17 May 2012
- Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
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First, there were the rumors back in early March. Then the official word came from the unified school board: Lakeview Elementary would close this school year for good, along with Graceland and Georgia Avenue elementaries.
"Even before we knew our school was closing, a group of alumni had gotten together and decided we wanted to do something to encourage Lakeview students," said Carolyn Moore Ester.
"After we learned that the school was closing for good, the plans just grew bigger from there. We contacted all our old classmates, even those who couldn't make it back home. They sent in donations, and we collected about $4,500. We wanted to make this last celebration memorable for both the students and those who remember Lakeview back in the early days."
And celebrate they did. Tuesday, May 9, was Teachers Appreciation Day. Teachers past and present were honored during an afternoon luncheon.
"It was good to see some of our old teachers. Walking the halls brought back so many memories. This was the school I attended first through the eighth grades," said Ester.
"My husband attended Lakeview and so did my daughter. School was the lifeblood of our community. It was our community center, our playground, our park and our library because we didn't have any of those things back then. Those were wonderful, happy days."
Capping off the week on Friday was the May Day Carnival. Students ran about the grounds playing games and enjoying treats. There was also a program sponsored by the alumni. It was a bittersweet day as students reveled in the celebration while former students and teachers reminisced.
"There was a lot of laughter. I cried a lot," said Ester.
"Our building is 52 years old. We had a fire back in the '80's, and part of it was rebuilt. I walked around the grounds, and I was saying to my daughter, 'The hockey box was over there, our library right over here, and the monkey bars were there. Our gym was right here.'
"She said, 'Mom, how do you remember all of that?' I told her, 'Lakeview School was everything to us. We came home and took off our school clothes, and went back up to school. Football practice was in the back. The basketball team practiced in the front. Choir practice, band practice. We were always at school, even after school....We'll never forget growing up here and what Lakeview meant to us."
'We understand why'
“My mother’s father moved the family up here to Memphis from around Eudora, Mississippi,” said Sharon Swan Meeks.
"A lot of people were coming up from Mississippi looking for a better life. My grandfather had gotten a job driving a tractor. He even brought his parents up here to Memphis. My granddad helped clear the land where Lakeview School and the homes in our community were built."
Meeks recalled staying in the community with other transplants who had come to Memphis.
"My mother graduated from Geeter High School in 1954. The school (Lakeview) was built in 1959. It was our neighborhood school. Even from little children, we knew we would attend Lakeview and graduate after the eighth grade. Geeter would be our high school. That's just always the way it was."
Meeks brother was ahead of her in school, and every teacher he had, she got.
"School was like our second home. Our teachers were like our parents while we were at school. Lakeview was like one big family. It was like we were in a private school. All our parents were involved in the PTA. My mom didn't work, so that gave her a lot of time to be involved in our school activities."
As expected, eighth-grade graduation ushered in the transition to Geeter. Then bussing took some of them from Geeter to Whitehaven and Fairley.
"We didn't let that separate us, though," said Meeks. "Many of us have stayed in touch, even to this day. Things change, and we understand the economics of school closings," said Meeks.
"Most of us have moved away to other communities, but some of our parents and those who raised us are still living there. Most of the residents are elderly now. We understand why Lakeview is closing, but it is still so emotional for us."
'The community has changed'
Luerunia Johnson, 68, is a 50-year resident of the Lakeview Gardens community. In 2005 and after 37 years with Memphis City Schools, she retired as head cook.
"Lakeview Elementary School was the first school I worked at in the late sixties and early seventies as a cafeteria helper," said Johnson. "I have always loved cooking and enjoyed seeing the children coming through the lunch lines. We served about 350 students daily."
The community, said Johnson, has changed.
"There are very few school aged children here. There are mostly elderly people in the community now."
What about the building?
During his days at Lakeview, Glen Burnett was a class officer and he participated in the student council. He still recalls the extended support system.
"Back in those days, it was nothing for a teacher to stop in at your house after school. They all knew our parents, they knew where we lived, and they helped to raise us," said Burnett.
"We were protected within our community, but our teachers also made sure we were exposed to other things outside of Lakeview Gardens. Our parents as well as our teachers shaped who we became as adults."
Alumni and former teachers all hope that the structure will continue to be a part of the community.
"I hope the building can be made into a community center, or maybe a place for seniors, since so many seniors reside in Lakeview Gardens now," said Burnett.
"It would mean so much if our school could be utilized and continue as a vital part of our community."