By Scott Nixon, Times-Advocate Staff
USBORNE — Students, staff and parents from Usborne Central School’s past and present gathered last Friday to attend the school’s official closing ceremonies.
A large crowd assembled behind the school for speeches and songs, followed by an open house, food and fun for the kids. Between 400 and 500 people attended the event.
Usborne Central is one of two local schools closing at the end of this month. The Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB) decided last year to close both Usborne Central and Zurich Public School.
Usborne Central opened in 1964 and many people who attended the school during its first year attended Friday’s ceremony. AMDSB trustee Randy Wagler said the event was a celebration of the school and what it has meant for the community for the last 48 years. He encouraged the audience to also look forward with hopeful anticipation towards the future.
Al Taylor, who started as a teacher at Usborne in 1964 and eventually became principal, remembered the strong community support the school received for its special events. He said the school was always blessed with musical talent and remembered school trips like Camp Sylvan and a major snow storm in 1971 that saw students and staff storm-stayed in the school for three days.
Friday night’s closing ceremonies brought things full circle for Emily Dykeman, the school’s first student council president who was involved in Usborne’s official opening in 1964. She said that first year in Usborne was an exciting time and she noted the student council chose the school’s colours and crest.
“This school was very important to me,” Dykeman said, adding her years at Usborne helped shape her into the adult she became.
She said she was both honoured and sad to be part of the school’s closing ceremonies.
Former students representing each decade of the school’s history also spoke.
Helen Kadey, representing the 1960s, said she started in Grade 4 when the school opened in 1964. She remembered the students skating on the adjacent lagoons, until the school board found out about it and put a stop to it.
“It was a great time to be here,” Kadey said of her time at Usborne.
Representing the 1980s was Mike Strang, who admitted his immediate memories of his time at Usborne were all the times he got into trouble.
But he also added he remembers the school’s strong athletic showings.
Dan Kinsman, speaking about the 1990s, said Usborne was a great school to go to but drew laughter from the audience when he said he didn’t really get along with the teachers.
Kyle Case, who attended in the 2000s, noted Usborne students will miss having such a large playground after the school closes. He paid special thanks to teacher Kim Hayter, who emceed Friday’s event and was one of its organizers, for being one of the best teachers he ever had.
Current students Katelyn Parsons and Elizabeth Benoit also spoke, with Parsons saying she loves to play with her friends and Benoit saying her favourite part of school is the teachers.
Grade 8 student Jared DenOtter noted he is in Usborne’s last graduating class, and remembered his many friends and the times the fire department came to the school when the fire alarm had been pulled.
“Usborne will never be forgotten,” he said.
Bus driver B.J. Rowcliffe said he has “the best bunch of kids” on his route and said the school was “like a surrogate family” to him, while fellow bus driver Barb Willard, representing the Exeter Legion, noted the Remembrance Day ceremonies that take place at the cenotaph beside the school every year.
Blanche Rundle had five children attend Usborne, and said she remembers school concerts and trips to Camp Sylvan. She wished the students the best and told them to keep up the great Usborne spirit.
“Usborne has been a very special spot,” former teacher and current volunteer Bob Laye said. “Usborne’s a great place.”
Former principal Bill Stevenson remembered being warmly welcomed by the community when he arrived at Usborne and recalled the time someone torched the school a few days before the school year was to start.
Former student Alana Hodgert, part of the graduating class of 2006, who has been researching the school’s archives, said she remembers building eight-foot snowmen at the school and volunteering, while current parent council chairperson Pam Benoit said one of her proud memories is the float consisting of current and past students and staff the school entered in the 2011 Exeter Santa Claus parade.
Hayter said when organizing the event she wanted it to be special for everyone. She noted the school means something different to everyone and has a warm and caring culture.
“Together we shine brighter,” she said.
She also spoke of the difficulties the school had finding the time capsule buried on school property. After an exhaustive search and many holes dug, the time capsule was eventually found with its contents of photos, drawings, memorabilia and newspaper clippings on display in the school during the open house.
Ruth Lovell, who has been principal for the past three years said, “It’s the memories and the children that make Usborne what it is.”
She noted the school has worked very hard to make the transition towards its closure as easy as possible on the students. She said a photo taken of the entire Usborne student body will hang in the newly-named Exeter Elementary School next year. She also thanked Exeter Public parents for volunteering with the games Friday night.
Lovell also thanked Benoit for “incredible leadership” and Hayter for her hard work organizing the evening.
Former longtime teacher Jean Hodgert played keyboards while the audience sang Usborne’s school song, and the official ceremony ended with the singing of “Life Goes On,” a song composed and performed by Grade 7/8 students.