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Former Lincoln and Jefferson students reminisce

Abby Teisinger, right, and Starlite Rivera dance to the music at the Lincoln School dance. A party was held at the school May 21, celebrating the end of the school year, and the end of an era for Lincoln Elementary School in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Jefferson Elementary students used to eat Dilly Bars on the last day of school.

The kids at Lincoln Elementary enjoyed the closeness of their neighborhood school.

Former students' memories will take on a bittersweet flavor after this past week.

The last classes of students left both schools on Thursday, and both buildings are now closed as full-fledged elementary schools. They are victims of declining enrollment and tight school budgets.

Jefferson will reopen in the fall as the base for Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

Lincoln will have a handful of kindergarten classrooms under its roof next fall. But when a new addition is finished at Roosevelt Elementary, the last classes will move, and the building will close.

Former students of the schools have been sharing their memories on the social networking Web site Facebook. A Facebook page has been dedicated to each of the buildings.

On the Facebook pages, members reminisce about going to the small schools and share memories of school lunches, clothing styles and favorite classes.

Teachers don't have first names in their memories, for the most part. They recall Mr. Hamman's love of art, Mrs. Cox's love of poetry, and Miss Lynch, the teacher so adored that some kids invited her to their birthday parties.

Some former students provided more comments when contacted through the Facebook pages. Page administrators Mary Sundin for Jefferson and Darla Schueler Reynolds for Lincoln assisted the Tribune in that effort.

Lincoln memories

The Facebook page for Lincoln Elementary has a distinctive name, using a nickname familiar to any kid who ever attended a school named Lincoln -- I was a Stinkin' Lincoln Kid, before there were Thinkin' Lincoln Kids!

"We always had barbecues on Wednesday, and whenever I smell peanut butter sandwiches I think of the Lincoln Elementary lunch room," writes Linda Pederson Loberg, a 1977 graduate of Willmar High School. "I have a lot of good memories of Lincoln. When my (high school) class gets together, the 'Stinkin' Lincoln' kids reminisce."

Loberg is now a special education teacher and principal at New Effington, S.D., Elementary School.

"Our staff tries really hard to make these elementary years (memorable) just like I experienced at Lincoln Elementary," she writes.

Hayley Horning Shibley, Willmar class of 1995, has fond memories of walking to school with her little sister Dena. "We had a little group of friends that would all meet to walk to school," she said.

"The teachers at Lincoln were great, they made it seem like a very small, intimate school where you were always safe and you knew they cared about you," she adds.

Dawn Scott of Willmar also cherishes the neighborhood school she attended in second, third and fourth grades. "We knew everyone in the neighborhood and didn't have to ride the bus for hours and actually had the opportunity and the time to be kids and ride our bikes, walk and play baseball for fun," she writes.

Former student Troy Lundquist, who attended Lincoln through the sixth grade in 1977, provides a list of fond and painful memories of his years at Lincoln.

Fond ones include first girlfriends, going to a Twins game with the school patrol and the homemade cupcakes in ice cream cones his mother made every year for his birthday.

Lundquist's painful memories sound truly painful. They include falling on the steps to the basement band room and cracking his head open, cracking his forehead open on the edge of the stage, and "sticking my whole tongue on a frosty pipe on the uneven bars in the dead of winter. ... yanked my tongue off and it bled really good."

Reynolds, the school's Facebook administrator, remembers raising and lowering the flag and making apple-head dolls in class. She mentions teachers who inspired her love for presidential history and recalls the sixth-grade trip to the State Capitol and Fort Snelling.

And she recalls the small details that would have been important to a young child: "We had milk break with the paper straws, and they would get soggy before you could finish drinking your milk."

Reynolds grew up across the street from Lincoln.

"I guess, since I grew up so close to the school, I am very sad to see the closing of Lincoln Elementary," she writes. "That is one of the reasons that I started the group on Facebook. Lincoln School was such an important part of my childhood, education and life."

Jefferson comments

Perhaps because Jefferson is a former parochial school that was not a public grade school until the 1970s, its students did not provide the volume of memories that Lincoln's former students did.

But they do recall their school fondly.

Carrie Okland Thomas, now a teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Willmar, said she is sad to see the school close as an elementary school but glad it can still be used for educational purposes.

"The school does hold a lot of special memories for me," she writes. "It was a small school where everyone knew everyone else -- young and old."

Two of her own children attended Jefferson, too. "It was really special having my own kids go to the same school I went to."

Kris Eddy Jenson, who attended Jefferson from 1976 to 1981, recalled lots of special learning experiences. In second grade, they learned about baking bread, kneading the bread in the morning and baking it in the school kitchen so students could take it home that afternoon.

The teachers threw a "proper English tea party" for the students after they finished a unit on England. "I was excited to try tea but found that I hated it, and the smell of it still turns me off to this day," Jenson writes. She enjoyed the cornbread from their typical pioneer meal, though.

Her fourth-grade classroom had several computers in the back, and the students played Oregon Trail, an educational game, on them. "Considering that was 1980-1981, I think we were pretty lucky," she said.

On the Facebook page, some former students talk about fashion in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sundin, the Facebook page administrator, writes about "all those turtlenecks with little hearts or other things with matching sweaters over and painter's pants! In every color!!!!! Matching shoelaces!"

Thomas remembers "some popular shoes that were like sneakers with Velcro. They were called 'Kangaroos.' I had a purple pair that even had a pocket on the side. I used to keep my lunch tickets in them."

The comments on the Facebook page include memories of a "trip" to Hawaii in the gym, where the students tried exotic foods and learned the hula.

Sundin recently posted this epitaph for her old school: "So sad Jefferson no longer an elementary school. Let us all gather a moment and say goodbye dear old friend. Memories we hold dear, cherished times we had here, teachers from every grade, friends we all had made, school lunch pizza not so bad, the time of our lives we had!"