Guest column: Memories of bygone school buildings

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Memories by Bev Jackson Cotter

“You are parking on my memories!”

Bev Jackson Cotter

Recently, when I drove past the site of Albert Lea’s original junior high school, senior high, Cap Emmons Auditorium and Lincoln School, that quote from a Peanuts cartoon popped into my head. Charles Schultz had depicted an upset Snoopy as he described his concern to his best friend, a little yellow bird, Woodstock. The Daisy Hill Puppy Farm had been torn down and a six-story parking garage built on the site. Thus, Snoopy’s anguished comment, “You’re parking on my memories!”

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My thoughts went back to the day when some Freeborn County Historical Museum board members and I were asked to tour the schools before they were demolished and to select items that would be preserved at the museum. It was a salty and sweet experience. Sweet because the new buildings on another site would be more fitting to today’s technology and education needs, and salty because of the thousands of memories from the junior and senior high schools and the auditorium. Sweet also because the contractors agreed to remove and transport to the museum some significant pieces.

As we toured the buildings and discussed selections, I couldn’t help but think of the many teachers who had made a significant impact on my life, some because of good things I had done that deserved recognition or high grades and others because of mistakes that I made.

I remembered the first day in junior high when after school a friend and I decided to go to the senior high office to get the passes that allowed us 35-cent admission to the downtown movie theaters. When we left the office we made a wrong turn in that huge building and wandered down hallways and up and down stairs for quite a while until we met a teacher who directed us to an outside door.

Then there were the junior high dances in the girls’ gym with the boys lined up on one wall and the girls on the other only occasionally connecting; and the senior high Tiger Dances, where we spent our time signing yearbooks; and the English class where I wrote a book report on “Gone With the Wind” that I had not read the previous summer, but knew the story so well that the report received an A balancing my C in Latin; and meeting new friends who joined us in ninth grade from smaller area schools and St. Theodores; and pep rallies (“Come on Tigers, show your might. We will win toni — ight.”); and Tigers Roar performances; and Wednesday morning releases to attend nearby churches; and basketball games and wrestling matches; and the AhLaHaSa, and Student Council, and Hi-Teens. As we toured the empty buildings, a thousand memories passed through my head.

The day of that final tour there was an extra special moment. I stepped out on to the stage in the Cap Emmons auditorium, which had been built by WPA workers in the 1930s and seated more than 2,000 people. I was remembering all of the chorus and band and orchestra concerts and Madrigal, and the special December program when we choir members slowly made our way from the back of the auditorium down the aisles, at first only a few tentative voices singing Christmas carols, and the sound gradually growing to hundreds of voices as we approached the stage.

That day, so many years later, when I again stood on that stage, I felt self conscious, but I knew that one last time, as if directed by Robert Myers, I needed to bow to that empty auditorium and say “Thank you” for the many, many years of beautiful music and high school dramas and Civic Music concerts and also to the senior and junior high schools and all of the dreams that were welcomed there.

Time moves on. Our world changes.

Bev Jackson Cotter is a lifelong resident of Albert Lea.