Farewell held as Appleton Catholic school closes

By Amanda Lauer | For The Compass | May 21, 2014

Former St. Bernadette School is one of two elementary Catholic schools to close

APPLETON — It’s been a year of celebration for St. Francis Xavier Elementary School, Lourdes Drive Campus, formally known as St. Bernadette School.

Dan Guyette, left, of Mackville, and Gregg Huelsbeck of Appleton look at their eighth grade class photo from 1967 during St. Bernadette School’s farewell celebration held May 17. The school, now St. Francis Xavier Elementary, Lourdes Drive Campus, will close its doors this spring. (Dick Meyer | For The Compass)
Dan Guyette, left, of Mackville, and Gregg Huelsbeck of Appleton look at their eighth grade class photo from 1967 during St. Bernadette School’s farewell celebration held May 17. The school, now St. Francis Xavier Elementary, Lourdes Drive Campus, will close its doors this spring. (Dick Meyer | For The Compass)

The campus will be closing in June but rather than going out on a sad note, the staff and families chose to make this school year the most positive and memorable experience they could for the students and the entire school community.

“We started the year off with the theme of celebration and we focused on the positive,” said principal Mary Jo Brown. “We celebrated different events during the year and we honed in on the word celebrate. There was a bit of sadness with each one knowing that it was the last time but the parents, the staff and myself, we’re all here for the children and we wanted it to be the best year ever.”

On Saturday, May 17, St. Bernadette’s hosted a farewell event for all current and former students, families and staff members. Parishioners and area residents were also invited.

Patti Fouts co-chaired the celebration committee with her sister, Beth Reed. “In the beginning of the year we knew that this was going to be a year of celebration,” she said. “Throughout the year we planned different events to celebrate that community. Every Thursday throughout the school year we’ve done something special for the teachers to say thank you for all they do for our kids — we’ve catered in lunches, we’ve bought them gift baskets and treats.”

The school families have made a gift for the parish: a table with one ceramic tile decorated by each family.

As part of the farewell event, which included a scavenger hunt and inflatable games for kids, Fouts and her husband made a seven-minute video with pictures from the last 50 years. “I’ve watched it eight times and I can’t get through it without a lump in my throat,” said Fouts. “There’s so much joy in our pictures.”

Wrapping up the school year will be bittersweet for many people, particularly Tom Schneider, a current St. Bernadette parent, and Debi Totzke, the fourth grade teacher at the campus. Both are graduates of St. Bernadette School.

“St. Bernadette was a neighborhood-driven school,” recalled Schneider. “We basically went to school together, went to church together, played together, everyone hung out together. It was a strong sense of community.”

It was an easy choice for Schneider and his wife to send their two daughters to St. Bernadette. “You only go to grade school once. It’s something you really have to take seriously. You want to get the best that you can for your children, that’s why we wanted to send our kids to St. Bernadette. There’s a sense of tradition there. That’s something I’m going to miss.”

While children may not understand the importance of education, noted Schneider, “it prepares you for lessons and challenges in life and how to overcome obstacles. St. Bernadette was very good at that.”

He said Catholic school education has remained constant.

“I think it’s because they demand more — the parents, the teachers and the students,” he added. “If your child wants to advance at a higher level, the school will keep pace.”

The Schneiders, like most of the St. Bernadette families, have tried to make the best of this situation. “The bottom line is it’s about the kids. There’ve been several events over the last year to memorialize the school or the church or both, it’s kind of a neat thing to pull together. To some extent it gives some people closure too.”

For Totzke, it’s a time of looking back yet looking forward to a new chapter in her life. She has taught at St. Bernadette for all 22 years of her career. “I was hoping this would be my only teaching place ever and I was hoping my son would go to school here. It’s sad to see it’s closing and he can’t have those same experiences here.”

Totzke, who has accepted a fourth-grade teaching position at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School, Marquette Street Campus, has a lot of memories of her days at St. Bernadette and is hoping her students can say the same.

“I hope they remember the special school, the things we did that made us us, like the winter carnival or even the eucharistic adoration. I remember doing that as a kid myself,” she said. “The older kids make rosaries with one of the parents and the special things they did like Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dad (and) Pi Day.”

The word of the day for the farewell event is joy, said Fouts. “Joy in the memories, joys from socializing with people who attended the school. I hope that the people attending reflect on the impact that St. Bernadette’s had on their lives. We want people to walk away remembering friendships, remembering the school and remembering the good times that were had there.”

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