Harrison Elementary School has educated thousands of Janesvillians over the years.
Thursday, the school celebrated 50 years since the building was built on the eastern edge of the city.
In the hyperbolic speech of teachers, they called the event, “50 years of awesomeness.”
A few arguably awesome things and a lot of good and fun things were part of the celebration.
The school’s first secretary, Esther Kelsch, remembered working through the summer before the first school year, alongside Principal George McKilligin, to get textbooks ready.
Those were different times. Phones had dials. The school included sixth grade. And Kelsch and McKilligin worked for free that summer.
“Mr. McKilligin and I were very good friends, so we didn’t mind,” she said.
They had worked together at the now-defunct Happy Hollow School and Adams Elementary before taking over at the new school.
“Between the two of us, we decided this was going to be a family school, and that’s how we kept it, a family-friendly school,” Kelsch recalled.
“It’s a wonderful school to go to. Of course, all the schools in Janesville are very good,” Kelsch said. “The people in Janesville should be very proud of that.”
Although “1969” is carved into the school’s cornerstone, the first classes were in the fall of 1970, said the school’s first librarian, Sue McCarville, who also attended the event.
“It was a great school then. I’m sure it’s a great school now,” McCarville said. “It was always like a family. It was always real close.”
Several current students said they like their school.
Fourth-grader Brooke Thompson said her favorite thing about Harrison is the teachers: “They’re really nice.”
Second-grader Mason Genung said he likes math, getting to know new teachers each year and making new friends.
Memories were shared and stories told. A man who declined to identify himself said he hunted pheasant in the cornfields where the school now stands.
“Nothing but cornfields all the way to Highway 14,” he said. His children later attended the school.
TV news anchor Tim Elliott of NBC 15 in Madison spoke to a packed auditorium.
Elliott came to Janesville in 1995. General Motors transferred his father here and let the 9-year-old choose from three east-side schools. He chose Harrison.
On his first day, he gathered with the other children behind the school, and the strange faces and the emotion of the moment got to him. Tears welled up, he recalled.
“A teacher told me it was going to be OK. ‘You’re going to make plenty of friends here. Be strong. It will all work out, I promise.’”
And it did.
Elliott made his best friend forever at Harrison. Two years ago, that friend was best man at Elliott’s wedding. Last, year, Elliott returned the favor.
Principal Jessica Grandt told the crowd: “Thank you to the families who have shared their children with us here at Harrison, and to the students who have walked these halls and learned in our classrooms over the course of the last 50 years.
“On behalf of all those who have taught here at Harrison, you are the reason we do what we do, and it’s been an honor and a privilege to be a part of your education and your life. You are what makes Harrison awesome.”