Friday was a day many people in Denison had anticipated with mixed emotions. Some thought it would never happen but that the time was right and some just hoped that it never would happen.
Early Friday morning I read posts on Facebook by several people saying that Central Ward School was being demolished. I quickly got ready, grabbed my camera and drove into town to see for myself what was happening and to take pictures to document the demise of a building that was over 100 years old. Actually, had the school been in operation, it would have celebrated its 100th birthday last year.
As it was, several generations of many families spent their elementary school years at the three story brick school building. By Friday at 10 a.m., the cafeteria on the west end of the structure and the auditorium and some classrooms on the east end had been leveled by the huge trackhoe while a fence was being erected around the property to keep curious observers out. I'm guessing when the demolition was finished, only the giant oak tree that has stood on the northeast corner of the school ground since the school building was erected in 1917 will still be standing. Children ages 6 through possibly 13 or 14 years old played daily in the shade of that building.
I wasn't around when the school was built, but my dad, Lucious Hord was and he also had a lot of memories of classmates and school days there that he talked about often.
I remember that World War I was in progress and War Bonds and stamp sales, programs and Red Cross knitting took place there. I have often wondered how they could use the knitting done by our grimy little hands, but the idea was to get us and our families interested in the war and the exercises certainly did.
As Denison was a division point on the railroad while train crews were being changed and the trains were cleaned, U.S. troops on the way to France were marched up Main Street for exercise. It was frightening for first graders and made the war seem so much nearer.
When the doors to Central Ward School closed permanently, it was one of three of the city's oldest facilities, Central, Raynal and Peabody elementaries, to close. It was an economy move by school trustees to help correct an ethnic imbalance found here by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Central had been set for the wrecking ball at least three times since August 2007. Each time I have written about the possibility of the day soon coming when it was be demolished. At least once I asked for graduate remembrances and my email desk was overflowing with responses. Some of them have since passed away.
Buddy Mitchell, who was always good for thoughts on what was going on in Denison, said the building was well maintained in the mid 1940s and it always was clean and with an air of neatness and brightness. He said it always smelled of disinfectant, floor sweep and furniture polish.
He remembered the fire escape on the north side that became a launching pad for model airplanes, gliders and even balloons for Sunny Barnett and Buddy. They built and launched dozens of rubber band powered model planes trying to see how far one would travel. Once, with a strong south wind, they flew one to Washington Street. From the same vantage point, he said they watched Lyndon Johnson land in a helicopter and make a campaign speech for a seat in the Senate. I also was a student that day and remember that happening.
Otis Williams said that Central Ward was much more to him than some of the other students. The school provided financial support to his grandparents. Sometime during the late 1920s or early 1930s, his grandfather O.I. Jackson became the custodian at Central Ward. In the summer, his granddad would sand the tops of the desks and put fresh coats of varnish on them, trying to remove students names, love messages, etc.
Possibly the earliest answer to my request came from a former student who became a teacher. Elizabeth Bledsoe was a fifth grade student when Central opened.
Bob Noe said he started to school at Central in the first grade and spent all his elementary years there. He remembered his first grade teacher, Miss Lewis, and that he was a member of the Rhythm Band of 1935 that played for school events.
Bob remembered names of a number of his classmates. About 20 were in the Denison High class of 1947. They included Tommy Loy, John Hicks, Melvin Denney, Ann Sproule and Laura Payne Jacobs, the 1947 valedictorian.
Ted Ball, better known as Teddy back then, went to school at Central with Britt Swain, Bob Noe, Marion Wilson, Wanda Parks and many more long-time friends. Ted and Bob Crump spent their first day in Mrs. Alice Wilson's first grade room. The two had to sit in the corner for sitting on the floor acting like they were shooting each other. (A definite no-no these days, but at that time it was just child's play.)
A.P. Ragsdale, a man who many said made significant differences in their lives, was coach, then principal at the school. Students called him Rags. Coach Ragsdale received the Navy Cross and seven Purple Hearts during World War II.
Clifton Weaver's favorite memory of the school was the year he was in the eighth grade. He said lunchtime was an hour long so students could go home to eat and come back for afternoon classes. Being a person who loved sports, Clifton would run home to the 900 block West Main, eat in five or 10 minutes, then run back to school to play ball. After doing this for several weeks, his buddy, Jerry Harlow, shared a bologna sandwich and a Pepsi with him bought at the little grocery store across the street. Clifton said it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. Actually, they shared lunch every day for the rest of the school year.
Inez Scoggin Lewis enrolled in the second grade there and remembered eating in the cafeteria. She thought it was so neat to eat at school. She was allowed to skip the fourth grade and go from third to fifth the year that 12 grades were required to graduate from high school.
Betty Thornton Scoggins started to Central Ward in the fall of 1941 in the seventh grade. She said she grew up on a farm and went to Riverside school until the Denison school district consolidated all the country schools and the students were bussed to Central. She remembered Miss N.E. Campbell as principal, a strong, even tempered lady. Her seventh grade teacher was Miss Marjory Pitts, who later taught English at the high school. During a spelling bee all the students had missed a word and it came down to Dorothy Jean Oglesby and Betty. The next word was business. Dorothy Jean misspelled it and Betty spelled it correctly. She said that was her only memory of a claim to fame.
My classmates would find me amiss if I didn't include some of our friends who left Central in 1949. I remember Alice Smith Schick, Carol Coker Yelton, Bettye Dickerson Henry, Wanda Weda Palmer, Jack Sanders, Clyde Bear, Bill McKee, Jerry Lilley Joe Cox Burtis Carl Nichols, Patsy Christman Hampton and others.
My dad is in the photo of the class of 1920-1921.
David Maddox summed up the thoughts of most former students, including this writer, by saying I feel blessed to have attended Central Ward during my years there and the many friendships that were formed in those early years still exist today. What a great time to grow up.
I say ditto to everything David said and will continue to refresh my memory of the school every time I pass the empty block in the future when I look up and see that lone tree. If it only could talk, what stories it could tell.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and attended Central Ward School from 1941 through 1949 except for a short time at Peabody School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.