Memories flowed like the homemade punch into paper cups at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville on Sunday.
Former teachers, students and parents of the church’s longstanding Child Development Center gathered for a reunion, exchanging tight hugs and remembering old times with smiles and laughter.
“We were a family,” said Annette Robertson, who came to work at the center in 1970.
The event served largely to honor Evangeline “Sister” Wright, who was the afternoon playground supervisor for 32 years, although she quickly waved off the attention.
“This is not my day, I keep saying,” Wright said. “This is everybody’s day.”
Seeing familiar faces for the first time in years was a bit overwhelming for her.
“I’ve already cried buckets,” Wright said.
The center at 800 S. Enota Drive began in 1957, when the church was off Green Street at Brenau Avenue and began as a half-day preschool.
It later evolved into a full-day program, as it is today, with children ages 6 weeks to prekindergarten. The church moved to its current site in 1975.
The idea for the reunion grew out of the occasional get-togethers old staff members would have, said Beverly Nordholz, one of the event’s organizers.
“We’d start talking about different kids and everything … and then we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a reunion and invite the kids?’” she said.
Organizers touted the event through the newspaper, radio and social media.
And folks came, pouring through the doors of the church’s Swetenburg Hall and almost instantly greeting each other with hugs and pleasantries.
Stories swirled in the room about long-ago stalwarts, such as Willie Mae Ivory, who died in 1987. The center’s cook, she was famous for her food in general, but especially her fish.
The punch at the reunion was made using her recipe, Nordholz said.
Ivory died soon after she retired, said her daughter, Debra Storey, who remembered helping her mom in the kitchen and later working as an assistant teacher at the center.
Those experiences helped fuel her own “deep love for children.”
Storey now teaches kindergarten at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School in Gainesville.
And it was students from yesteryear who still hold a firm place in memories of teachers, such as Robertson, who recalled once having to corral a group of youngsters and lead them down a hallway for refreshments.
“I told the children, ‘Please fold your hands, put your feet flat on the floor and zip your lips.’ One boy held up his hand and said, ‘Can we breathe?’” she said.
And there were also stories about Wright, who, although diminutive and soft-spoken, commanded a presence on the playground.
Wright, surrounded by long-ago familiar faces, said she didn’t remember exactly when she left, but she remembered her days at the center and why she stayed so long.
“It was a happy place to be,” Wright said.