BETHEL TWP. — Bethel residents and alumni celebrated the old and the new last week with an event that commemorated the 100th anniversary of one school building and the opening of another.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the district’s oldest in-use building and the opening of a new high school wing on Sept. 5, the schools held an open house last Saturday for alumni, with a program of speakers and tours of the campus.
“We are a 100-year-old building at one end and a brand new building at the other end,” board president Scott Hawthorn said. “We have a great mix of older memories and new ones that are being made everyday.”
Several alumni shared their memories of Bethel High School from the 1940s to the 1970s and marveled over the new addition.
“Wow, isn’t this school something? It’s a little different from 1947,” said Nancy Lynch, Class of 1947. Five generations of her family attended Bethel Local Schools and her father, Sam Studebaker, taught science before becoming the principal and the superintendent.
While the district’s newest high school was paid for by a $22 million bond issue, in 1885, the school board added a second story to the school for $292 and upgraded the outhouses for $15 apiece, Lynch said.
Bethel high schoolers were moved into a new building in 1893, which cost $5,361, she said.
Lynch’s parents met at Bethel High School, where she also met her own husband.
“Many people have found spouses here, so look around, kids,” she said.
Jacob Evans, Class of 2018, said, “Thanks for the advice, Mrs. Lynch.”
Lynch noted that there were about 400 students in the school system when she graduated, compared to the nearly 1,400 Bethel students today.
Gayle Rhoades, a class of 1972 Bethel graduate and current district bus driver, recalled her time at Bethel High School. She was active in band and choir and played sports. She remembered playing one softball game in her entire high school career, when the team was invited to play at Troy High School.
“We didn’t take a bus. There were no girls sports really at that time, so there was no busing available. Our coach drove and my mom hauled the rest of us up in the back of a 1963 Dodge station wagon. We lost that day, needless to say,” she said.
She started working for the district as a bus driver in 1986, and worked several other jobs in the district over the years, including in the cafeteria, the office and in the kindergarten as an aide.
“Even though I was very busy inside the school, there came a day when my superintendent came to me and said, ‘We have a bus route and there’s no driver. Could you go out just for today and drive that bus?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ Well, I’m still driving the bus,” she said.
Several generations of her family have attended Bethel schools, including her grandchildren who are currently attending.
Other speakers included Bethel Township Historical Society Treasurer Jeannine Friend, the valedictorian of her graduating class in 1950, Barbara Bailey, Class of 1954, and Scott Dickerson, Class of 1969.
Following the program, attendees were given the chance to tour the building on their own or in groups with the superintendent, board members and administrative staff.
In May 2014, township voters approved a $22 million bond issue for new construction and renovation of the existing facilities. The district broke ground on the project in April 2015.
The new wing is approximately 74,000 square feet and added 23 new classrooms, including a band room, art room and media center, and a cafetorium — a combined cafeteria and auditorium. The cafetorium, called Bethel Hall, seats 500 students for lunch and up to 700 for a production or concert. In addition, a varsity girls’ and boys’ locker room as well as an athletic trainer’s room are located near the athletic entrance, the concession area and the athletic offices at the back of the new wing.
The project also upgrade infrastructure around campus, school board member Lori Sebastian pointed out.
“Today we have a widened State Route 201, the loop road and a playground next to the building, better bus and car drop off for student safety, and — one of my personal favorites — no more potholes,” she said.
She noted that the fire alarm, intercom, phone and internet systems were also upgraded. More improvements to the district’s older buildings were also made, including upgrades to the roofs and the addition of new office and classroom spaces. The district also performed maintenance on the 1917 building’s masonry and brick work.
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