Former schoolhouse still serving its elderly alumni

May 25, 1994|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing Writer

In 1929, Lucielle Woolford Phelps, then 7 years old, began her schooling at Arnold Elementary School, eager to learn arithmetic, read about faraway countries, and forge new friendships.

She wasn't disappointed. Years later, she still remembers the four-room schoolhouse on Church Road.

"I really wanted to go to school," said Mrs. Phelps, 71. "I didn't want to miss a day."

She still doesn't want to miss time at the old schoolhouse, now the Arnold Senior Center. About 25 of the center's seniors, including Mrs. Phelps, attended Arnold Elementary. On Friday, they and other area residents will honor the building's rich history at the center's 15th anniversary celebration.

Sharon Poet, the center's director, started thinking about holding a joint celebration when she came to the center two years ago.

"You wouldn't believe the number of [former students] who stop to see the school," she said.

She has collected old photos of the school and written remembrances, which will be exhibited Friday. For those with a more musical bent, Gino Mezzapelle's band will perform songs dating back to Mrs. Phelps' time at Arnold Elementary.

Former students who haven't seen the building in years won't find too many changes. There's a kitchen and a lounge, and some of the large classrooms have been divided into two rooms.

But most of the original doors remain, their large glass panes through which teachers and principals watched students still intact. The building still has its high ceilings, long windows, front porch with gabled roof, Doric columns and large double doors.

For Mrs. Phelps and her contemporaries, the 1920s building is as familiar as an old friend, and full of caring, warm people.

"It's really great to come here after all this time," said Mrs. Phelps, whose five children also attended the elementary school. "There's just a wonderful feeling here. If you're feeling down and you come here, someone will make you feel better."

One of those people is Helen Wiseman Saia, a former classmate of Mrs. Phelps. They met at the center in the late 1980s, the first time they had seen each other since elementary school.

"We've become friends again," said Mrs. Saia, 71, of Arnold. "We've seen so many people here that we haven't seen since elementary school."

Both women fondly reminisce about their elementary school days of wood stoves and two grades in each room, double desks with ink wells, and a playground covered with coals from the wood stoves. Once, Mrs. Phelps fell on the playground and skinned her knees on the coals.

"I still have some of those cinders in my knees," she said. "I always say that I have a piece of Arnold School with me."

The anniversary celebration is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $4. For information call 222-1922.

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