Community bids fond farewell to Our Lady of LaSalette School
Keon Murphy, left, and Ty DeJonghe look over some of their math work that was posted in the hall of Our Lady of La Salette as people mingled after the official closing ceremony of the school on Saturday. SUSAN GAMBLE/POSTMEDIA NEWS
There’s nothing particularly special about the Our Lady of La Salette school building.
A small, six-classroom school, the place is clean and bright with a massive playground at the back. Pictures of graduates and first communions line the halls.
But it was the community, not the building, that made the school an emotional hub in La Salette – the kids, teachers, parents and former students.
“It’s a gathering area,” said Bill Byer at the formal mass and closing ceremony of the school on Saturday afternoon.
“It brought the community together for a lot of occasions.”
Byer’s family has been associated with the building, erected in 1966 to replace a much smaller school down the road, since his mother was a trustee on the Windham Board that opted to build the new facility. She was the emcee as the new school opened.
But his history with Our Lady of La Salette goes much further back than the building.
“I’m the seventh generation of my family going to school in La Salette area.”
And, like most of the others at the closing ceremony, Byer is unhappy but resigned to the decision of the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic School Board to close the community school.
Similarly, Dawn Phillips has a lot of history with the building.
“My husband’s grandfather was the chairman of the (Windham) board that built the school in 1966,” Phillips said at the event.
“My husband and his seven brothers and sisters all attended here, our four children did, and our nieces and nephews all went to school here.”
As a young parent, Phillips was part of the parents group and acted as a lunch monitor. Later she got her first job as an educational assistant at the school and, this year, returned to the school as a part-timer.
“I didn’t think about it until now but a lot of my life is wrapped up in this place.”
Students Keon Murphy and Ty DeJonghe are both sad and excited to leave Our Lady of La Salette at the end of the year.
Keon is heading to St. Joseph’s in Simcoe next year and Ty is going to St. Francis Cabrini in Delhi. Both boys are going to miss their old school’s generous playground and the sports they’ve enjoyed at the school.
“I liked everything about this school,” said Keon.
One redeeming factor for them is that a few teachers will be moving with the students, bringing a bit of La Salette to new locations.
Father Frank Murphy was 27 years old when he attended the sod-turning ceremony for the new school in 1966.
“I had just moved to Delhi. I’m 77 today and all the one-room schools are gone but reality is reality.”
George DeVos, 82, and Roger Adams, 84, who were also on hand when the building went up, chatted after the closing ceremony as people shared food and memories in the school gymnasium.
“Our kids went here and our grand-kids went to school here. But my great-grandchild won’t go here. That’s life,” said George.
There are some people still angry at how quickly the decision to close the school was made and how the community children will now be facing a longer day that includes busing.
The great playground will soon be stripped of the equipment that draws children during off-school hours because of liability concerns.
There’s been a Catholic school in the village since 1853 but shrinking enrolment brought this year’s student body to just 52 children. In March, the school board, at a special meeting, voted to close the school at the end of June sorting the students into schools seven and 19 kilometres away. The board vote was 3-2 and elicited tears and anger from parents and teachers.
Uncertain if any senior staff from the Catholic school board would attend the closing ceremony, a board spokesperson issued a statement extending gratitude to the staff, students and community of the school.
“Staff and community members have worked hard to ensure that the rich history of the school is maintained through board archives and displays at the local community centre,” said the statement.
Former principal Ron Klein said most of the anger at the board is gone now.
“There’s disappointment and loss but also hope in the future,” Klein said.
“This was a fantastic day – a true celebration. It was a great building and all, but it was the people of the community that made it great.”
Klein said he searched for comforting words for his closing speech, ending with “the hard truth is nothing can last forever. Things end.
“But all means grieve ... but know you will look back and see this not as an ending but as a beginning. And in the words of the immortal Bob Hope, ‘Thanks for the memories!’”