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Elementary schools see last students leave

Taylor Lara, left, gets her Memory Book signed by Karen Loge on Thursday at Jefferson Elementary School. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- There was chaos in the halls of Willmar's small elementary schools Thursday afternoon.

It was the annual memory book signing at Lincoln and Jefferson elementary schools. And it was the last such event for each school.

By fall, Community Education and Recreation will have moved into the Jefferson building. Boxes started arriving Thursday afternoon.

Lincoln will have some kindergarten classes in its building until an addition is completed at Roosevelt Elementary. Then the building will close after serving the district for 85 years.

Teachers sat outside their classrooms with pens at the ready Thursday afternoon as students in grades 1-3 were set free to wander the halls. The halls filled with chatting children as they traded signatures with friends and stopped to have teachers and staff members sign them.

It was a tight squeeze at Jefferson, too, because the halls were lined with boxes ready to go to Roosevelt or Kennedy elementary schools.

Tammy Rueckert, who signed her name backwards with a practiced hand, said to her neighbor across the hall, Suzanne Berg, "This is the last hour that any teacher is going to teach third grade in this room."

The teachers talked about the school closing in between signing books. "Our little school is closing, our wonderful little school," Rueckert said.

Berg said the closing really hit her Thursday morning when the Jefferson school song played over the intercom system.

Second-grade teacher Karen Loge said she taught at Jefferson for 10 years and had been at Lincoln for 10 years before that. She will be teaching second grade at Roosevelt next year.

"It works out, once you go into your room," she said. "The kids are the same, no matter where you are."

Beckie Simenson, who is principal of both schools, sat outside the office to sign books at both schools. Lots of parents, retired teachers and other have been stopping by to say goodbye, she said.

The closing is hard for lots of people who have fond memories of the buildings, she said. It may be harder at Lincoln, she added, because Jefferson will still be used, while Lincoln will be closing.