Old schools smell like, well, old schools; they deliver a collection of deep, full-bodied scents that assault the senses.
Textbooks with corners of their covers frayed, worn from worried fingers finding pages, looking for answers.
Locker rooms where sweaty teammates have celebrated their wins; commiserated over their losses; sworn themselves to do better the next time.
Classrooms where students have felt the spark of understanding from a teacher who knows a subject well. Or, as the test papers are handed out, wishing they had listened more closely, studied harder.
And the crowded hallways and stairwells where socializing has swelled to a sweet cacophony between the bells that ring the change of classes.
Or the cafeteria where mushy green beans spilled out of big, institutional cans.
Old schools. Most of us have been in one. We know what they are like, what they mean to us, why that descriptive term – when something is called “old school” – rings such a clear and resonant bell.
And so it is that in Forest Acres, sandwiched between bustling commercial establishments and fronted by a four-lane road too busy for its own good, an old school is being bid farewell.
The sign that’s long been planted in the grass in front of Cardinal Newman High School says, simply, “THANK YOU FOREST ACRES.”
Inside, this past Monday afternoon, cardboard boxes crowded the hallways. A painting of The Last Supper rested on the floor. Black lockers along a wall were closed, except for one, No. 17, left open.
Teachers, administrators and students scurried here and there, making the move to the other side of town – to the upstart suburbs of Northeast Richland – where a shining new facility on a 50-acre campus on Alpine Road awaits with its multiple gyms and playing fields and high-tech classrooms.
Students are now on break, having started the school year early in anticipation of the move. The doors of this gleaming new school will open Jan. 19 and the old institution, making way for a developer’s dream of this or that, will surely be torn down.
But not the memories made there. Oh no.
Built on an 8-acre lot, Cardinal Newman High School – including nine classrooms, three priests, six habited nuns and four lay teachers – opened its Forest Drive doors in 1961.
That’s the same year Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” was a top hit on the radio. The Cold War was worsening; the space race was escalating. Disposable diapers called “Pampers” were a new thing and gas cost about 27 cents a gallon.
But if you were Cardinal Newman student Richard Elders, Class of ’64, the price of gas wasn’t a worry because you rode several buses to get to school.
“I lived on State Street in West Columbia, so to get to school I rode the city bus to Columbia, then transferred to the Forest Acres bus (standing room only) that stopped two blocks from the school.”
Elders’ memories don’t end at the bus stop.
He also recalls that the school didn’t have a gym, “…but we had a basketball team. We didn’t have a football field, but we had a football team. We just borrowed other schools’ gyms and fields.”
Cardinal Newman’s gym was built in the early 1970s, by students’ parents.
And later that decade, the football field came to fruition. Again, it was a hands-on project.
“During PE,” said Audrey Andrieski, Class of ’73, “we not only exercised but we went down on what is the football field and picked up rocks and trash. We never had any home games until the field and gym were ready. We paid for our (school) bus by collecting Greenbax Stamps.”
Former students’ memories also found their way into the classroom.
“I went to Cardinal Newman my freshman year of high school,” said Courtnay Catarino, whose son is a freshman at the school now.
“I remember only great times… Mr. Riebold, allowing us to have newts in his class; Mrs. McLendon, for always giving us detention at 2:46 p.m.; and always our favorite, Mr. Greenwood, for allowing us to watch movies in class and for being the coolest teacher high schoolers ever knew.”
Speaking of teachers, Rose Tindall taught science from 1997 to 2003. During her tenure, she kept a black rat snake in her classroom. The snake, named Sneaky, got loose one day.
“We searched high and low… About a week later, a student came breathless to say that they had found Sneaky in the classroom below mine, hanging down from the ceiling, over the teacher’s desk. I ran down to retrieve Sneaky and the teacher, a beloved theology teacher, Ron Evans, said jokingly, ‘If only I’d been teaching the Garden of Eden!’ ”
And if only I had room in this column to write all the memories that students, teachers and administrators have shared with me.
Gonzague Lefere’s one and only prom. The Belgian spent his senior year in the United States, at Cardinal Newman. “There is no prom in Europe, we only see it on U.S. movies. So it was the first time for me … Every boy is trying to find the right girl. I got the privilege to have Blythe Fisher as my prom date.”
Homecoming queen mother and daughter. In 1977, Lynn Dobbs was the first student to be crowned Cardinal Newman’s homecoming queen on its own football field. This past October, her daughter, Hannah, would be the last student to be crowned homecoming queen on the same field.
Bob Watson’s first basket in the new gym at the old school. Watson, now the school’s dean of facilities and operations, graduated from Cardinal Newman in 1973. “When we built the new gym in 1972, I scored the first basket in the first game we played – against Lugoff-Elgin High School. We won.”
A student walk-out to the football field in the spring of 1988 to protest several teachers not being offered renewal contracts. “None of will ever forget the day we stood up for what was right,” said Jackie Howie, who was student council president at the time.
And who may have taken part in the high school “band.”
“Father Landwermeyer was the principal when I was a student (1988-1992),” said Kathryn Clifton. “He had a great sense of humor. I still recall his smile the evening he passed out kazoos at the football game, appropriately labeled ‘CN High Band.’”
But that was then.
And this is now.
“It’s really bittersweet,” said 17-year-old Cardinal Newman senior Ally Sniegon. “It’s really hard to leave the place when I’ve kind of grown up here.”
On Monday afternoon, Ally was busy with a group of theater students getting drama equipment ready for the move from the old school to the new.
Henry Johnston, a 16-year-old junior, grabbed the bottom corner of a tattered stage curtain. It was being held together with black tape.
“Yeah,” he said to Ally, “but it will be nice to have new stage curtains.”
We talked about all the memories made at the school. What happens to them?
“Simple,” said junior Delson Coward. “We’ve just got to make new ones.”