Christmases Past at Roland E. Cook Elementary School in Vinton

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VINTON–Roland E. Cook Elementary closed in the spring of 1999 after 84 years of service to the Vinton community. Deedie Kagey was the principal at the time. She said the closing was very emotional for her and everyone who had ever attended or worked at the school.

“Many kids walk to school,” said Kagey. “A lot of parents drop off their children in the morning and they are in the school constantly. It truly is a community school.”

Performing onstage in the gymnasium at Roland E. Cook Elementary
Performing onstage in the gymnasium at Roland E. Cook Elementary

Longtime secretary Reba Vernon noted, “We’ve had a school with a lot of love—a family feeling.”

Door decorations for Christmas at Roland E. Cook Elementary
Door decorations for Christmas at Roland E. Cook Elementary

Second grade teacher Betty Hall said, “I’m sure the people would form a human chain around the building if they tried to tear it down.”

When Roanoke County schools re-opened in the fall of 1999, the 190 former Roland E. Cook students were transferred to Herman L. Horn Elementary, while the teachers and principal moved to the new Bonsack Elementary.

A visit from Santa
A visit from Santa

Many who attended the school or were staff members completed “Remembrance Outlines” of their memories from Roland E. Cook at the school closing ceremonies.

Almost everyone  named the special programs at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the plays and talent shows, and May Day as highlights of their years at Roland E. Cook.

Nativity scene at Roland E. Cook
Nativity scene at Roland E. Cook

George Bell attended the school from 1939-1943. He remembered the traditional nativity scene and caroling.  His sister Bootie Bell Chewning remembers that her first performance was on the stage at Roland E. Cook. “We were able to celebrate all the holidays then.”

“One of the special memories I have of Roland E. Cook were the plays that our music teacher, Mrs. Nelms, coached us to perform in the auditorium,” said former student Margaret Lee Hurst Clear. “Our mothers made our outfits and we felt special as we performed on stage in that big auditorium. Our parents came for the performances and the auditorium was filled with spectators.”

Patricia Ann Martin Drewry remembered singing a solo of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in one year’s Christmas program. Nick Entsminger remembered playing Santa Claus in the second grade.

Some noted that the custom in long ago times was for students to draw names and exchange gifts with their classmates at Christmas.

Mollie Pedigo Harris wrote on her memory page that when she was in the fourth grade in 1948, she had a big part in the Christmas play with lots of lines to memorize, which she did. During the performance she forgot one line and had to be cued. “As of today, 51 years later, I can remember only the line I forgot, ‘And were the little shepherds watching, too?’”

Dr. Harry Plunkett, whose nephew David Hill is now one of the partners involved with the renovations of the old school, said that the “auditorium upstairs was much fun–plays, performances, band concerts, and holiday programs with the room packed with parents, students, faculty, and enough pride to fill 10 rooms. We were taught with enthusiasm. They say that memory is selective and leans toward the positive, but I still offer that none of us will overstate the significance of this school to thousands of us.”

Elma Swain, who attended Roland E. Cook beginning in 1928, and then became a teacher at the school years later, reminisced about a special memory of the Christmas they presented, “The Nutcracker,” when she had become the music teacher.  “The program included all grade levels and was so successful that it was given again at the Junior High building in order to accommodate a large audience. Bootie Bell Chewning was the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

Bootie Bell Chewning as the Sugar Plum Fairy
Bootie Bell Chewning as the Sugar Plum Fairy

Swain remembered that principal, Louella Scott, was “so supportive” and allowed her special privileges like taking the students out into the community to places like the Berkshire Nursing Home to sing Christmas carols.

Janis Marlene Miller Tumblin recalled the beautiful music festivals at Roland E. Cook—“the fruition of all the school year training and learning special songs for the occasions. They were sweet in the lower grades, but the quality became progressively more impressive as we advanced in grades. Mrs. Swain brought such refinement to the school and the music program. Tumblin especially remembered the year she was a doll in the Christmas program when she was seven. Her friend Carolee Silcox Boush was the Magic Fairy and waved her wand to make Janis “come to life” moving her arms and head mechanically.

Room full of Rudolphs at  Roland E. Cook
Room full of Rudolphs at Roland E. Cook

Photographs indicate that in the 1980’ and 1990’s, fairly elaborate sets were constructed for Christmas programs; Santa visited the classrooms; and nativity scenes were still permitted.

Roland E# 7 rockin around the Christmas tree resized

Roland E. Cook students on their way to carol at Berkshire Nursing Home.
Roland E. Cook students on their way to carol at Berkshire Nursing Home.