Schools

Saying Goodbye to Sangamon: Memories from the hallway

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

From left to right: Hilda Carper, Sharon Dill, Judy Busey and Joellyn Wills. Former Sangamon School teachers reminisce on Thursday about their days in the building.

 

 

They shared experiences, just in different eras.

Dozens of former students, parents of former students, and former teachers made their way to the Sangamon School for Thursday evening’s 2 1/2-hour open house.

They were greeted by various administrators or school board members as well as a number of current faculty members.

On a chalkboard in one classroom — yes, chalkboards still exist! — was a question: “What year were you at Sangamon?”

Among those who entered that room on Thursday were ones who attended during the 1961-62 school year to as recent as the 2013-14 school year.

The open house was a day when memories came flooding back quicker and stronger than an overflowing river.

“Reliving a piece of my childhood,” said Ashley Steck, who was last at Sangamon School in 2004-05. “Mr. (Mark) Cabutti (principal) and other teachers made our time here so special.”

Judy Busey was a Sangamon teacher from 1990-2000. Not all memories were fond, she said.

“I remember when there was no air conditioning in here,” Busey said.

She also recalled a ritual she followed when she did any weekend work in her second-floor classroom.

“I took the stairs. I never used the elevator,” Busey said. “I thought, ‘What if I get stuck?’ “

Walter Pierce grew up less than a two-minute walk from the school. He was a student on Nov. 22, 1963.

“I was in second grade when President Kennedy was assassinated,” Pierce said. “I remember our teacher telling us and crying.

“I had no concept what that meant, but I was sad because she was sad.”

Amanda Missey had two sons at Sangamon School last year. The oldest, Christian, is now a third-grader at Lincoln Trail. Connor is now a second-grader at Sangamon.

Missey liked the effect the school had on her children.

“They loved coming to school here,” she said.

The best part?

Nine-year-old Christian had an answer: “Mr. Cabutti would play football and I would play with him,” he said.

Busey remembered when Cabutti — who retired last June — was a rookie administrator in the district.

“The last day of school his first year, we (teachers) had squirt guns and sprayed him,” Busey said.

Added Hilda Carper, a long-time substitute from 1990-2014: “He brought them the next year.”

Cabutti wasn’t the only former building principal who was a popular figure.

Larry Gnagey, who was a band teacher during his early years at Mahomet-Seymour, retired as the Sangamon School principal in the early 1990s.

“My kids used to come home and tell stories that Mr. Gnagey told in the lunch room,” Carper said.

“He wrote a story that included every student in my room,” Busey said.

Haley Webb was last at Sangamon School during the 2013-14 school year. Her fondest memory took place outside of the classroom.

“We had a surprise baby shower for Mrs. (Megan) Jones on the stage,” Webb said.

Pierce spent time at the school during off hours.

“I used to play basketball on the playground,” he said.

When he toured the school on Thursday, Pierce said it was his first time back in almost 54 years.

“Everything is a lot smaller than I remember,” Pierce said. “It brought back a lot of good memories of being a kid.”

Sharon Dill taught at Sangamon from 1994-2005. She started as an art teacher and finished as a fifth-grade teacher.

“The faculty would sing for the kids at a Christmas assembly,” Dill said.

“We might have deer antlers on,” Busey added.

Carper spoke to more than one familiar person during the open house.

“I saw a girl I had the first year I subbed, and then I had her daughter, too,” Carper said.

Joellyn Wills taught at Sangamon School from 1993-2010. She spent some time in the building prior to having a first-grade classroom of her own.

“My son (Jonathan) was in first grade in this wing (in 1987-88),” Wills said.

Dill said the staff was “like family” and the camaraderie was high.

Added Busey: “The staff was a lot of fun. There were a lot of jokes played on people.”

Thursday’s visitors were able to read a timeline of events about the various schools located on the property, posted on lockers near the main office. Much of the research was compiled by Mahomet historian Greg Pasley.

One of the pages chronicled the history of the bell, which will be relocated to Middletown Prairie.

The bell first sounded on Sept. 13, 1873 and for the next 144 years was located at a school along the East Main Street site. The approximately 500-pound bell was moved in the fall of 2017 and is currently at the high school, where an enclosed case is being built that will allow it to be permanently displayed at its new location at Middletown Prairie.

The school district has sold the Sangamon School and will move all first- and second-grade classes in the fall to a building under construction at Middletown Prairie.

Not all who attended the open house were reminiscing about the past. Darwyn Boston is looking to the future.

He will rent one of the units — the first-floor space that is currently the library — and relocate his State Farm Insurance Agency there. The move is likely to take place in November.

Other parts of the building are also available to be rented once the school district gives up possession in July.

Busey had one suggestion for its use, but it was quickly vetoed by her former colleagues.

“Maybe it could be apartments for former teachers,” she said.

“I hope they use the building well,” Dill said.

Steck is delighted that the Sangamon School will not be demolished.

“We’re preserving a big piece of history here,” she said.

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