North Siders say ‘Farewell’ to Lincoln Community School

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Lincoln School When a group of about 50 parents, staff, volunteers and students met June 6 to say a final goodbye to Lincoln Community School, 2131 12th Ave. N., Principal Karen Wells shared a shocking fact from the school’s past.

In the 1940s and 1950s, boys swam “nekked” in the pool, she said, and “the girls looked through the keyhole, watching them as they dove off the board.”

When everybody in the audience stopped laughing, Wells’ talk turned serious. Lincoln School has been an institution in the community for 85 years, she said; it has served thousands of students. She talked about the school’s past, including the days when the mothers who came to PTA meetings wore high heeled shoes, white gloves and hats. The school still owns the “coffee platters” the mothers used at their meetings, Wells said.

Margaret Moore, a former Minneapolis Public Schools employee, MC’d the evening’s program titled, “Lincoln Past and Present.” The program included music: a performance by 11 students in the Lincoln bell ringers group, and original songs written and performed by two parents, Blair Lee and Bobbi Rott.

People also shared memories; four speakers, Beverly Lillquist, Marcus Zachary, Cymone Anderson and Sheila Carrington talked about what the school meant to them.

Lillquist said she had attended Lincoln School in the late 1950s. She graduated from North High, went to college and eventually returned to Lincoln in 1982 as an elementary teacher, where she spent 15 years.

“I was a student when the school colors were black and gold. Although I graduated from North, I grew up at Lincoln,” she said.

Prior to Lincoln, Lillquist attended Willard School, in the days when “We had an hour and 45 minutes for lunch and we all ran home to eat.” She remembered walking through the Homewood neighborhood on her way to Lincoln School, passing a deli, a bowling alley and a movie theater. The school, she said, was in the center of that hub. She and her friends liked to stop before school at Desnick Drug Store at Plymouth and Penn avenues N., and buy a scoop of pistachio nuts.

She was one of a group of students that teacher Dick Blonz took to Washington D.C., she said. “We sold light bulbs to ‘lighten our way,’ and spent two and a half days on the train. We were there for three days. We went to the Capitol and listened to Senator Hubert Humphrey. I took pictures, and three-quarters of our group was sound asleep.”

Lillquist held up her copy of the “Red Guidebook,” a Lincoln School necessity printed in 1945; it included instruction in spelling and penmanship.

She shared a recipe from her home economics class. “Only the girls took home ec. The boys took shop. The recipe for cinnamon toast was a teaspoon of cinnamon, four tablespoons of sugar, butter and toast.

“We had the privilege of baking sweet rolls for the teachers’ lounge. Maybe that’s why I became a teacher,” she joked.

Many students brought their lunches to Lincoln. “You’d walk down the halls, and smell the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches in the lockers, mixed with the smell of chlorine from the pool.” They could also buy lunch in the cafeteria. “The only lunch that really mattered was on Thursday. That was chow mein day. You’d get chow mein and a monster cinnamon roll. I have no idea why a cinnamon roll was paired with chow mein. I’ve been in China and Hong Kong. Nobody does that.”

She said that families were very involved in the school when she was a student. “People in the neighborhood would know you; they’d see you dawdling on the way to school and tell you to get your feet walking. The community felt responsible to the teachers.”

She said that she still has friends from her Lincoln school days; they meet for lunch, once a month.

As a teacher, Lillquist said she came to Lincoln after the school district closed 18 schools in 1982. “There was a dress code for teachers,” she said. She remembers her room number, 219, which overlooked Penn Avenue. “When the windows were open, the bees came in.”

One principal, Art Johnson, loved nature, and “filled the two courtyards with pigs, chickens, pigeons and some nasty turkeys.”

The Lincoln School Store sold stock certificates and gave quarterly dividends. Students could open savings accounts at the school through Park National Bank. They had to deposit at least 50 cents a week. “We had posters of Abe Lincoln wearing sunglasses, and the slogan, ‘Saving is Cool at Lincoln School.’”

Marcus Zachary said he had been a student at Lincoln from grades K through six. Like Lillquist, he too went back. He has worked at the school with the Beacons program, an after-school enrichment program, for seven years. “When I first heard the news that Lincoln was closing, I was shocked. But I knew the one thing they couldn’t take from me was my memories,” he said.

His student-years memories include a kindergarten teacher named Miss Wilson, who taught them the “clean up” song. He remembered a fellow student who stole an inappropriate magazine from the corner store. “As soon as he was going to pull it out for silent reading time the teacher caught him.” Zachary said he also remembered the time a teacher told him to clean his desk and he didn’t. “She yelled at me and kicked my desk. That was back in the day when we were scared of teachers.”

Lincoln was a fundamental school, he added. “You could not wear shorts, you’d see a poor kid wearing corduroys on a hot day. The only time you could wear shorts was on track and field day.”

He remembers going skiing in sixth grade, playing basketball, and having his first scuffle at Lincoln. “I still have the bubble gum machine I made in shop. I remember when the boys won three basketball tournaments in a row.

“And, there were the hand bells. At every Lincoln event, there were hand bells.”

At age 28, he said he literally has spent half his life spent at Lincoln. “Sometimes with the Beacons I feel like I’m being paid back for the stuff I did as a kid when I went here. There are 150 kids in the building after school, and most of the time it’s organized confusion.”

He said he will miss the school and will miss working with good principals such as Mr. [Willy] Forte and Mrs. Wells.

Seventh grader and Student Council member Cymone Anderson said she knows that all of the students who are now leaving will remember their friends and the experiences they had at Lincoln. “I know they’ll succeed and be happy, because we are the Lincoln family.”

Sheila Carrington, who has been the parent liaison for the past two years, said, “Lincoln has taken on the spirit of thousands who passed through these halls before me. The pride the students have in this school is unbelievable. Lincoln pride is forever.”

Lincoln School is one of five North Side schools that the Minneapolis Public Schools board decided to close at the end of the 2006-2007 school year because of declining enrollment. The others are Shingle Creek, W. Harry Davis Academy, Jordan Park, and North Star. The board recently hired a consulting group, Urban Design Lab, headed by Northside architect Paul Bauknight, to study the district’s 12 closed school buildings and recommend a strategic plan to follow for each of the properties.