Schools are physical and social institutions as much as government ones in communities, and a family with multi-generational ties to North Elementary School in Holts Summit described that as North prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary Oct. 6.
"North School is the heart of our small town," fifth-grade teacher Julie Wood said of her school, where she's taught since 2004.
There's a geographic element to that sentiment, with the school tucked between Holts Summit's city hall, police department, post office and civic center, a couple of parks, homes and businesses to the west of U.S. 54.
Julie knows as much as anyone there are familial histories tied to North, too.
Her husband, Bill Wood, attended North in kindergarten and first grade.
Julie and Bill's twin children — daughter Cora and son Bill — attended North from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Gwen Welch — the elder Bill's sister — attended kindergarten through fourth grade at North.
Bill and Gwen's mom, Sue Wood, was the longtime secretary and worked at the school for 26 years, 1979-2005.
"During my 26 years, I worked with three principals — Marc Kallmeyer, Ray Rehagen, Barb Martin. It was a pleasure to work with each one of them," Sue said.
Sue worked as the lunch ticket cashier the first half of her days and assisted then-secretary Leona Wilson the second half of the day at the beginning of her tenure.
At Jefferson City High School graduations, when graduates' names are read off to come up to the stage, "Mom can still hear the name and go, 'That's a North School kid,'" the elder Bill said.
North is one of the two Jefferson City Public Schools buildings across the Missouri River in Callaway County — the other being Callaway Hills Elementary School, where Sue's children attended once it opened in 1980.
"Once a Northie, always a Northie," the elder Bill said.
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"Mustangs today, forever a Jay," his son said of the mascot identities for North and Jefferson City High School.
The Wood family talked about other kinds of bonds built at North during the years.
Cora is the current vice president of student council at Lewis and Clark Middle School. In one year, the president, vice president, treasurer and secretary of student council at Lewis and Clark were all students who came from North; this year, she said, the secretary is also from North.
Julie did not teach her own children when they were in elementary school, but her twins were at North at the same time — the younger Bill enjoyed having his mom down the hall every year.
"Sometimes he'd get a hug, and sometimes he'd get the eye," Julie said of seeing him during the day.
The elder Bill remembers he and his sister helping teachers in the summer before school started, when they were around early with their mom at work. He's continued that in his adult life by doing things such as making furniture for his wife's classroom and building a trophy case for the school.
"We all stay in touch. We all take care of each other," Julie said of the North community. She added of seeing people from school around town: "Everywhere we go, we run into people."
"(There are) lots of good friends that I'm still in contact with," Gwen added.
When her grandchildren were at North, Sue said, she still came to the school and volunteered after she retired.
"North School is what it is because of our community and parent support," Julie said, with the elder Bill adding that includes support from teachers and staff, too.
The whole community will have a chance to celebrate the school's 50th anniversary from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at a public event at the school — located at 285 South Summit Drive in Holts Summit — hosted by the North School PTO. The celebration will include a ceremony at 11 a.m. with a performance by the North School Notables choir and a ribbon-cutting with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Games and inflatables for children, cupcakes, and commemorative shirts and coins will be available for sale after the ceremony, and food trucks will be on hand to purchase lunch.
Tours of the school will be available, with photos, yearbooks and time capsules on display.
Summit Shopping Plaza will be the designated site of overflow parking, and a school bus will be available beginning at 10:45 a.m. to shuttle people.