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One of Lincoln's early students laments its closing

Lincoln Elementary School can be seen in the background as Joan Van Buren stands in the front yard of her Willmar home. Van Buren attended the school in the 1920s and was the first of four generations of her family to go to school there. (Tribune photos by Linda Vanderwerf)

When Joan Van Buren was a little girl, growing up in Willmar, her grandfather led her by the hand across the family's land and pointed to Lincoln Elementary School.

"That's where you'll be going," he said, showing her the nearly new building.

Van Buren attended the school for her elementary education in the 1920s.

Over the years, the school welcomed Van Buren's four children, followed by grandchildren and then great-grandchildren. The original building was built in 1924 and was expanded in 1957 and 1965.

This week marked the end of the tradition for Van Buren's family and other families that have sent several generations through the halls of Lincoln Elementary.

Lincoln ended its 85-year life as an elementary school on Thursday, when the last students finished the school year there. A handful of kindergarten classes will use the building next fall until an addition is finished at Roosevelt Elementary School. Then the building will be empty, a casualty of declining enrollment and school budget problems.

For Carmen (Van Buren) Blake, the closing of the school she and her grandmother attended, along with so many other family members, will be the end of a family tradition. "It will truly be missed by our family," she said through an e-mail.

When she was a child, Joan Van Buren's family lived on five acres of land in the area where Swenson Motors is now located.

She and her siblings walked to school, following the old Highway 12 and then walking up a dirt road in the area of the current Julii and Ninth streets.

"I remember how cold it was in the winter," she said. Girls did not wear slacks to school in those days, and long underwear under skirts wasn't very warm.

The children in the school's early days played on swings and climbing bars on the playground and worked hard on their spelling, reading and penmanship. They respected their teachers and started each morning seated quietly at their desks with their hands folded until they stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. They had Christmas pageants, something that isn't done in public schools anymore.

Van Buren, who's always lived on Willmar's east side, can see Lincoln from her front yard.

She looks at the school and wonders, "What are they losing here," she said.

"I feel bad, because I think I'm going to miss seeing them playing over there," she said.

"I will miss seeing all the young children," she added. "It will be lonely."