COSMOS -- Former students, teachers and parents gathered Saturday in the Cosmos school gym where basketball games were played and homecoming queens crowned to reminisce about their years as the Cosmos Royals.
The former Cosmos K-12 school, which had its first graduating class in 1957 but has been functioning for the last 22 years solely as an elementary school as part of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, is closing.
Starting this fall, all the ACGC elementary students will go to school in Atwater.
The move is a result of declining enrollment and a tight budget.
To help make the transition, school and community members sponsored an open house Saturday for people to tour their alma mater, which is still a sunny, well-kept building.
A timeline on the hallway walls captured youthful graduation photos of each class from 1957 to 1993. Older and grayer now, people found their photos and signed their names as classmates hugged and laughed, walking down the hallways together like they did when they were kids.
With the theme, "Honoring the past ... planning and educating for the future," a program conducted in the gym was a mix of history, humor, sadness and encouragement.
Through the prepared statements of school administration, a poem written by a current teacher and the spontaneous testimony of former students, teachers and parents, the paramount message was that people in the community and the school loved and supported each other and that love and support is what made the school and the students a success.
"What brought us here today was a desire to remember and honor the time we've spent in this building," said Lexi Cumings, a sixth-grade teacher and one of the organizers of the Royal Falcon Day event -- named for the Cosmos mascot and the ACGC mascot today.
"Those times are near and dear to our hearts, and we wanted to mark this occasion with a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude for the friendships and education we embraced while we were here," she said.
Harry Weseloh, a Cosmos High School graduate who now teaches college English in St. Cloud, said the school and community consistently sent the message of "tolerance" and that everyone was equal. There were "no haves or have-nots," he said, and everyone believed they all had the same chance to succeed.
Weseloh also blushed when was he was good-naturedly singled out for being the only Cosmos student to never have missed a day of class during all 12 years of school.
"How could anyone like school that much?" wondered a classmate.
Donna Erickson, who was crowned the first homecoming queen of the new school -- she wore a crown made of welded coat hangers covered in tin foil -- was one of the 24 students in the first graduating class.
Knowing how hard parents and the community worked to get the school built made Saturday's farewell "a very sad day for all of us," she said.
Back in the mid-1950s, there was a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school in Cosmos but high school kids went to Litchfield or Hutchinson.
The Cosmos community lobbied the state to create its own kindergarten-through-12th grade school and put up the tax money to build a new facility.
The doors opened in 1955 when the elementary students moved in. Erickson and her classmates arrived in the new school in the fall of 1956 in their senior year and graduated in the spring of 1957.
It was a glorious time, said Erickson and her classmate Barb Miller. The students got to name the team mascot -- the Royals, pick the colors, name the yearbook and have the honor of being in the first graduating class.
They even had homecoming that fall "even though there was nobody to come home," said Miller with a laugh.
This year they'll hold their 55th class reunion. "We have one every year," said Erickson.
The participants on Saturday revived the old Cosmos High School song that includes the lines: "Roar the praises of the Royals, sing the story of Cosmos High! Through the halls we praise our heroes of our mighty Cosmos High, Fight!"
It was apparent Saturday that the heroes for many were their teachers. One after another, former students praised the Cosmos teachers for teaching them and inspiring them to succeed.
"I'm gracious for what our teachers have done," said Mike Kutzke, a 1981 Cosmos graduate.
Current and former teachers also praised the school and their time in Cosmos.
Dan VanOverbeke, a former science teacher, said the 16 years he taught in Cosmos were the "most wonderful 16 years of my life." Saying goodbye to the school brings "bittersweet memories," he said.
Steve Pasche, a former band teacher who taught at Cosmos High School for nine years, said he cherishes his time at the school. "They were some of the best years," he said.
Pearl Lietzau, a former first-grade teacher who turned 100 last fall, was also at the event. In a clear voice Lietzau laughed as she told how a little girl, who apparently couldn't say the letter "V," brought her a "walentine."
"I love this place and I love the families," said Cumings, who led the group outside for the release of balloons that were held by representatives from each class.
"As we release these balloons into the sky, let us do it with the spirit of thanksgiving to the community of Cosmos for their support through these years, and also remembering the heights we reached with our efforts in the name of education."
Kutzke, who talked about "passion" and "purpose" in his keynote address, said the support for education and kids from the entire Cosmos community does not have to be lost because students will be going to a different building.
It's a change that will have a few "bumps and bruises" along the way, he said. But the Cosmos community will always be a community that supports education and its children for the future. "That won't change," he said.