Students and faculty at the oldest school in Pasco County took a step back in time on Wednesday as they marked the closing of the 125th anniversary celebration of St. Anthony Interparochial Catholic School.
The celebration kicked off in April to honor the school that started in the fall of 1883 with 14 students in the kitchen of Cecilia Morse. No doubt the small-town school has evolved; moving from Morse's kitchen to St. Anthony's Catholic Church in April 1884, then to the first school building on Nov. 18, 1884.
Wednesday's event began much like the April kickoff, with an outdoor assembly attended by about 155 students, faculty members and guests led by the school's principal, Sister Roberta Bailey. She came dressed in old-time clothing and took on the role of Cecilia Morse for the day.
Others got into the act as well. Many of the students donned long skirts and prairie-type bonnets, plaid shirts and overalls or blue jeans held up by suspenders.
In Wendy Briscoe's fourth-grade classroom, penmanship lessons were done using a piece of chalk and black construction paper because hand-held chalkboards are a bit hard to come by these days.
"It's hard," Claire Elizabeth Connor said of the penmanship lesson. And a tad strange to see her usually soft-spoken teacher taking on a very strict demeanor and wielding a ruler, such as once used to rap knuckles.
There was an old-fashioned spelling bee and the re-creation of a one-room classroom, as fourth- and seventh-graders worked on multiplication tables and reading skills together. Also on the agenda was a brick-toting relay — a nod to the students of old who, as a reward for good grades and behavior, were allowed to help unload the bricks that were used in the construction of the current three-story school building.
Some alumni came out to share memories of their school days in a Great American Teach-In activity.
Virginia McKendree, 66, who graduated from the school in 1962, recalled how she used to go home for lunch because she lived just across the street.
"Everybody knew everybody," she said. "It was wonderful."
Josephine Shafchuck, 86, who was the oldest alum in attendance, recalled the drama productions, debates and spelling bees on the old stage that has since been torn down to make space for a computer lab.
"I won all the debates," she said with a chuckle, "Because I always had the last word."
Students also had the opportunity to hear about the history of the school and pore through albums filled with old photographs. Some came across pictures of family members who had also attended the school. Jesse Richter, 9, was delighted to find his dad's fourth-grade classroom picture.
Adding to the old-time atmosphere were two Ford Model T's — a 1924 truck and 1926 Roadster — brought by alumnus Paul Herrmann, so students such as those in Lourdes Milan's kindergarten class could climb in the back seat and have their pictures taken.
Herrmann, 68, was one of nine siblings to attend the school. "My father and mother went here and all of my five kids, too," he said before sharing one of his best memories. "The first Friday of every month we would walk to the country store across the street to get a pint of milk to eat with an egg sandwich my mother made. I really looked forward to those Fridays."