Julia King is a speech therapist at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, but after finding a picture of her first-grade class at Enota Sunday afternoon, she was transformed to her childhood for a few moments when she was known as Julie Reynolds.
“I have great memories of eating lunch in the cafeteria with homemade rolls and vegetable soup and peanut butter sandwiches and lining up in the hallway for those dreaded innoculations that we had to have,” King recalled. “Mr. (Principal Leon) Hughes had a terrifying tall, Abraham Lincoln demeanor. I can remember our dog would follow us to school. He scared us to death about that dog following us to school.”
King was part of an estimated crowd of 150-200 students, teachers, former students, former teachers, school officials and community residents who came to the school Sunday to say one last goodbye and remember a history spanning more than six decades in Gainesville. The school is being torn down at the end of the academic year to make room for construction of a new Enota school on the same property scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.
Many called the day “bittersweet.”
“You think about a place that has so many memories, that people are tied to it sentimentally, there is that bittersweet feeling of, ‘Oh you know, we love this place; it meant so much to us, but then again, we also want to provide the very best that we can provide for the children of the community that are here now and her to come,’” said Principal Wesley Roach.
King, who moved away from Gainesville when she was 12 and has been back as the speech teacher for the past six years, said she has mixed emotions about the building being demolished, especially when thinking about her late mother, Ann Reynolds.
“My mother walked with me in these halls,” she said. “I went to First Presbyterian Church and that was torn down years ago. I feel like this was the last vestige of things I knew as a child. To me, it’s like I’m walking with my parents in these halls, so when it goes, a little piece of that will go. But on the other hand, I’m super excited to live in the moment, to live in the now with the children I see every day.”
Former state Sen. Jane Hemmer was also at the school with her husband, John. Hemmer was a second-grade student at Enota when the school opened in 1954. She said while she was sad that the school was being replaced, she was happy people had the opportunity to come together at the school one more time.
“I just heard from so many of my friends who said, ‘We just want to say goodbye,’” she said.
“I remember the playground and how much fun we had. They just let us out the door and we would have a grand time.”
Former Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer was at the gathering along with current Superintendent Wanda Creel, as well as Jeremy Williams, the lone finalist to replace Creel. The school board is scheduled to vote on Williams’ hiring Monday night.
Dyer, who was a student and an assistant principal at Enota before becoming superintendent, led a group that included Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan in the Enota fight song. Dunagan is also a former Enota student.
“As a student, I remember the library and there was a kickball area outside of it,” Dyer said. “I had a wonderful teacher for two years, Evelyn Early, who was here a long time. I had moved here from Atlanta and was really scared in a new school.”
Dunagan went to Enota from the second through sixth grades, starting in the late 1950s.
“There are a lot of good memories here and a lot of good people went to school here, a lot of good friends,” he said. “A lot of friends I’ve seen (Sunday), I haven’t seen in many, many years.”
Mandy Smith, a former student who now teaches in Dawson County, came to the event with her mother, Carol Weschler.
“I came to see my teachers,” Smith said. “Memories are going on the playground and just being here and the love I felt at Enota.”
Weschler said she was appreciative of the “great foundation” her daughter received in her years at Enota.
Arin Bedingfield, a sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle, came back to the school where she had been a student from first to fifth grades.
“I wanted to remember all the memories that I had through the previous years, and I wanted to see all my teachers that I loved,” she said. “They know how to teach in a different way, in a fun way. There is creativity in the school like the paintings and the activities. This is creative to have a walk around the school before they tear it down.”
John Nivens, a first-grader in the first year of the school in 1954, came back to Enota Sunday with his son Allen and daughter Leslie Nivens Miller. All three went to Enota.
“I live within a mile of here and still have a lot of memories here,” John said. “The innocence of the time, that’s my fondest memory. The selfish part of me is sad because it wouldn’t bother me to see this school for the rest of my life. I just had so much fun here. But we have to move forward.”
Allen and Leslie remembered that their father’s class planted a tree at the school because it was the first year of the school. When the children came through Enota, John was able to get permission for trees to be planted by their classes as well.
“The whole school came out,” Allen remembered. “We got to dig a hole — everybody dug a little bit — and then put the tree in that dad had gotten and then covered it back up. It was here for years and and years.”
Leslie remembered that tradition, but also remembered her second-grade teacher, Dee Snow, who had a bathtub in her classroom.
“For a special treat, if you behaved, you’d get to lay in the bathtub during reading time and read in the bathtub,” she said. “That was just a really cool thing.”
Logon Smithson, a seventh-grader at North Hall Middle School, was a student at Enota from Pre-K to fifth grade.
“I like the school because the teachers,” he said. “They genuinely care about your grades and how you’re doing in school.”