Memories abound at Hillside open house
Event brings past back to life for many who attended
After 43 years of making special moments for students, parents and teachers, Hillside Elementary on May 24 made one more lasting memory with a three-hour open house celebration as the school prepares to close.
Throngs of those who have passed through the school's halls over more than four decades returned to experience the "Heartfelt Thanks" theme with student-made art and music, yearbooks and other materials documenting history, refreshments and many personal reunions.
Here are thoughts from several who attended.
From the beginning
"I was on the teaching staff for most of the years the school operated," said Jo Toussaint, who taught first and fifth grades until 2004. In fact, she taught Tonawanda students who were based at Hillside until their own school was completed.
"I have to say all the Elmbrook schools are great, but Hillside was magical," she said. "We were all new teachers in a new school and we just pulled together.
"I was sad that the school is closing and I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to the event, but I am so happy I did. It was a wonderful time."
Part of the neighborhood
Aaron Daar, a Brookfield Central senior and Hillside alum, said he "burst into tears" as the School Board made the final decision earlier this school year to close the school due to declining district enrollment.
"What I really liked about Hillside was that it was in the middle of the neighborhood I grew up in," he said. "It gave me a personal feel because everybody knew each other and the class sizes were small."
Daar said he remembers when the "Big Blast" playground was established while he was in second grade. He said it was a big deal back then, but going back today gives him a different perspective.
"Everything looks so small, the room, the desks, everything," Daar said.
Former principal Joan Marley, who served from 1992 to 1997, said the school holds a special place in her heart.
"It was a beautiful school, and it still is," she said. "We had such a strong connection with parents and it had the feeling of being a private school."
Marley's place in Hillside's history also involves her kissing a pig as reward for students reaching a certain reading incentive, painting her face blue for a talent show and riding in a hot air balloon.
"The kids really wanted to be in the balloon until it sort of crashed," she said. "No one was hurt."
From Hillside to China
Bill Thomas, a Hillside and Central alum, took the time to attend after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and before heading to China to teach English as a second language.
"Things did look different," he said. "When I was there, we didn't have all the computers. I also remember being petrified when I was in kindergarten. But Hillside is the place where I made some of my best friends. It was a really good time."
Bob Brueggeman said he has had good times in recent years at Hillside. A Hillside physical education teacher from 1970 to 1975, he returned to special events at the school to see his granddaughter, Gabriella, a fourth-grader.
"That was my first teaching experience and I found out that elementary kids would soak you up like a sponge," he said. "They were at the point that they did not know how to do certain things, so they listened to everything you taught them."
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