“Like family” was a common theme at Belvedere Elementary School’s 60th Anniversary Reception held Thursday afternoon.
About 80 people, including current and former teachers and principals, gathered in the auditorium decorated with blue and white balloons to enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres and talk about old times at the school. The event was to honor the school’s 60-year history, which included a visit from Mamie Eisenhower in 1954.
Former principal Eddie Watkins recounted the 10-year period, 1991 to 2001, that he served the school.
“We did a real good job with test scores during that time,” he recalled.
He talked about the challenges technology presented at the time and related several funny anecdotes that took place while working out the kinks.
“But I’ve always said we had the best people to work with that you could find anywhere,” he said. “The building itself may not be anything fancy, but step inside and our people could shine with anybody.”
Fran McCormick, a teacher who retired after 37 years, came to the school as a volunteer in 1969. In 1971, she was hired as a paraprofessional by the school’s first principal, Elizabeth Bradley.
“One year, I was asked to work in the cafeteria until they could find someone else,” McCormick said. “Eventually, I was able to get back in the classroom, where my heart was. I’ve had many jobs at this school – volunteered for some of them – but that’s the kind of person I was and still am. I like to help out where I can.”
She also shared that co-workers and the children made her job worthwhile.
“I’d come back in a minute if I could,” she added.
“In fact, I do come back from October to March as co-leader of the Good News Club.”
The school had one room set up as a museum with tables and walls full of memorabilia. One table was strictly of the “early days.”
Second-grade teacher Debbie Vaughn, fifth-grade teacher Matt Franklin, third-grade teacher Rosemary Quarles and kindergarten aide Phyllis Studdard are the longest-serving employees still at the school. Vaughn pointed out a quilt in the museum made by a parent for a teacher who was retiring. The quilt was made entirely of T-shirts the school had through the years.
Former principal Rod Greenway peered out a window at a tricycle track he helped put together on the playground. Greenway, who served as assistant principal in 2001 and principal from 2002 to 2009, said the closeness of the faculty helped make his work easier.
“We all worked together,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. Mrs. Bradley set the format for that. ... The teachers are still trying to turn on that light in the kids’ heads. That’s the reward in education – when you see that light turn on and you know they ‘got it.’”
According to a school history in the museum, the first Belvedere Elementary School was built in 1918 on land donated by William Thurmond, father of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond on Edgefield Road. Funds needed to match state funds were raised by projects such as selling homemade ice cream, having box suppers and other entertainment. The first school consisted of three rooms, accommodating grades one through eight. The men of the community assisted with the construction.
In 1945, Elizabeth Bradley became principal and served 28 years, retiring in 1973. In 1954, the current building was built in Belvedere Ridge on land donated by Miller H. Karnes. During Bradley’s tenure, the school population grew from 87 students and three teachers to 868 students and 31 faculty members.
Near the end of the ceremony, state Rep. Bill Hixon read a letter from the House of Representatives congratulating the school on its 60-year celebration and expressing appreciation to those present for their contribution to education in the state.
Anne Byers, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher who retired after 30 years, said the camaraderie of the faculty and children was what made her job enjoyable.
“We were like a family,” she said. “I miss the children terribly.”
Bridget Britton, who taught kindergarten, first grade and readiness and retired after 29 years, agreed with Byers.
“The biggest change is technology,” she said. “Mr. Watkins was instrumental in (adapting to) that.”
Jan Prince worked as a kindergarten aide for nine years at the school and moved to Mossy Creek Elementary when it was built.
“What I liked best about working here was the wholeness of the group – it was like family,” she said.
Alison Churm, who is in her fifth year as principal, said the pupils have been busy with their own events celebrating the school’s history.
“Yesterday, we buried a time capsule near the palmetto tree in the front of the school,” she said. “It is to be opened when the school is 100 years old.”
For the past six weeks, the school has celebrated a different decade each week, beginning when the school was built.
“The students dressed in the proper attire for each decade,” Churm said.
On Friday, the school held a Sock Hop, a culmination of all the celebrations, in the gym for the pupils.
“What makes this school special is that the staff members know the children, they know the families and they know the community,” Churm said.
“Teachers come back to help and they help in the community. It’s more than just teaching in a classroom. Like Mr. Watkins said, ‘We take care of our kids.’ And we take care of each other. From the moment I came here, I was embraced like family.”