff, what ideas do you have to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday? I figured you would be my best resource.”  I took a pencil, and notepaper, out to the playground, and made a list of ideas while laying flat on the teeter-totter.  Mrs. Brugger looked over the list, made a few suggestions, and a few weeks later, my class enjoyed a half-day honoring the life of President Lincoln. There were readings, several movies (on the film projector), songs with Mr. Brugger (our legendary band director in Elwood), food from several of the moms, and me reciting The Gettysburg Address. It was quite a moment!

I was a lucky little guy at Washington Elementary School, and thirty-five years after leaving the school, still feel so blessed for such wonderful educational experiences.

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Photographs of Washington Elementary School courtesy of the Facebook group, You might be from Elwood, IN if….

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February 2012
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