Sandra Miedema

Sandra Miedema

Ashton Creek family reunited

Closure of elementary school brings together former classmates, teachers, parents and community

  • Jun. 27, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Jackie Pearase

Special to The Morning Star

Ashton Creek Elementary School hosted a bit of a family reunion Monday.

Former students, staff and teachers, local residents, parents and grandparents joined the school’s current students and staff to say goodbye to the little rural school that has served the community for 101 years.

There was food, entertainment, lots of laughter and even a few tears as people came together to reminisce about shared memories, stories and people associated with the school.

Everyone seemed to share a true connection at the event, which did not surprise former teacher Jean Witherly, who enjoyed that quality about ACES during her 27 years at the school.

“The family atmosphere between the kids, the staff and the community made it special,” said Witherly. “It just felt like one big family here.”

Barry Dearing agreed.

“The kids make it special. It’s a real community feel,” said Dearing, who had to step down as the school’s principal due to health issues but returned from Vancouver to attend the event.

“When I came back after my illness, I got hugs from kids in kindergarten to Grade 7,” he said, pointing out how rare it can be to get a hug from a kid in Grade 7. “That speaks volumes about the kids and the school.”

Principal Rudi Ingenhorst organized the event to commemorate the special role the school has played in the community after the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District decided to close the school this year due to declining enrolment.

While there is disappointment with the closure, everyone chose to focus on the positive mark left by the school on its students, staff and community.

“They say it takes a community to raise a child; well, this school has raised some fantastic children,” said Tundra Baird, who attended ACES in the 1980s and now serves as a city councillor in Enderby.

Baird spoke about the great teachers, fun activities and strong relationships that permeate her memories of the school.

“This school and its spirit is huge,” she added.

Bev Gale loved her 17 years at the school so much she continued to volunteer her teaching skills for five years after retirement.

“The kids all got along so well. All ages played together,” explained Gale. “It was just fun; fun to teach here. I enjoyed being on supervision because it was so much fun.”

Having her three children at the school made it extra special but son Ross remembers his time under his mother’s supervision with less enthusiasm.

“I didn’t enjoy that,” he said. “Just imagine having your mom teaching you Grade 1.”

Some of the school’s oldest graduates also attended the event and recalled a different time but the same family character of the school.

“There weren’t a lot of people. I think the most was 26 students,” noted Len Bawtree, who attended in 1930 when the school was located in the building that now serves as Lorenzo’s Café and included grades 1 to 8.

In fact, Bawtree rarely had more than two classmates in his grade.

“I didn’t have too much trouble keeping at the top of my class,” he said with a chuckle.

Everyone knew each other, there was no stress or bullying and friendships often lasted a lifetime. But it was also a time when field trips were unheard of and students had chores.

“It was my job for probably two years to light the fire in the morning,” Bawtree said. The job meant being at school early, by 7 a.m. “But most of the time I don’t think I was.”

Water also had to be hauled from a spring and blackboards needed to be cleaned every day.

Others recalled more recent memories including having to evacuate due to rising creeks, winter sports days, spring flings, playing grounders and constructing the adventure playground in 1985.  Today’s students talked about fun days, playing in the bush during recess, hot dog lunches and outside pajama parties.

Regardless of what their association to the school, everyone agreed that it will always hold a special place in their hearts.

“I like the school ’cause it’s all giving people,” summed up Grade 1 student Madison Collins, who is the fourth generation of her family to attend the school.


The event also included performances by former students Katie Van Dalfsen and Shayla Swanson, some history from George Rands and a musical skit by a group of former administrators.