BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Katrina Knollman Kasten still remembers the first day she walked into Fallen Timbers Middle School.
“From the first step into the building, we saw buffed floors, not yet marred, and the lockers were pristine,” said Kasten, a 1979 graduate who was in seventh grade when the building opened in 1973. “After some time, the newness wore off as we settled into the daily routine, but the memories are still there.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Fallen Timbers Middle School (FTMS), built to accommodate a growing Anthony Wayne Local Schools population.
Whitehouse, Waterville and Monclova elementary schools were all old and busting at the seams with students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The one-story high school was packed with grades 9-12 while the south building – now the junior high – held seventh- and eighth-graders. To accommodate all of the students, new space was needed.
Later that same year, the district also broke ground on a new Monclova Primary School, which opened in 1974.
“They saw the growth was happening and needed to create more room,” said Cyndi Darling Bosman, Class of 1981. “The coolest thing was that the building was so modern. All of our schools were so old.”
“It was very modern-looking with lots of square lines. It appeared pretty fancy for a farm boy,” agreed Robert Biggins, a 1981 graduate.
Mark Heminger, then a sixth-grader, bragged to his friends that he knew the FTMS builder, who was his best friend’s grandfather, Floyd Bucher.
For the first few months of the 1973 school year, however, the students in grades 5-7 could only see their new building from afar, as it wasn’t completed. So, students were bused to the high school’s south building to start their school day after the students in grades 8-12 were done.
“I remember harassing the high school kids as they got off the bus in the afternoon – teasing them that we had been home all day,” Heminger said. “The tables were turned when they made us do a second shift. The high schoolers had a blast teasing us, because now we had to go to ‘night school.’ By the time I got home, my family had already eaten dinner, so Mom would have a plate made up for me, kept hot in the oven.”
Moving from Monclova Elementary to the high school as a fifth-grader was a little intimidating, said Gail Russell Schlafman.
“It was the first time we met different kids from Waterville and Whitehouse,” said the 1981 graduate. “I was nervous that first day at the high school, but by the time we moved into our classroom, I was not nervous because we had already met.”
At first, the plan for FTMS included just the two-story building, but after construction started, plans were changed to add a one-story wing for the fifth grade, said Carol Rosebrock, a retired fifth-grade teacher. Even after grades six and seven moved in, eight fifth-grade classrooms stayed behind in the south building, with students shuttling between buildings until Christmas.
“We moved in over Christmas break – and not all the furniture was in yet,” Rosebrock recalled.
Linda Herman, who taught physical education, held classes outside until November, and then she moved into the library, as the gym and cafeteria weren’t finished until the end of the year.
“Lunches were held in the classrooms. The kids took the President’s Physical Fitness Test in the library that had no books,” she said, referring to a federal program for public schools to see if students met minimum fitness standards.
During their three years at FTMS, Todd Hertzfeld and Jeff Earnest won the President’s Physical Fitness Award for the school. Last week, Todd, his brother Tom and sister Deb stood in front of their old school and peered into the windows.
“I was in the seventh grade, Tommy was in the sixth grade and Todd was in the fifth grade when the building opened,” said Deb Hertzfeld Pantle.
Tom noted that every time they switched between buildings, it seemed like they had to move a piece of furniture or a box over as well.
All three remember fondly the orange lockers that were replaced a few years ago.
Connie Jones, an ’81 graduate who returned to serve as band director at the high school in 1989-93, recalled how difficult it was to fit her trombone into the skinny orange lockers. Ditto for Heminger, who played the trumpet. He noted that the cubby lockers above those thin lockers were a challenge for short kids to reach.
Overall, the students were thrilled with the new building – even with the “no gum” rule that came along with carpeted classrooms.
“The perk of the new building was the smell of the new carpeting instead of 70-year-old wood. After coming from Monclova, being one of the first to step into a brand new school was a tremendous feeling,” said Greg Brodbeck, Class of 1981.
Jeff Hess was glad to have a school with water that didn’t smell or taste like sulfur and being on Finzel Road made him feel more grown up, as FTMS was now part of the high school campus.
“It was the first time I was in a school that was air-conditioned,” recounted Joni Rhoades Willhite, the 1981 senior class president. “It was also the first time that we changed classes and had different teachers. We had a lot of younger teachers, which was nice.”
Those younger teachers included Herman as well as James Gregory, Dave Boost, Ed Humphreys, Bill Jermann and Stephen Walker, she said.
Bosman’s locker was across from Boost’s fifth-grade classroom.
“He was the favorite teacher I never had. He was always kind and said hi to me. Those teachers who really cared are the ones who marked places on our hearts forever,” said Bosman, noting that Pauline Albaugh was her favorite. She also still remembers David “Gene” Zeigler’s early lessons about not smoking. “He got us at a younger age and made an impact.”
Zeigler and Fred Shuman both taught earth science and math in two of the inner rooms of the building. While the rooms didn’t have windows, they did have a storage room in the center and plenty of wall space. While Shuman used the perimeter to hang the entire earth history timeline around the room, Zeigler hung up a very large poster of a jet plane flying in his classroom.
As a new teacher hired to teach seventh grade, Shuman immediately bonded with Boost, as they carpooled into school each day. Herman also recalls the staff growing close through regular potlucks. During those first few years as a brand new school, the staff set a tone of caring, fun and a zest for learning, the former students agreed.
“The staff went above and beyond with vocal and instrumental programs, art shows and displays, field days, gymnastics shows and intramurals,” Herman said. During Enrichment Days and Fascination Days, students learned about other topics not typically covered in the classroom.
Within a few years, students were able to join a tumbling club with a new trampoline and a cycling club that even included some unicyclists.
“Our musicals and the production in our seventh grade for the bicentennial were so fun. Our class was the first seventh-grade class to have a yearbook,” Bosman said, referring to the 1976 Volume 1 that Jones brought with her to share with fellow students earlier this week.
Steve McSurley remembers that his fifth-grade teacher, Margaret Struble, allowed students who got their work done early to play “eraser tag.”
“Everyone sat on top of their desk and tossed an eraser back and forth. If you dropped it or made a bad throw, you had to sit down in your chair. The object was to be the last one. Todd Hertzfeld and I sure had fun winging erasers across the room,” he recalled.
For the teachers, FTMS remains a special place, even after retirement. Aggie Drury, who taught sixth grade until 2006, said she would have come to work even without the paycheck.
“I loved every minute of it. I loved the kids and trying new programs,” she said. “I would go take classes and come back with new ideas to share.”
FTMS now houses grades 5-6, while the junior high has grades 7-8. Last week, Anthony Wayne Local Schools announced a pledge to complete 50 acts of community service in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the construction of FTMS and Monclova Primary School. The “Fifty for 50” project will include service projects between November 4, 2023 and November 4, 2024.
The effort kicked off on November 7 with an Election Day bake sale hosted by junior Emma Abraham at the Community of Christ Lutheran Church polling location. Proceeds from the sale benefit students in need of weekend food bags.
“This isn’t about fulfilling a quota of good deeds but rather an effort to show our gratitude,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz. “We hope that these activities will serve to instill in our students the importance of giving back to the community that has consistently supported their academic, athletic and personal pursuits.”
For updates on the projects, visit www.AnthonyWayneSchools.org/Fiftyfor50.