With tears, humor, Crawfordsville says good-bye to its school

Sean C. Morgan

Some are clearly saddened or upset by the closure of Crawfordsville Elementary School; their smiles, laughter and stories explained why.

Crawfordsville will close at the end of the school year after some 150 years of having a school in the village. Though the occasion may have been sad, it was a good excuse for hundreds of people to get together and enjoy a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The school held a cele-bration Saturday afternoon to celebrate the school’s history. Children played on an inflatable obstacle course, while alumni and staff, past and present, sat around eating hot dogs, hamburgers and cake while reminiscing and catching up with each other. Photos and essays culled from Crawfordsville’s history were on display in the gymnasium.

Principal Elena Barton thanked Secretary Cindy Rinehart for coordinating the celebration on Saturday. It was difficult to get a good head count with people coming and going, but organizers planned for 300 visitors.

Dan Swanson has taught at Crawfordsville for 18 years and will move to Holley School next school year along with the rest of the Crawfordsville staff and students. He previously taught for two years at Foster School. Before that, he taught in Washington County.

Living in Albany, his wife kept asking him why doesn’t apply for a higher-paying position in Albany, Swanson said. “I’m happy here. I like it. I really have loved it. The people – they sort of make it, the people I work with, the community, good salt-of-the-earth people.”

They have no pretenses and are hard-working, Swanson said. He has watched single moms struggling on their own, working hard to raise the children.

“It’s just kind of an honor,” Swanson said. The small school setting gives teachers more flexibility to try different things, adjusting them and changing things up so they don’t become rote and stale for the teacher – keeping the material fresh for the students.

In the last six to eight years, Swanson has specialized in math and science for grades three through six, he said, and he hadn’t been doing all of the interesting things he used to do in class, connecting all of the different subjects into different activities, because he doesn’t have the same students all day. At Holley, he will teach third grade and be able to do that again.

He has mixed feelings about the merger, he said. The decision to close Crawfordsville was disappointing.

“When I lock the door for the last time, I think it’ll hit,” Swanson said. “It’ll be hard. We’ve had some joint meetings with the students and staff. We’ll make it work. There’ll be an adjustment period that first year, but too much is on the line to not find ways to make it work.”

The staff members at both schools are working out ways to keep the traditions of both schools alive, he said.

Rinehart started working as Crawfordsville’s secretary 33 years ago, right after she graduated from Sweet Home High School. She attended Crawfordsville in the sixth grade, and her two daughters attended Crawfordsville.

“Sadness,” Rinehart said. “It’s sad, but we have kids to think about so we have to try to keep it positive for their sake.”

Crawfordsville is a home away from home, Rinehart said. “It’s just the end of an era. A lot of history happened on this site. We’ve had some wonderful families come through here.”

She remains happy on the other hand, she said. “I’m going to Holley. I’m going to stay with my babies.”

She already knows many of the students at Holley, she said. They attended kindergarten at Crawfordsville.

“It doesn’t take long,” she said. “It’ll be OK. It’s going to be like a blended family. If you go in with a positive attitude, everything’s going to be OK. It’s hard for them (Holley) too. They’ve got to clean stuff up to make room for us.

“Head Start and Early Intervention will still use the Crawfordsville building. It’d be harder if the building was going to be empty, but kids will still be using it. That makes it easier.”

Barton, a Crawfordsville resident, has been principal for a total of 13 years. She was principal for six years before working solely at the district office for four and then returning for the past seven years.

“I’m glad we did this celebration,” Barton said. “It’s nice for everybody to see the pictures. It’s a little sad, but it’s part of life. You move on and make the best of it.”

Barton will move to Holley School next school year, working .4 full-time equivalents there and .6 as the district’s Student Services Director. Dave Goetz, who worked .2 FTE at Holley this year, will return full time to the Junior High.

“I’m certainly looking forward to it, more students and more teachers,” Barton said. That will allow Holley to develop a professional learning community program, like that at the high school and other sites around the district, something that is more difficult to do with only three teachers.

“I’m looking forward to something different and the challenge,” Barton said. The facility, a small building, is likely to be a challenge.

The merger is already underway, she said. This week, the Crawfordsville students will join Holley students for their field day at Holley. Last week, the Crawfordsville students went to Holley to tour the building; see their new classrooms; and most importantly to them, to inspect the playground.

My brothers and I went here,” said Kaitlyn Long. It’s kind of sad but cool to come back and see the old elementary school.”

She attended preschool at Crawfordsville, kindergarten at Pleasant Valley and then all six years of elementary school at Crawfordsville.

“I liked the small classes,” Long said. “Our sixth grade graduated like 10 kids maybe. You had more friends to hang out with.”

At the bigger schools, like the Junior High, people don’t know the other students as well.

David VanDerlip, School Board representative for Crawfordsville, was busy reading a history of Crawfordsville.

In 1912, enrollment dropped nearly in half from 69 students, he said as he read.

“This is really neat just looking at some of the old history here,” VanDerlip said. “I feel bad it’s closing. We put up the good fight and did what we could. The decision was made. Hopefully, someday it’ll reopen. It has a special meaning to me.”

He and his wife, Rachel, put all seven of their children through the school.

Jeri Anlauf graduated from the eighth grade at Crawfordsville in 1967, she said. “It’s just a flood of memories, with people around that I didn’t know were still around.”

“It’s bittersweet,” Anlauf said. “I have a lot of memories, a lot of happy times.”

Randy Claasen, who moved to Crawfordsville in 1964 at age 10 and was in the last eighth-grade class there, told story after story about life in Crawfordsville.

“We all picked beans at Becker’s,” he said. “That was a party in itself.”

Sports outings to Cascadia were all-day events, and the kids had to pack lunches.

His eighth-grade year, he was on the school’s track team. Teacher Harold Williamson told him to do something different. Claasen decided to take on the 880 race-walk. He won districts and set the state record, qualifying for nationals.

“It’s very sad,” Claasen said of the closure. “Last night I was at the Goshen one.”

He never went there, but just seeing the impact it had on its community brought a tear to his eye, he said. He was there with his band providing music for the celebration.

“When we were kids, we had so much fun out here,” Claasen said. “These small schools have so much freedom.”

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