Dr. Howard alums say their goodbyes at farewell ceremony

Dr. Howard alums say their goodbyes at farewell ceremony

CHAMPAIGN — Margaret Stillwell knows Dr. Howard Elementary has issues — like the basement that fills with water when it rains — but she still held out hope that the century-old school wouldn't be torn down.

"I was in hopes that they would sell it and maybe make it apartments or something," Stillwell said shortly after speaking at the school's farewell ceremony Thursday night.

The school had a huge impact on her life. Stillwell was a student teacher at Dr. Howard in 1956. She took over as principal during the second semester of the 1982-83 school year in an interim position. After parents urged the school district to keep her on, she served in the position for eight more years.

Even then, the building showed its age, but that was part of its charm to Stillwell, who worked many a late night in the office she painted hot pink.

"It was an old building, and I loved it," Stillwell said. "People would say things like, 'You know that school is going to stand, even if you're not here.'"

Seventeen years after her retirement, that'll no longer be true in the most literal sense.

Memories flooded back for the dozens of former teachers, students and parents that milled about the halls of the school Thursday, likely for the last time before it's razed to the ground this fall.

Ed Kobel walked the school with his daughters, Nancy and Patty, who also went to Dr. Howard. The Kobel family history at Dr. Howard goes as far back as anyone — Ed's father, Frank, went to the school when it first opened in 1910. As he walked past his first-grade classroom on the school's second floor, he showed his daughters where he sat and relayed a memory about the time he covered his face in crayon, prompting a stern lecture from the teacher.

"The furniture's not the same anymore, but I remember sitting just inside the door," said Ed, who will monitor the school's destruction and rebirth from his house just north of the site on James Street.

Donna and Mike Reed perused their old classrooms, playfully arguing about memories that they recalled differently. The couple met in Mrs. Stanley's second-grade classroom in 1954, and they remember square-dancing together at the school in the fifth grade. They performed talent shows together and immediately took a liking to each other.

That relationship blossomed throughout their years at the school, and a half-century later, they're still together with a son who also went to Dr. Howard.

The mood of the farewell celebration was equal parts somber and nostalgic, but that doesn't change the profound impression the school made on former students like the Reeds.

"You do feel a little sad, but the memories are so strong and so real and alive to us," Mike said. "Those never pass. The school is gone, but you never forget all of that."

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