Saying one last goodbye to St. Therese School in Appleton

Aug. 7 event will offer chance to walk the halls and ‘the tunnel’ one more time

The graduating class of 1968 from St. Therese School in Appleton is pictured outside of the church. Alumni will have an opportunity to walk the school’s halls one last time on Aug. 7. (Submitted Photo | Special To The Compass)

APPLETON — No desks remain, but the classrooms in the St. Therese School building are still intact with their old hardwood floors and blackboards. Alumni and guests are invited to take one last walk through the building, which will be torn down later this year.

“St. Therese Grade School Alumni Day” will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7. The open house event will include memorabilia displays, raffles and food for purchase. Mass will follow at 4 p.m.

“The main focus is for alumni to have a chance to see the school one more time, to walk through the halls, because they all have such great memories,” said Donna Melchert, leader of the St. Therese Alumni Committee and a 1965 graduate of the school. “Most of us spent eight years there. That’s a lot of your life during those growing up years.”

The school opened in 1928 and served more than 3,600 students before closing in 1984. The building, which is nonoperational, is a financial burden to the parish, so the decision was made to raze it. The space will be utilized for parking.

In 1965, a second building was constructed, which connected to the school through a walkway. That building, the activity center, will remain.

“When they added on the cafeteria and activity center, my mom (Dolores Dexheimer) worked in the kitchen from 1965 until they closed the school, and then she continued with special events and parish dinners,” said Melchert, whose five siblings also attended St. Therese School. “It’s very special to me and my family.”

Some teachers will return for the event, including Mary Bergman, who assisted with the planning. Following two years at St. Mary School in Reedsville, Bergman taught second grade at St. Therese from 1978 to 1984. She then taught for 25 years at St. Gabriel School in Neenah.

“St. Therese is home,” she said. “I met my husband there, got married there. I found his picture in the graduating class of 1964. He had moved back from Michigan,” she continued, explaining how she met her husband, Conrad Bergman, who passed away 10 years ago. “They (the parish) had a bingo game every other Thursday. I wanted to help out with that. He showed up with his brother and that was that.” 

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc helped staff the school over the years. Sr. Kay Klackner, who taught first grade, will be among the sisters in attendance at Alumni Day.

“She is the one who told me that St. Therese needs a teacher,” said Bergman. “We taught at St. Mary’s for one year together. We had a lot of fun.”

The school primarily offered grades 1-8 over the 56 years. In 1949 and 1950, St. Therese featured ninth grade. Beginning in 1969, seventh and eighth grade were no longer offered.

“My graduating class, in 1969, was the last eighth grade class. We are proud to talk about that,” said Mary Ellenbecker with a laugh. “I do all our class reunions. We had 70 students in our class — 35 boys and 35 girls — in two classrooms.

“We started doing (reunions) at 20 years,” she added. “We get together every five years. It’s a blast. Those are the people I grew up with. That was a fun time.”

Ellenbecker is Melchert’s sister. All six siblings plan to attend Alumni Day. Ellenbecker’s St. Therese cheerleading uniform will be part of the memorabilia display.

A particular food item on the event menu will also likely bring back some memories.

“We are serving Spanish hamburgers, which were the main focus of the school picnic every year,” said Melchert, who also coordinates reunions for her class. “The church ladies would be down in the basement cooking that Spanish hamburger and you could smell it throughout the school. We would walk to Erb Park and spend the day there. The picnic was one of our biggest memories, so we are trying to pay homage to that.”  

Bergman will “be in charge of my own classroom again” at the event. Her classroom, located on the first floor from the Summer Street entrance, will serve as the memorabilia room.

“People can look at class pictures and we will have some old prayer books, rosaries and statues,” she said. “People are sharing their Girl Scout things, anything they may have from their school days. We will have class lists that they may want to see.”

The large classroom was open, separated by a movable wall, so Bergman’s students could see people walking in the hallway. She remembers a custodian who tried to make her laugh when she was teaching.

“He would go where the kids couldn’t see him and start skipping or make goofy faces, and then just keep walking, just to see if I could keep a straight face,” she said.

The decision to raze the school building is part of a St. Therese Parish building project that includes a new gathering space.

“Within the gathering space of the new building, there will be a parish history room,” said Fr. Ryan Starks, pastor, “and a large part will be remembering our school.”

Items and materials from the school building will be salvaged. Alumni may leave their contact information on Aug. 7 if they are interested in items, said Bergman.

“Before we say goodbye to that school building, we want to provide one last opportunity to be able to reminisce, to walk the halls, to reconnect, in a reunion of sorts,” said Fr. Starks. “Remember our past as we journey into our future.”

“It will be crowded, but it will be a great day,” said Melchert. “My hope is that everyone enjoys the day and runs into some people that were in their class. The reminiscing part and meeting old friends is the main objective. We were the ‘Mighty Blue and Gold,’ so we are trying to splash a little bit of that around the school.”

For Ellenbecker, she will continue to value the foundation of her education and experience at St. Therese School long after the building is gone.

“I like the structure, the respect, things I treasure today that we had then,” she said. “It’s what we needed at that time.”

To register for “St. Therese Grade School Alumni Day,” email [email protected], call the parish office at (920) 733-8568 or visit facebook.com/StThereseSchoolAlumniAppleton.