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Local Columnists

WRITE TEAM: Real stories in school's history

Karen Roth
Karen Roth

One of my favorite hats to wear at Lincoln School is that of a tour guide. There’s nothing better than showing off our school.

It’s important for new families to know where the bathrooms are and where the computer lab is located. But more than just the physical information, I like to share the history of our school because that’s where the real stories are.  

Nearly 120 years ago, Lincoln School opened its doors to 650 students. Built on the site of the former Garfield School, there were two classrooms for each grade, first through eighth. The principal made $950 per year. All the teachers were unmarried women who were paid between $425 and $525 annually. A janitor made $40 a month.  

There was a tremendous amount of pride on the West Side of Ottawa when this beautiful, Greek Revival school was built. It became a symbol of hope and prosperity and the hub for community activities and events.  

Operettas and plays took place in the auditorium on the third floor. Generous donations from residents funded a festive Christmas party in 1916. Flu epidemics closed the school for a month, paper drives allowed for a large service flag to be commissioned, and a flagpole was dedicated in 1918.  

In 1919, teachers and students turned flowers into wreaths to welcome the returning soldiers of Company C. Nine elm trees were planted on school grounds to honor the nine Lincoln graduates who were killed during World War I.  

Students assembled at the train depot to send Ottawa soldiers off to World War ll in 1941. On V-E day in 1945, Lincoln School students gathered to pay tribute to local heroes with songs, recitations, and speeches.  

As the current librarian at Lincoln School, I am drawn to stories. I am thankful that people had the foresight to write down their history. Where we were gives credence to where we are.  

Being the librarian has meant more than shelving books. It also means that I am the keeper of the stories; responsible for the rich history and legacy of thousands and thousands of children and families.  

So when I take adult groups of former students through the school, I listen to their nostalgic reminiscences. Stories about the first person kicking open the old fire escape chutes, and kids walking home every day for lunch and “Bozo’s Circus.” They remember the huge, circular sinks in the bathrooms. Everyone wants to see the original woodwork and coat hooks in the cloakroom. They examine every nook and cranny of the school and their memories.  

They like to see the new addition, which gave us a multipurpose room and marvel at how the new architecture matches the original building. And I always point out the Lincoln quote engraved on the wall: “...your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”  

It’s valuable to tell your stories or write them down to leave for the next generation to discover and enjoy. I often wonder how many stories are still to be told and sadly, how many are forever lost. If you can, go back and visit a place from your childhood. Find the keeper of the stories. They want to hear from you.

Each story matters.

KAREN ROTH, of Ottawa, is a semi-retired, original member of the Write Team. She can be reached at tammies@mywebtimes.com.

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