Recently, your humble Sunday edition scribe returned to my roots.
Our Town’s Westwood Elementary opened its warm arms to me as local Wings of Hope Director Marie Abraham-Robinson had a “revealing” of a beautiful butterfly work of art. I was invited to attend a Friday morning school-opening assembly, as the lovely winged-creature was unveiled on the large room stage for all in attendance to see for the first time.
Long-time Westwood Principal, Darren Nelson, performed his “magic” involving the 600-plus students sitting on the school floor, by keeping their attention throughout the special ceremony.
For me, the occasion was such humbling experience. I had truly “come home” to Westwood after being away for over 60 years.
While it’s true I had walked on that familiar concrete floor a few times since I moved my family back to Our Town in 1981, my recent experience and strong inner feelings, let me know this occasion was absolutely a time to be cherished forever.
Oh, my, the flashbacks were there, local readers, and those others in far away places.
What a different world it was when my late father, Col. C.H. Breedlove, moved our family here in the summer of 1953. Stillwater was a sleepy, much, much smaller town on the rolling prairies of north central Oklahoma. 6th Avenue was still State Highway 51 then, too, but it was only two lanes wide, and Perkins Road wasn’t concrete, but covered with asphalt, instead. And, since the traffic flow was extremely sparse there, wild Bermuda grass easily grew, scattered throughout its asphalt surface.
The newest of Our Town’s elementary schools, Westwood, had only been completed in 1950. It served the entire west side of town, while Jefferson, Lincoln, Highland Park, St. Francis (private-Catholic), Will Rogers and Eugene Field, were the other elementary schools scattered over our quaint community. The junior high was located at West 11th Avenue and South Duck Street, while the senior high school was a couple of blocks north at 9th & Duck.
My father decided to rent homes in the Westwood neighborhood, so I attended first through fifth grades at this icon school. In those days, there were no public school kindergarten classes. Because Stillwater was steadily growing throughout the 1950’s, my final (sixth) elementary year, I attended Eugene Field Elementary, 1958-59, the last year it was open at West 6th Avenue and South Washington Street. After that school year was completed, the school was torn down, the highway widened to four lanes, and a Humpty Dumpty grocery store was built on the west side of the former school property.
So, my first few years at legendary Westwood, the school had only one east/west directional building. This single structure contained 6 (?) classrooms, I believe, and a lunch room. There were two classes for each grade level. For teachers, I had Miss Mall in the first grade, Mrs. Driggs for the second (Miss Mall got married, i.e., I had her as my teacher for two consecutive years!), Mrs. Jones for the 3rd, Miss Lawhon for the 4th, and Mrs. DeBenning for the 5th grade. Ms. Nora Heinrichs was our initial school principal, followed in later years by Mr. McLaughlin.
My greatest thrill each school day, as I recall, is still high on children’s lists today, too, and that was/is RECESS! What made it so wonderful at Westwood was our ENORMOUS playground. The school occupied the same land area it does today, but, remember, it only had 1 building early, 2 buildings a few years later, but lots, and lots and LOTS of playground! Whether it was flag football, soccer, softball or just running as fast as you could outside in the Oklahoma air, mid-morning and mid-afternoon recess was a great thing in those golden days. Even sitting in a small group on the famous front logs, and discussing timely subjects, was a fun time during recess on the vast Westwood playground.
The lunchroom, located on the far east end of the single building, was memorable for its “Clean Plate Club” membership. Those were the days when all Westwood students were rewarded with a gold sticker if you ate everything placed on your lunchtime food tray. You earned a silver star if you ate “almost” everything on your tray. At the end of each school year, if you maintained a consistent positive eating record, you were given a printed membership certificate. Today, my cherished certificate has a place of honor in my home!
Thank you, dear Westwood, for all the wonderful memories you have given me! Each time I gaze at my “School Days” black and white photos of my classmates with the dates printed, too, I always relive some of those priceless times there. My mind’s eye thoughts of my Westwood days were recently experienced again during that assembly, and, for that, I am very grateful.
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including News Press) reporter. He may be reached at email@example.com.