School is back in session and students are getting accustomed to new teachers, schools, subjects and fellow students. The start of a new school year is a time of expectation of what we will learn, experience and treasure for years to come.
In the fall of 1968 my siblings and I were transferred from a parochial school to our neighborhood schools. For my younger siblings and me, that was Hillcrest School. Hillcrest was built in the late 1920s back when David O. McComb (of local funeral home fame) was the county superintendent. It was a county school with lots of ground and a wooded area. Our church held a picnic on those grounds and I scared my mother to death when at a young age I wandered off only to be discovered at the top of a very very tall slide. I imagine everyone held their breath not wanting to startle me in fear I might fall and sighed with relief when I safely hit bottom.
At least fifteen kids around Morningside Terrace off of Calhoun Street close to Tillman Road attended Hillcrest and we would be invited to their PTA sponsored Halloween festivities. This was good old fashion fun of bobbing for apples and homemade treats like HOMEMADE popcorn balls. The “Haunted fire escape Slide” I imagine was the biggest fundraiser as the line was seldom short. So it was with great excitement that I joined the Hillcrest Family and became a part of their traditions. As a six grader I was chosen to narrate the Christmas pageant (a foretelling of my three years on the Wayne HS speech team), I played the messenger with an important message for the king in the annual school play (my first thespian experience) and we all got to go to Chicago for the school trip. I’m not certain but perhaps some of the funds I helped raised selling candy to the neighbors and selling ice cream bars with Kent Garvin in the cafeteria helped subsidize the trip.
Sadly, Hillcrest closed in 1978 and over the years it went to rack and ruin. Now in the good hands of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority, they are striving to obtain funding to turn Hillcrest into senior housing. The plans also include building additional apartments behind it.
Recently fellow alumnus Kent Etter and I were allowed to tour the Hillcrest and share our memories and insight with Dan Kuleff the Modernization and Construction Coordinator for the project and Eric Olson of WPTA who reports out in 21 Country.
Before we enter the building Dan warns us parts of the building are off limits due to safety concerns. His warning is well heeded. Our first stop is the old gymnasium where the basketball court markings are still faintly visible. The stage curtains are still intact. They are green with a yellow “H” at the top. Someone on the Hillcrest alumni FaceBook page wondered if Hillcrest had school colors. If it did, perhaps they were green and white. We also stopped by the two bulletin boards on both sides of the main entrance. Another FB member asked us to see if we could find his milk card that he slid behind one of them. Sadly we did not.
A walk up the ramp brought back memories of “No running!” and “Slow down!”. The only classroom still bearing a teacher’s name was Mrs. Woodward 4th grade classroom. Dan showed us the vertical sliding doors that hid coats from view. They plan to keep them but are not certain whether seniors will find them easy to raise.
Wherever we look, there are memories and sadness as we note how badly the building has deteriorated. “This is where the speech therapist met with kids in need of help”. “This is the old library on the second floor before it was moved to the first floor where the cafeteria used to be prior to satellite lunches.” “Do you remember how… Do you remember when?” It all came flooding back.
I know from listening to Dan that he and the FWHA will do their best to save Hillcrest, but it comes at a high price. It is a shame the building could not have been rescued earlier before it got to be so bad. I do ask a favor of Dan… the stage curtains… Would it be possible to create a memory quilt from them to be hung once Hillcrest is restored to some semblance of its former glory? Only time will tell. Out of the ashes: Hope!
Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts restoration studio located at 4005 South Wayne Ave. She can be contacted at bornagainquilts.com or 260-515-9446.