Like a family, the Lincoln Elementary School community of parents, students, teachers and friends gathered Saturday for a picnic and playground festival for a final time.
Lincoln, like Whittier Elementary School in north Brainerd, will close on May 30.
"It's just an ongoing flood of emotion," said Principal Jeff DeVaney as people began to gather Saturday at the school just off South Sixth Street near the Brainerd High School. Lincoln has been serving students for 114 years and has 250 students enrolled now.
Lincoln second graders Allison Townsend (left) Jocelyn Jones, Gracie Johnson, Carley Norton and Martha Sanguma played in the inflatable gym Saturday at the school's last playground festival. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
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"It's amazing the families that have developed friendships," DeVaney said. "There is just such extreme - I don't know if sadness is the right word. Everyone is resigned to reality ... We'll get through it.
"The memory I have is the incredible community we built - trust, open communication. We're on a first-name basis. True, life-long relationships. It happens over time. That's where that deep sadness is being experienced. That's the saddest thing, but then you have to say life goes on and life is a series of ups and downs and we'll get through this."
Not unlike the alternate waves of warm sunshine and dark rain clouds, participants described themselves as happy to have the celebration and sad to see the end of the school.
"This is like a family," said Betty Baier, who has two grandchildren at Lincoln. "You feel more connected. You go into the school, it's just such a warm, cozy feel, you can tell everyone cares about everybody. It's like one, big happy family."
Baier said she didn't know schools could have that environment until she experienced it at Lincoln.
As DeVaney stood by the gate directing early arrivals, children - both students and former students - ran up to say hello. He greeted each by name and signed a couple of T-shirts telling students he'd miss them.
"Mr. DeVaney, he's really good. He calls all the kids by name when he sees them," said Elizabeth Borders. Her 6-year-old son Michael attends Lincoln. "He loves it here," Borders said of her son, who made many friendships at the school. Explaining the closing to Michael was a little difficult, she said. "I don't think he understands all the kids will be going some place else."
Seth Vagts took aim on the dunk tank target Saturday at the Lincoln Elementary Playground Festival. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Borders echoed the family feeling at Lincoln, pointing to the extra family events the school is involved in like family fun night.
Kelly Burmeister's children Alayna, in second grade, and Hunter, first grade, both started kindergarten at Lincoln. Her children will be leaving friends as classmates find themselves going to different schools next fall.
"We're sad to leave Lincoln," Burmeister said. "It's been pretty upsetting."
Alayna agreed it was sad. Burmeister said she had DeVaney as a teacher when she was in high school, so it was fun to see him at Lincoln now that she was a mom with young students. Saturday, Burmeister said they were there to celebrate the time the children spent at the school.
From teachers to the school secretary, Burmeister said people were close and friends. She said a lot of events involved family and reading and having a good time together. Burmeister spoke fondly of the movie nights, where families brought in sleeping bags on the gym floor to watch movies and eat pizza and popcorn, as well as the games at family fun night. The children have a comfort zone at Lincoln, Burmeister said.
"They are sad to leave but excited to make new friends too at the new school," Burmeister said. "I think I cried more than they did."
Liz Christenson's granddaughter Jocelyn Jones, 6, attends Lincoln.
"It's a sad situation," Christenson said. "I don't think these kids realize what they are losing quite yet. But I suppose in time it will come full circle. It's too bad."
Jocelyn gave up a trip to Duluth to make sure she'd be at the school to see her principal in the dunk tank. She was busy taking pictures Saturday and sitting in the newly green school lawn eating lunch.
Lincoln Elementary School Principal Jeff DeVaney smiled after taking a cold dip in the dunk tank Saturday at the Lincoln Playground Festival. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I really like the school because our teachers let us learn," Jocelyn said. But she did wish the school had an elevator as the stairs weren't her favorite. She'll be going to Riverside Elementary next year. Jocelyn said she was sad Lincoln was shutting down.
"It's not fair," she said. "It's pretty sad."
Christenson said it's been emotional going to programs at the school since the closing was announced. "You've got to roll with the punches. Brainerd is definitely losing it's small town" experience of going to the same elementary school with the same friends and then on to high school, she said. "It's not going to be that way anymore, but kids are resilient. They take it better than the adults."
The gusting wind turned paper plates into unwitting Frisbees, dumping a few lunches. Wendy Keeler and her children, Joe, 4, and Cheyenne, 6, found a stairway outside the school to hide from the breeze. The family was enjoying the afternoon. Keeler said this was her daughter's first year at the school and they expected her son to join her there.
Robert Anthony when to the first grade at Lincoln as a child and remembers breaking his arm on the playground. He was saddened the school wouldn't be continuing for his next generation.
Vendors that supplied the school donated hot dogs and food side dishes for the festival, which included children's activities like face painting, an inflatable jumping castle and music by folk singer Ted Feyder. DeVaney joined Feyder on the little stage for a song. Emergency vehicles and a National Guard Humvee were on hand. Many students, and a few adults, were dressed in red Lincoln Loggers T-shirts.
But the highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly the dunk tank. DeVaney was the first one perched on the plank and a long line of eager children ready to put their muscles into a throw to dunk him awaited.
"Remember," DeVaney told the large crowd of onlookers. "The first one who gets me wet, I'm going to flunk you."
It didn't take long. The second boy in the row had a true aim.
"Oh my gosh," DeVaney sputtered as he climbed out of the cold water. The wind didn't make sitting on the perch any warmer. There may be baseball pitchers coming from Lincoln alumni in droves as the tank was triggered with alarming regularity for those perched above the water. "If I'm not in school Monday you are going to know why," DeVaney said, climbing out of the water yet again.
Angelea Gerdes, a seventh grader standing by the dunk tank, was one of the students who previously attended Lincoln.
"I hate it," she said of the school's closing. "I loved this school so much. Mr. DeVaney has always been really fun. ... My whole family always went here. We always loved this school."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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