Every dust-covered clock hovering over the guests on tours of the long-vacant hallways of Elmhurst High School registered the exact same time: 2:49 p.m. Frozen in time was the last bell of the last school day in 2010.
The significance of the clocks wasn’t lost to the event’s tour guides. “That was the final bell for students here,” said Camille Garrison, of Kingston Residence, as she shepherded a tour group around the school. “In every tour we lead, a guest tells us something fascinating about their experience at school. I’ve heard many of the other guides comment that they’ve enjoyed learning so much about the school’s history as well.”
On Friday, November 10 and Saturday, November 11, Elmhurst High School opened its doors one final time for a two-day event before its demolition, likely in 2018. Over 2,700 alumni, former staff, and their families took advantage of the opportunity to experience a 25-minute guided tour to reminisce. The tour route included visits to old classrooms, the library, cafeteria, band room, and even a walk across the auditorium stage. Each tour was lead by a guide, many of which were former EHS teachers, through the hallways of the now empty red-and-gray lockers of the building, which have sat vacant for the past 7 years.
On Saturday, the parking lot was jammed-packed with cars in every space. Hundreds of people lined up at the main entrance, some waiting up to an hour for the start of their tour. Groups of about 20 to 30 people toured the building together; each tour leaving about every 7 minutes over the duration of the 10 hours the building was open each day. Throughout the course of both days, over 65 alumni and community members volunteered their time to assist with the event.
Alex Cornwell, Publisher of The Waynedale News and organizer of the event commented, “This has been a very meaningful experience for guests. Not only to see the building one last time, but to reconnect with their memories and former classmates.” Cornwell continued, “While I’m not an alumni, at The Waynedale News, our mission is to connect the people in the community. This event was the perfect example of what we are about and why we took on the arduous task of putting together this event in less than a month. However, the event also took the assistance of many volunteers, including event managers Josh Wolfe (class of ‘96), Jordan Cornwell (The Waynedale News) and Camille Garrison (Kingston Residence).” Cornwell added, “We’d also like to thank Hanson Aggregates for working with us to provide this opportunity, as well as their pre-event work to ensure the safety of guests and secure the building for the event.”
After their tours, guests gathered in the foyer near the gym to take time and look at the Elmhurst memorabilia on display in the old trophy cases. From here, guests were welcomed into the cavernous, school gymnasium furnished with plenty of tables to sit and visit with other graduates and reminisce. Available for purchase were vintage-style postcards featuring a picture of a school bus in front of the old circle drive. However, perhaps the most excitement came upon the arrival of the food truck carrying the ever famous, Elmhurst Sticky Buns. It’s no surprise that they sold out of 1,000 sticky buns in only a couple of hours on Saturday.
Lisa Watson, a 1988 graduate, sat in the school’s gym after her tour, eating a slice of pizza and reminiscing about her days as a high-school actress in Elmhurst’s production of “Up the Down Staircase” and her drama teacher, Mrs. Yoder.
“It’s nice to see all the classes coming together for this,” said Watson, whose Saturday tour was the first time she’d returned to her alma mater since graduation. “This was an amazing school.”
Many alumni were also pleased to find out, upon entering the gym, that Elmhurst’s longest serving teacher was in attendance. Don Goss, alumnus and former teacher of 56 years, was present Friday and Saturday and stayed for the duration of the open hours both days, in order to visit with as many of his former students as he could.
Another alumnus, volunteering both days, was Bill DeHaven, a 1978 graduate who stood in the main hallway, sporting his ‘E’ letterman’s jacket with a track pin for his time as an athlete who ran the 440 meter relay, and competed in the long jump and high jump.
“It’s going to be bittersweet leaving today, knowing I won’t be able to come back again,” DeHaven said. “There’s a lot of memories here.”
The event also served as a fundraiser and food-raiser for Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry, an Elmhurst tradition, which raised over $3,000 and collected almost 500 pounds of canned food. This tradition was lead by Josh Wolfe (class of ‘96), who founded a Facebook group to connect alumni, which spawned the idea for this type of an event. Wolfe also served as an event manager, who announced the event’s progress to his Facebook group’s 5,000 members, recruited volunteers and coordinated food trucks for the event. He also plans to reignite the abandoned alumni association through information collected at the event.
A suggested donation was collected at the school’s entrance, which after event costs, raised $3664 to be split between The Waynedale Sidewalks & Trails Initiative and The Waynedale Corridor Project.
Cornwell commented after the event, “After hundreds of hours and many late nights tirelessly working on the event’s short preplanning timeline, it was the sentimental send off the alumni and former teachers deserved. Citing guests’ many positive comments and thank-you’s, it is with great pride that I reflect on the magnitude of the meaning and purpose of this experience for all who had the opportunity to reminisce in the halls of Elmhurst High School, one final time.”
Editor’s Note: More photos and videos of the event and building will be available to view on waynedale.com/elmhurst