By Lucia Dashnaw
School bells are not ringing this fall at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Kenmore for the first time since 1928. Parking my car near my childhood home on Washington Avenue to attend the school’s closing celebration, I was heartened to see many students and families in attendance.
As I entered the center doors, I was whisked back in time to a building built in the 1920s. An impressive double staircase greets visitors – although the bust of Theodore Roosevelt was mysteriously missing. Gleaming terrazzo tile lines the hallways, oak doors and tall windows that teachers had to use a pole to open and close.
The Roman numeral clocks that puzzled students have been replaced with clocks with Arabic numerals. Lockers have replaced the oak cloakrooms, but the beautiful wood classroom floors remain. Gone were the old-fashioned desks with the attached seats in which fidgety students could swivel. Without fail each September, in came the custodian with his wrench to adjust the seat of its new occupant.
The closing presentation, held in the auditorium, was full of reflection, tributes and laughter. One past principal received gales of laughter when he inquired if he looked different from a decidedly youthful picture of himself. After studying the pictures before him, the young but astute student diplomatically replied that the principal’s forehead had grown.
A custodian who dressed up as Santa Claus during the holidays was remembered with love by his son. His siblings had driven in from all parts of the state to attend and he added, tongue in cheek, that he had driven the farthest from Cheektowaga. His father’s sense of humor was present as we all got to know a custodian who loved his job. Also present was a spry lady in her ninth decade, who served as the dental hygienist many years ago and had likely examined my teeth.
When the music and speeches finished, we were free to explore the building, with hallways decorated with student artwork. The memories began to flow.
Miss Butt, in second grade, was unsuccessful in making this left-hander print with her right hand. In Miss McManis’ third-grade greenhouse, marigolds were grown for Mother’s Day. Fourth grade brought me to Mrs. Sutton, a friend of my grandmother, so it was best to behave. We wrote our first term papers in fifth grade with Mrs. Heintz, who also promoted a love of literature by reading to us every day after lunch. On a Friday afternoon, news of President Kennedy’s death reached us in Mrs. Molnar’s sixth-grade class.
Mrs. Hicks was our music teacher while Miss LeRoy provided art on a cart and ran an art club where this enthusiastic member glued felt mosaic pieces to produce a whale to decorate the cafeteria.
Mr. Larkin was our principal and always had a smile to greet students. Memory albums offered pictures of Miss Hall, the girls’ gym teacher, and Miss Cleveland, the school secretary. It was a delight to see Mr. Alt, the boys’ gym teacher, still trim and handsome.
As I left Roosevelt Elementary all those decades ago, Mrs. Molnar’s parting words were: “You never stop learning.” When I retired from my own teaching career, I remembered these teachers in my toast as they, and Roosevelt Elementary in particular, provided me with my life’s purpose.
So hail and farewell Roosevelt Elementary, and thank you to all the teachers and staff present that day. And, yes, my students grew marigolds for Mother’s Day.
Lucia Dashnaw, of Buffalo, is grateful to the Roosevelt Elementary School teachers and staff, who were her anchor as a child.