“In our own school in
By Elk Creek and ocean beach
We work and play
With our friends we hold dear.”
Even after 56 years, John Markham, Class of 1957, still remembers the old Cannon Beach Grade School song, sung to the tune of “On the Good Ship, Lollipop.”
He can also remember every teacher who taught him in the one-room schoolhouse – which had turned into three rooms by the time he went there. He even remembers the bus drivers – only in those days they drove a wood-trimmed station wagon and, eventually, a 12-person van.
Markham wasn’t the only person recalling memories during the late spring evening of June 13. Hundreds of people were doing the same thing as they bid farewell to Cannon Beach School.
Some had tears in their eyes, others said they already had cried.
A few were ambivalent about the closure, and still others, like Markham, were cynical.
“It hasn’t been hit by a tsunami yet,” Markham replied when asked how he felt about the closure of the school this year. “The argument is that it has to be closed for budget reasons. When I went to school, it was its own district, and the district had six employees; two were part time.
“The seventh- and eighth-grade teachers were also the principal and the basketball coach,” Markham added. “There were about 80 kids.
“There are about 80 kids in this school now,” he added. “Why does the school need that many more employees?”
Seaside School District Superintendent Doug Dougherty proposed the school’s closure two months ago because of a $1.5 million shortfall in the 2013-2014 year beginning July 1. Most of the loss is due to increases in state Public Employees Retirement System fees.
At the time Dougherty proposed the closure, he said the district paid $8,900 per student at Cannon Beach School, while it cost about $6,200 per student at the district’s other two elementary schools.
Against the background of recorded classic rock music played by a local DJ, current and former students, teachers, playground monitors, principals and anyone else who had ever been connected to the school, as well as some who wanted to show their support, shared memories. They lined up outside for barbecued hotdogs and hamburgers and wandered into the library to look at yearbooks and large photos of students standing in front of their school.
One of the students in those photos, circa 1943, was Jim Webb, dressed in a moose-print sweater, with his black hair slicked back. Webb, now 82, was the oldest graduate at the party. As a member of the Class of 1944, Webb remembered the one-room school building that stood close to where the current building stands today. He also recalled his teacher, Mrs. Seivers, who taught 20 students in grades one through eight.
“I’m the old fart here today,” said Webb, the former owner of Webb’s Scenic Surf hotel in Cannon Beach.
Although he had few memories of his classroom experiences, Webb remembered recess well.
“We used to throw the ball on purpose into the creek,” he said. “We got wet and had to go home and change,” he added, laughing.
“When I graduated (from eighth-grade), there were just two of us,” he said.
Although he went on to Seaside High School, Webb was drafted into the Army when he was a senior, just six months shy of earning his diploma. He finally received it 10 years ago, after the state Legislature adopted a law that said anyone who was drafted out of school would be granted their diploma.
Attending classes in a one-room schoolhouse didn’t make for the best education, said Webb, who described himself as mostly self-educated. There was too much confusion, he added.
“How could a teacher possibly teach every student at the same time in first grade through eighth-grade?” he asked.
Webb was somewhat ambivalent about the school’s closure, although his three children and grandchildren also attended school there, in the current building, which was constructed in 1951.
“The school I went to isn’t here anymore,” Webb said. But, he added, he understood why others were unhappy.
“They played in that gym, they went to that building. I did not,” he said.
Fun on stage
Webb’s daughter, Debbie Nelson, who owns a floral shop in town and is an active volunteer, recalled the plays she participated in at Cannon Beach Elementary. They took place in the gym, which now also acts as a cafeteria.
“There was a great big stage where the cafeteria is now,” Nelson said. “We were required to be in three plays a year.”
In one of those plays, a teacher-written adaptation of Cinderella, called “Cindy and the Prince,” the children became so distracted during the performance that they skipped the second act and went directly into the third act of the play. The audience noticed and started muttering and laughing, Nelson said.
“We didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Then, one of the boys went out on stage and said, ‘Due to technical difficulties, the second act was left out,’So we did it again.
“We had to learn to fend for ourselves,” Nelson said. “We have some great childhood memories here.”
