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School Days in Libertyville: Recalling Central School

Central School

Central School

It started with Martha Hansen's mother's decision to clean out her closets. Before shoving the boxes of memorabilia from her school days into a closet of her own, Hansen began reviewing the contents. Memories of rich school experiences in Libertyville came flooding back, focused around attending Central School.

“My daughter was starting school soon, and I really hoped that she would have the kind of experience with school that I had had. I think about how it is harder to give her the freedom to be a kid. A lot has changed – there's no walking to school by yourself, there are a lot more cars on the street, so riding a bike is not the same. In those days we flung open the door and ran out to play. All the mothers on the street knew each other … the number of folks looking out for each other’s kids was much greater. There were kids in almost every house on the block. Now more parents are working, and people are more likely to drive their kids to school.”

Hansen created a Facebook group for alumni of Central School, and quickly found that others shared nostalgia for school days at Central. “John Woody Graves in Florida was the first one who suggested the idea of having a reunion before the school is completely transformed into lofts. One day I just said 'Let’s do the reunion. I’ll coordinate it.' I envisioned maybe 20 or 30 people sharing memories. Now it looks like there'll be over a hundred people and we had to move the reunion to Mickey Finn’s Brew Pub to have enough room,” says Hansen. "A treasure trove of photos from Joe Wilson (a former Central School principal) helped cement this as an event worth going to.”

Joe Wilson started as a student at Central in the 1950s and returned as a principal in 1978. He notes wryly that he did not get to be principal by being the best-behaved kid in the class. "I went to the principal's office often. I had to empty my pockets before I could go into back into class in the afternoon – but the insects, worms, and snakes were only to be used for Show and Tell, really.” Wilson has fond memories from days as a student when there would be a fire in the fireplace in the kindergarten room and children would gather around for stories. He later continued this tradition as a principal, along with other rituals, like the "Green Field” outside of the school being reserved for snowball fights. "If you went on the Green Field on a snowy day, you were asking to be a target for a snowball. There was no whining about getting hit by a snowball if you were there.”

Something about the character and charm of the Central School building, a great group of dedicated teachers, and the experience of walking to and from school, seems to have stayed with people, and engendered a lively discussion on the Facebook page. Central was a neighborhood school. Children walked to school in the morning, then in many cases walked home again for lunch. Before the days of parents in SUVs dropping kids off for school, neighborhood children walked to school together, finding kid-sized adventure along the way. The “shortcuts” behind Milwaukee Avenue businesses and through vacant lots that kids took to school in the 50s were pretty much the same ones kids took in the 80s. Classes would take walking field trips to Libertyville landmarks like Bernhardt’s Bakery and McDonald’s on Milwaukee Avenue.

The Central School “All Class” Reunion will feature albums of class photos from all of the decades, tons of school memorabilia, and the opportunity to talk with other students, teachers, and principals. One of the cornerstone events will be the ability to tour the old school building one last time, before the building is converted to loft condominiums and closed permanently to the public. The reunion is on Saturday June 18th from 1:00-4:00 p.m. at Mickey Finn's Brew Pub in Libertyville. To help cover reunion costs, a donation of $10/adult is requested.

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