More than just bricks and mortar

There’s a message written on a marker board somewhere in the old St. Boniface School building in Elgin.

Someone wrote: “God bless this school, the people who built it, the people who taught in it, and all who have loved it, Amen. It served us well.”

And then they exited.

The students left the school last spring, for the last time.

The doors were locked.

After decades upon decades, it was determined that the old building just wasn’t up to par any more. And like many old structures around the state, it had to be torn down.

That’s happening this week in my hometown. The Elgin Review reports that demolition started on Tuesday morning.

And with its demolition, there are pictures of the progress . . . and thankfully, a picture of that handwritten note left behind. So many people are commenting online about the end of many eras.

My cousin, Michael Eischeid wrote, “So many memories of that school. From snowball fights to playing football at recess, putting chocolate milk behind the heaters (I guess to make hot cocoa?), the smell of the school, big yellow bouncy balls. It’s where I saw the Challenger blow up on television. Just so many memories.”

Another former student, Jeff Moser, who is now an adult, wrote, “A lot of good times and scraped up body parts from the grass/rock surface they called the playground.”

A grown-up Chris Boes wrote, “I bet the floors are still well oiled.”

Many just responded that they are sad to see the building go, but that even when the building is completely gone, the memories will always be in their minds.

While I personally didn’t go to classes in that building, my parents, aunts and uncles went to high school there. My siblings and cousins went to grade school there. My nieces and nephews were among the last little ones to run the halls and study in those spacious old rooms.

In the fall of 2013, I had the opportunity to visit the school, per an invitation from my niece, Faith. She wanted me to talk to her class about working in the newspaper business. As I entered the school, I marveled at how much it still looked the same as when her mother and aunts attended school there.

The old floors and interesting architecture were just a part of its charm. The walls and doors were decorated with children’s artwork, posters about being a responsible person and messages pertaining to Christianity because it is a parochial school after all.

As I walked up the stairs to Faith’s classroom, I wondered how many feet have passed over those steps. I wondered how many minds were enlightened. I wondered how many voices had been heard — laughing, singing, talking, answering questions and sometimes just whispering.

It seems that today, almost every town has a vacant school building that is waiting for a new purpose, is set to be torn down or being declared as obsolete. That’s just a result of time – after awhile, these old structures just aren’t relevant, efficient, safe or cost effective any longer.

While decisions must be made about what to do with these old buildings, many reflect on their formative years spent within their walls.

These buildings are where people fell in love, fell out of love, learned valuable life lessons, discovered the joy of reading, looked up to their heroes and felt accomplishment.

These buildings are where young minds traveled to distant lands via social studies books, teeth fell out for the first time, plans were made for the Christmas program, decorations were created for the next big dance and lifelong friendships were formed.

When we were home for Christmas, we drove past the St. Boniface School which sits just south of the big St. Boniface Church. I made sure to take a good look because I didn’t know if it would be there the next time we drove through.

I remember driving through the school’s parking lot as part of the loop when we took when cruising main street.

I remember going to the school to meet with the girls’ teachers during conference time.

I remember waiting next to the school’s main entrance, as I was about to enter the church basement to get ready for my wedding.

Sure, I wasn’t a student there . . . but that building has been a part of the Elgin landscape even longer than I’ve been alive.

While it’s sad to see the building go – as it is with all our historic schools when the time comes – it’s also a time to reflect on the places where so many grew up.

After all, these aren’t just school buildings. They are so much more than brick and mortar. They are part of the fabric of life.

 

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