Because the school, at that time, didn’t have a cafeteria, students ate the lunches they brought from home at their desks. On Fridays, however, they got hot lunches.
“The moms would bring us hotdogs,” she said.
Cannon Beach School has been around in some form since classes first were taught in 1912 in the Hotel Bill, where the Cannon Beach Conference Center stands today.
John Markham recalled watching the construction of the current building, which appeared to go slowly. When he was in the second grade, the gym went up. In the third grade, there was one classroom and the principal’s office, and finally, when Markham was in the fourth grade, the school’s four classrooms were completed.
“It was a nice, fancy new building,” Markham said.
However, state geology experts have said the school would collapse in an earthquake and would be in the path of a locally generated tsunami.
Nelson remembered the inclusion of the portable classrooms on the west side in the 1960s. When the Cannon Beach School District 37 consolidated with the Seaside School District in 1967, she said, the seventh and eighth grades went to Seaside.
In 1994, the sixth grade became part of Broadway Middle School, leaving only kindergarten through fifth grade at Cannon Beach.
Although the school is closing, the friendships made won’t end for Marlene Laws, who attended school there from 1945 to 1953.
“I remember the closeness of the students,” she said, pointing to her “very best friend” who also attended Thursday’s party. “We have been close friends since we were 10 years old.”
Two teachers also stood out in Laws’ memory – Ollie and Mary Wold. Mary Wold taught fifth and sixth grade and Ollie Wold taught seventh and eighth grade.
Laws returned to her former school between 1968 and 1974 as a teaching assistant. Now, she is on a committee that is trying to form a charter school in Cannon Beach.
“Every village needs a school,” Laws said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for a charter school. There are some people who are naysayers, but I think it will happen.”
Jessica Sund, who moved to Cannon Beach when she was 4 years old, attended school there from 1970 to 1976.
“I remember how tight we were as students,” she said. “There was so much solidarity; there wasn’t a pecking order.”
Sund listed among her best memories a reward for being honest. While walking to school one day she found a wallet containing $350. She turned it into the principal’s office. She made such an impression that the local newspaper wrote a story about her, and she received a $5 reward.
The loss of the school makes her sad, Sund said.
“I can’t imagine a town that doesn’t have a school,” she added.
Sund, who has an education background, said she wants to get involved in the charter school committee.
“I think it’s great what they’re doing,” she said.
Backpack program continues
Even though the school is closing and the students will attend Seaside Heights Elementary, the backpack program for Cannon Beach students won’t stop, said Marty Schwab Harris. Several years ago, she organized the program that gives low-income students backpacks filled with food for weekend meals.
Seaside Heights has a similar program, which Harris Schwab also helped to organize. She said the funds and supplies for Cannon Beach will go to Seaside.
“Seaside Heights has agreed to feed our kids. We want to keep the program intact,” she said. “We will pay a percentage of the program that includes Arch Cape and Cannon Beach kids. They will get the same food and the same packaging that the other kids will get. The program will go on without a hiccup.”
Harris Schwab called the school’s closure “scary” because without a school, families may not have a reason to stay in Cannon Beach.
“I can’t imagine a community without young families,” she said. “It’s part of what gives this town its spirit and its sense of community.”
Melissa Grimmett, whose daughters Makyla, 10, and Aurora, 6, will attend Seaside Heights next fall, is one of those who may move out of town, even though she doesn’t want to.
“I’m thinking about it,” said the hair stylist, who works at Perfect Look in Seaside. “But my day care is at the (Cannon Beach) conference center.”
She said she doesn’t worry about her daughters riding the bus to school, she worries about “negative influences” they might encounter in the city of Seaside.
Although Makyla and Aurora said they looked forward to attending Seaside Heights – Makyla is excited about the larger library at the school and making new friends – their mother prefers to have them in Cannon Beach, which she called a “safe haven.”
“I cried all afternoon yesterday,” Grimmett said. “It was the last day of school, and our kids are going to have to transfer to Seaside Heights. I never thought it would hit me that way. It made me cry to think we are losing our school.”
This story originally appeared in Cannon Beach Gazette.