HOPEWELL, Ind. (AP) - The classrooms at the old Hopewell Elementary School contained only simple desks, tables and chairs.
Gone were the construction-paper cutouts and the ABC placards. The blackboards were blank, the gymnasium dark, hallways silent.
But the 79-year-old building overflows with memories, from the smell of wet gloves drying on the radiator to pizza lunches in the cafeteria to dusty chalk erasers.
Generations of children in the farm community of Hopewell gathered at their brick school house. Kids were often with the same group of students from kindergarten until heading off to middle school.
The school was a binding force in the community until it closed in 1998. Now, a group of alumni and former teachers are gathering to relive some of the good times they had at a reunion planned for this evening.
“It was family. We were a family. My mom and dad knew all the parents, all of the teachers. This is where we found our first true friends,” Darlena Coy, who attended Hopewell from 1978 to 1984, told the Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1lRAeGZ ). “It’s not like that in our kids’ schools.”
On a July afternoon, Coy and her good friend, Michelle Plummer, met at the school to look around. They met their former third-grade teacher, Amy Arkenberg, more affectionately known around the community as “Mrs. A.”
They toured the principal’s office and the nurse’s “sick room.” Arkenberg recalled one boy who, after falling off the monkey bars, spent the afternoon in the room while students looked around the playground for his two front teeth.
Many of the classrooms look the same. A mural of Donald Duck remains painted on the wall outside what used to be the art room.
Blackboards with lines to practice handwriting have the chalk dust of generations of teaching.
Arkenberg pointed out where she would post “morning work” for her students every day. She ran her hands along the heater grate where students dried their gloves after winter recess.
Leaning on the windowsill, she described how each morning would start.
“I would look out on the morning, watching for the kids to come in, and the sun would come up. I remember thinking, ‘This is where I belong,’” Arkenberg said.
Hopewell Elementary School was built in 1935, three years after the previous building burned in a fire. The new school housed students in kindergarten to eighth grade from the neighboring farm houses west of Franklin.
Sixth through eighth grades were moved to the new Custer Baker Middle School in 1976. But the Hopewell school remained full until 1998, when the building was closed and the remaining students were transferred to Creekside Elementary School.
For the past 16 years, the Hopewell building has been used as office space, the home of the county Purdue Extension office and sat empty.
Only in 2010 did it return to being a school. Heritage Baptist College, a small biblical school based in Franklin, made the building its new headquarters.
Though new paint, carpet and other improvements were necessary to fit the college’s needs, they tried to retain as much of the original design of the building as possible.
“We didn’t want to take away from the character of the school, so we really kept the rooms like they were,” said Russell Dennis Jr., president of Heritage Baptist College.
Plummer attends Hopewell Presbyterian Church, which sits on the hill overlooking the school. Many of her fellow members went to or taught at the school, and each conversation they have inevitably steers toward it.
“I went to Hopewell school. I go to Hopewell (Presbyterian) Church. I am Hopewell,” Plummer said.
The idea for a reunion stemmed from a Facebook page maintained to connect Hopewell alumni. Coy and Plummer, who attended the school from 1979 to 1984, mentioned the possibility of a reunion.
Suddenly, messages were pouring in from people.
“We had something like 100 messages at once from people wanting to come back and see the school, see what it looked like now,” Coy said.
Working with some of their classmates, Coy and Plummer started talking with past teachers to see if they wanted to take part. Parents of children who went to Hopewell have expressed a desire to walk through the halls where their children grew up.
The group worked with Dennis, who was more than happy to have the group on campus.
Already, 50 people have committed to come, including past students, teachers and parents. Plummer anticipates more will join as the word spreads about the reunion.
They plan to have a pitch-in meal and tour the rooms that they knew so well.
Hopewell’s unique construction featured a gymnasium on the bottom floor. A second-floor balcony ringed the outside of the gym, serving as the hallway where children would move from classroom to classroom.
“If we had to go somewhere else, we’d be looking down at the gym to see who was playing,” Coy said.
One day every month, they’d watch old movies such as “The Love Bug” and other family classics on a screen set up in the gymnasium. Teachers would pop popcorn for the kids.
But as Coy and Plummer have grown older, their perspective has changed. Where the classrooms and old gymnasium seemed palatial when they attended, everything seems to have shrunk over the years.
“When you’re in kindergarten, you think this building is absolutely huge. Then you get in here as an adult and you’re going, ‘It seemed much bigger then,’” Plummer said.
Seeing the school through new eyes hasn’t changed the way they feel about their time there. Talking about their old exploits, Plummer and Coy took on the persona of excited elementary students, laughing about sleepovers and basketball games and the friends they made.
Coy points it out to her own children when they drive by. Just seeing the brick structure evokes tinges of nostalgia.
“I pass by here all the time and think, ‘Thank God I got to teach here,’” Arkenberg said.
Information from: Daily Journal, https://www.dailyjournal.net
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