The former basketball coach for Lakota’s old Union School peered around the now gutted, darkened gym Friday and his 82-year-old eyes brightened with memories.
“I got my first teaching job here in 1960,” said Charles Schweizer, ”and I taught English and history and coached junior high basketball right here.”
“The bench was over there,” said Schweizer pointing toward to the court sideline near the school’s tiny, elevated stage. “And the cheerleaders used to be up on the stage.”
“When I coached this was the only school around here that was. This was the high school and everything,” he said of the township that was then known as Union before changing its name to West Chester in 1999.
It was a reminiscing scene repeated for many of the more than 100 former students who walked the halls and classrooms of their old school for a final time.
The former Union School will soon be demolished and replaced by a Boys & Girls Club for West Chester and Liberty townships.
Lakota School officials held the last-look tour of the school - at 8735 Cincinnati Dayton Road in Olde West Chester - so that Schweizer and others with memories from the school could get a last walk through.
“We choose to let the community come into the gym because it’s one of the more iconic areas of the building,” said Lauren Boettcher, spokeswoman for Lakota Schools. “We’re seeing a lot of people spending time here and recounting their memories and it’s neat to see lots of generations coming through and hear the stories they have to share about their days at Union.”
“It’s more an open house style (tour) to let them visit the classrooms where they have the most memories,” said Boettcher.
Former student Jerry Head’s 1950s memories included donkeys in the tiny gym.
“I remember watching donkey basketball here and bringing my kids who came here in the 1960s to watch it too,” said Head of the old-fashioned fund-raising event - where players rode donkeys while playing hoops that was popular among American midwestern schools decades ago.
“This school was an icon. Everybody in the community knew where it was. It’s kind of sad to see it go,” said Head, who now lives in Liberty Township.
He welcomes the coming Boys & Girls Club, which is scheduled to open on the nine-acre site in early 2018.
“It’s a great thing,” he said.
The Union Township Historical Society sponsored the three-hour event in cooperation with Lakota officials.
Private fund raising by Boys & Girls Club officials — including a recent $300,000 state grant — has raised more than $5.5 million toward the club’s goal of $9 million for the new facility.
Fellow 1950s graduate Ron Widmeyer recalled, “I used to live right down the street and I used to ride my bike to school. No traffic back then, not like it is now,” he said of the now occasionally packed Cincinnati-Dayton Road that serves as the main business stretch in Olde West Chester.
Lakota Schools Superintendent Karen Mantia joined the tour and said “it’s emotional” for the former students from decades ago.
“There are a lot of memories and sentiments. But it’s a good day to come back and reminisce,” said Mantia.
Lakota officials signed a 2014 collaborative agreement with youth club officials for a long-term, land lease citing prohibitive costs of maintaining the empty school.
Demolition is scheduled to begin later this month following the removal of asbestos from the building, according to Lakota officials. Construction of the Boys & Girls Club will start soon after the building is demolished.