NELSON – Shawn Cash said he felt like he was at a funeral Sunday, when he was attending Nelson School’s last open house.
“It’s good to see everybody, but it’s under bad circumstances,” the 47-year-old alum said.
“I think we all knew it was inevitable,” he said of the school’s closure – a result of the merger of the Nelson and East Coloma school districts.
Cash was one of about 100 people who toured the building, looked at yearbooks and old photos and reminisced about the school, which will host its last day of classes a week from today.
Voters approved the consolidation in April. The Nelson building now belongs to the new East Coloma - Nelson School District, which has no plans to sell it, Nelson Superintendent Gregory Lutyens said.
Nelson, one of the smallest public school districts in the state, was facing declining enrollment, and both school districts have struggled financially for the last few years while state aid decreased and educational demands increased.
The districts consolidated to form what they hope would be a new, educationally robust and financially stable school district
Cash, a commercial pilot who lives in the Houston, Texas, suburb of Conroe, said he came to Nelson for the open house.
“Lots of good people came from this place,” he said.
Like several others at the open house, Cash took a blue and green basketball jersey, although he was sure that it wasn’t the one he wore in the 1970s, despite its number 22.
Some wore the sport gear as they walked through the gym, speaking with former classmates, or classmates’ family members.
Cash’s classmate, Lori Todhunter, stood at a door on the building’s second floor, looking out a window to the playground.
“I remember them ringing a bell on that stoop to get us inside,” she said.
Todhunter, 47, of Sterling, is now a nurse. She said she understands the need to close the building, but she feels sad about it, the same mixture of feelings expressed by many others who came to say goodbye to the school.
“It was a good place to grow up, a good place to go to school,” she said.
Photos laid on tables were available for the taking, and nostalgic alumni gathered up many to take home memories of Halloween parties, basketball victory parties, and class plays.
“The whole community was involved in everything,” Todhunter said. “We had a huge Halloween party. Everybody was at every basketball game.”
Amanda Devers, 29, of Nelson, graduated from the school in 1997. She felt “mixed emotions” about the closure, she said.
“My mom went here, and I went here, and my sister went here, and my aunt went here,” Devers said. “It’s family.”
Brooke Strangeland, 34, of Sterling, taught at the school for 2 years. She came to the open house and found a picture of the class of eight students – seventh and eighth grades combined – who made up her first class.
“There’s a lot of memories here, but that’s why you have all these people coming back,” she said. “It’s a tight-knit community.”