Farewell tour of Huntsville School sparks memories

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Melanie Winters and her children spot a familiar face on a school history video with the help of Administrative Assistant Malinda Bergen-Henengouwen during a farewell tour of Huntsville School.

IRON SPRINGS –Jim Asplund anticipated a bitter-sweet experience prior to a final walk through the halls of Huntsville School.

“It was more sweet than bitter,” commented the former Huntsville principal, a sentiment echoed by many taking part in a farewell tour of the building before learning moves next door to a brand new school.

While sorry to see Huntsville School’s date with the wrecking ball approaching, the visitors were grateful for the opportunity to relive memories of their early school years in Iron Springs.

For some, like former student Melanie Winters (nee Wieland), it was also a chance to see some familiar faces and catch up on their recent history. While she showed her children where mom went to school from 1981 to 1987, she crossed paths with Asplund, her former principal.

During her tour, Winters spotted a sibling in a school history video playing in the gym; pointed out friends in class photographs on display; and took special delight in leading her children behind the stage area, where she recounted her role as narrator of the Grade 6 drama production.

“I remember doing that on the stage and that was where you learn your public speaking and things like that,” said the preschool educator. “I think that kind of set the stage for wanting to teach myself, because you do have to get up in front of a lot of people and speak to parents and speak to large groups of people. Maybe that’s where the love started.”

The original building, which dates back to 1941, is being replaced by a new kindergarten to Grade 12 school under construction just steps away. The $11-million project will have a capacity of 240 to accommodate the growing number of Low German-speaking Mennonite (LGM) students, which account for about 95 per cent of enrolment there.

Principal Chris Spanos said it was important to give former students, their families and staff some sense of closure as they transition to the new building for a fall opening. A more formal event to mark the occasion was originally envisioned, but in keeping with pandemic-related safety guidelines, visitors toured in small groups with reserved time slots spaced out appropriately.

Spanos is hopeful the “community feel” staff were able to foster in his five years as principal at Huntsville will carry over to the new building.

“During my time here we have been able to work so collaboratively with the community and increase enrolment and the high school start-up and those collaborative pieces that have really come together within these walls,” he said, as staff were packing up classrooms in-between online and other learning sessions with students.

Among items from the old building which will find a place in the new school is the metalwork school sign mounted on the wall by the playground entrance. Louise Reiter, who began her teaching career at Huntsville School in 1955, posed for a photo in front of the sign that her brother-in-law arranged for.

Reiter recalls her first-year as a 19-year-old teacher, one of five new educators under the guidance of principal Ken Bride.

“I guess we did all right. The kids say we did,” said Reiter, who noted she still gets together with former Huntsville students every few years, even though this year’s reunion fell victim to the pandemic.

She was proud that teachers in Picture Butte in her day would comment how they could pick out former Huntsville students by their excellent penmanship and the polite respect they showed others.

Asplund, another of her principals at Huntsville School, wanted a last look at the school because of the fond memories of his 25 years there.

“There was a lot of emphasis on respect and doing our best and getting along. That made it a wonderful school. And a nice place to work,” he said, after checking out his former office and getting an even bigger kick out of the neatly-written, original ‘Supplies’ sign on the storage room door adjacent.

Signs guided visitors down the hallways of Huntsville School to better allow for social distancing. They were particularly helpful to Kevin Vandenberg, his wife and their daughter. He didn’t attend the school, but his father and uncle did as immigrants in the mid-50s.

While his father has since passed, Vandenberg helped his uncle ‘Bert’ in Saskatoon connect to the past through the lens of his smartphone camera and a running commentary.

“I thought I would tour around and see what Bert might have remembered about it. And see where my dad went to school when he was just a little bit older than my daughter is right now,” said Vandenberg, who had to speak above the construction work going on next door.

Plans for a grand opening of the new school – which features soaring ceilings, plenty of natural light and large gathering areas – are in the works but are dependent on any health guidelines which might still be in place this fall.