Crowd gathers to tour new Lebanon school, see 1938 time capsule contents

It was a day for the old and the new in Lebanon as standing room only crowds gathered Sunday to see the contents of a 1938 time capsule and then tour the town’s new $8.1 million elementary school.

Kids will move into the new building next school year and the old elementary school will be demolished in July.

The time capsule was encased in the old school’s cornerstone, which was recently removed.

The capsule contents held up remarkably well and many visitors enjoyed seeing the neatly penned signatures of all the children attending the school in 1938.

Don Mueller, who graduated from the elementary school in 1967, and Mike Koebel, who graduated in 1965, were pleasantly surprised to see their respective fathers’ signatures.

Mueller’s late father, Ralph Mueller, was an eighth-grader in 1938 while Koebel’s late father, Delmar Koebel, was a sixth-grader.

“It’s really nice to see that,” Mike Koebel said of the signatures. “It’s pretty touching, all things considered.”

Koebel, who once taught at Lebanon Elementary and later became school superintendent in Dupo, said his dad told him about signing his name for the time capsule.

“It was kind of neat,” Koebel said. “It would have been nice to have my dad and Don’s dad both come back and see their signatures once again. I bet they thought they’d never see it.”

The time capsule also had a thermometer, business cards, articles from the Lebanon Advertiser and information about the contractors and subcontractors who built the school.

Superintendent Patrick Keeney said two wings were added in the 1950s to complement the 1938 school building. Keeney said the district determined that it was not cost-effective to renovate the old building so the school board asked voters to approve a bond issue for a new elementary.

Voters approved a bond issue in 2009 for the new school.

Asiah Blanks, a first-grader, and Coleman Cummins, a fourth-grader, were the two students of the month whose names were selected from a hat to cut the giant ribbon to officially open the new school.

The new building, which is about a block away from the old school on West Schuetz Street, has 25 classrooms and a multipurpose room, which will serve as the gym and cafeteria. The district has 650 students and 330 will attend the new elementary.

So what do the students think?

Ethan Berry, a third-grader, called the new digs “awesome” and Gabby Elless, a fourth-grader, described the new school as “cool.”

The district’s guests for the ribbon-cutting ceremony included 99-year-old Mary Renfro, who taught kindergarten in Lebanon for about 25 years beginning in 1961. Renfro also taught at McKendree University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Renfro fondly remembers teaching kindergarten in a “beautiful, big” classroom in the old elementary. She praised the community for supporting education.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful place to raise my own children.”