CHAMPAIGN – Bottenfield Elementary School had been open just five years when Marianne Kellerhals sent her first child off to kindergarten there.
She sent two more children through the elementary school; was an active PTA member; volunteered as a tutor for 11 years; saw six grandchildren attend the school; and started this week helping kindergarten students with reading. In all, she's been involved with the school for more than half of its existence.
"This has been a great place," Kellerhals said.
She and her family will help celebrate Bottenfield's 50th anniversary Friday afternoon at a homecoming jubilee at the school. The open house will kick off the school's 50th anniversary year and let former students, parents and teachers reminisce.
Although Champaign has a mobile population, there are many people with a strong connection to the school, Kellerhals said, including her family.
When Barb Daly became principal of Bottenfield several years ago, several former Bottenfield students dropped by to introduce themselves and fill her in on the traditions of the school.
"They said, 'We wanted to meet you because you're the new principal of my school,' and they're 70 years old!" Daly said.
Kellerhals recalled her first exposure to the school as a parent.
"When you have a kindergartner and it's your first child in school, you're very frightened because you want everything to be perfect," she said. "This school let you know ... they were very focused on every child. It felt very warm and welcome. You could go home and relax because they said they would take care of your child, and they did."
Kellerhals and her husband, Kenneth, were active in the Bottenfield PTA. There was "tremendous" parent involvement at the school, and the school's gym would be filled for PTA meetings, Kellerhals said.
During that time, the PTA raised money for a public address system, basketball hoops for the gym, playground equipment, the flashing lights on Prospect Avenue in front of the school and the circle drive used by the buses.
Other than the circle drive, the physical space at the school hasn't changed, said Karen Kaplan, Kellerhals' daughter and co-chair of the Bottenfield anniversary committee. She and her three children all went to first grade in the same classroom at the school. The school had no library when she was there, though, and her kindergarten classroom was in the room that currently houses the library.
"The biggest change is the traffic here. With schools of choice, (students) come from all over," said Kaplan, who walked to school and walked home at noon for lunch.
"Even with schools of choice, this still feels like a neighborhood school," Daly said.
Another thing that hasn't changed, said Kellerhals, is the education the school provides.
"Bottenfield made sure everyone was prepared to do what they wanted," she said. "You had that feeling your children were going to be prepared for life."