PDT Staff Writer
Most of the old school buildings that have long since been replaced, have been torn down, and where they once stood in most cases is an empty field, with nothing to match your memory to. That is not true with the former North Moreland Elementary School, on Harrisonville Avenue in North Moreland. That building has been preserved, and added onto by New Life Family Worship Center. Now, the former teachers, administrators, students and anyone else interested will come together for a reunion and open house, June 16 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the very building where they bonded.
Former teacher Anne (Van Fossen) Strehle, said the school closed in 1982 and believed it had opened in 1925. That information was engraved in the cornerstone. According to former teacher Hetty Phillips, the city closed the school for austerity measures. During those years, Portsmouth City Schools also closed Garfield and Lindsey schools. The students from North Moreland were transferred to Harding School in Sciotoville.
“We were still teaching most of our same family,” Strehle said. “This was a family group. We loved each other and we loved all these kids.”
“We all loved the children and we loved the people we worked for,” Eva Davis said. “It was just like family. The parents backed the teachers. You always felt you had them (parents) behind you.”
The teachers all agreed that since they taught several generations of the same family, it caused a bonding that stretched from generation to generation.
“We’re looking forward to seeing our former students,” Dorothy Justus said.
One of the organizers of the open house is Mary Leightenheimer, who was thrilled to be in the room with many of her teachers from North Moreland.
“It is actually family, and we just want to see our family again,” Leightenheimer said. “We were raised poor, but we never knew it because of this family here (gesturing to the teachers).”
Leightenheimer said she remembered when her sister didn’t have many clothes to wear to school.
“Mrs. (June) Newberry (Frowine) would send her daughter’s clothes to my mother to make sure she had decent clothes for school,” Leightenheimer said. “That’s the way it used to be.”
Leightenheimer remembered being in Mrs. Phillips’ class when Mrs. Phillips selected her name in a passing party.
“I thought I was the most special child in the world,” Leightenheimer said. “She got me a set of colored markers. I had never had a set of markers in my life. But she got them for me, and to this day I remember the markers.”
The teachers talked about the changes they witnessed in just the years they taught at North Moreland. No one had a TV set when they began teaching at the school, and many of them saw the onset of the Korean War, right through to the Vietnam War while teaching at North Moreland.
At 91, Eva Davis disputes that the children of those days didn’t have the supplies students have today, putting them at a disadvantage.
“We had the modern things of that day,” Davis said. “We had books and nice things to work with. We were modern.”
Dorothy Justus sees a difference in students from the past compared to today.
“Probably the personal contacts were not as personal as they were then,” Justus said. “Every child was an individual. Now they are groups often.”
The teachers talked about other teachers and administrators who were not at the gathering, but who they hope to see at the reunion, including former principals Jerry Martin and Arthur Lewis.
“We want everyone at the reunion,” Leightenheimer said. “We want not only the students, but their families also. If your kid went to school there, we want them there. If you’re someone’s cousin, we want you there.”
Leightenheimer said anyone needing information may call 740-352-2407 or 859-771-6313.
Leightenheimer credited the congregation of New Life Family Worship Center with preserving the building for the group.
“Brother (Mike) Gifford has graciously opened up the school to us,” Leightenheimer said. “If it wasn’t for the church being about God’s business, we wouldn’t have a school today. It would be torn down along with the rest of them. But because somebody minded the Lord and kept the church going, we can go back and share our memories about North Moreland.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.