Sunnyside School celebrates 60 years

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Sunnyside bus driver Kathy Thiessen helps Jonah Stuckart tie a quilt. Each student designed a square of the commemorative quilt.

Students at Sunnyside School, near Lethbridge, embarked in a little time travel Tuesday to 1953, when their school first opened.

They churned butter, enjoyed ice cream from a maker powered by hand crank, and learned how to play marbles and jacks. The hallways were filled with T-shirts and jackets bearing the Sunnyside School name from past decades, newspaper clippings, Dick and Jane readers and even report cards from days before the students’ parents were born.

The 60th anniversary celebration included an afternoon full of hands-on activities for students. The evening saw students lead tours for some 250 guests, including former students and staff

“It was so much fun,” said Jill McIntyre, a Sunnyside teacher who led the event’s organizing committee. “The most important thing was that we created a day where students could learn something that was of significance to them.”

“The kids were just enthralled,” said Principal Les Greeno, sporting a Sunnyside shirt with the word “SHINE” emblazoned on the back. The word stands for “Successful Honorable Individuals Nurturing Excellence.”

Students looked on in awe as Alix (Pavan) Hirsche explained how milk was once delivered to customers’ doors in glass bottles and paid for using tickets worth a penny a piece. The Pavan Dairy, just a kilometre west of Sunnyside School, was the largest dairy in Western Canada. Students took turns lifting a metal milk can, which would have weighed 40 kilograms when full.

Volunteers for the afternoon included Don and Judy Chapman. Don attended the school when it first opened. Today a third generation of Chapmans attend the school and several other families boast a multi-generational Sunnyside connection.

“This area is all about family and community,” said Judy.

During the evening program, which featured students singing their new school song, “We Shine Together,” Palliser Regional Schools’ Chair Don Zech called Sunnyside “a gem,” and stated the board’s support for small schools. Area Trustee Esther Willms said she wished every student could attend a school like Sunnyside.

Dick Kerber, principal from 1968-1975, said he remembers the Board of Education of 1972 proposing closure of the school, prompting the community to fill the gym with school supporters. The board backed down, and Kerber said it’s clear the school is still going strong.

Hilda Heidebrecht, who taught at Crystal Lake School before students and staff moved to Sunnyside in spring of 1953, said outstanding support has been there since the day the school opened.

 “I was very happy to hear the board chairman’s words encouraging small schools because they realize what they have here,” Kerber said.

Ted Likuski, principal from 1977 to 1990, recalled how Sunnyside helped pioneer inclusive education back in 1980, when the school was part of a pilot project to integrate “dependent handicapped” students. The school received an Alberta Junior Citizen of the Year Award from Alberta’s Lieutenant-General for the effort.

Likuski said the true highlight of the school wasn’t the award.

“The thing I cherish most is the community,” he said. “This is still the best community in southern Alberta. I have friends here. I know staff here. . . If you needed help, it was on your doorstep.”