By Dave Ongie, News Editor
When Jane Anderson walked through the doors of South Side School as a first-grader back in 1948, she had no way of knowing her life would become so closely tied to the place.
As she returned to South Side last Saturday for the school’s 100th anniversary, she was able to look back fondly at a life spent devoted to the school and the generations of students who passed through its doors during her years as a student and a teacher at South Side.
“I’m deeply rooted in South Side,” Anderson said. “It’s my family.”
Anderson was a student at the school from first through sixth grade, attending along with her siblings Tim and Nancy Wilhoit. She returned to do her student teaching at South Side before being offered her first teaching job at the school, which she happily accepted. As the years unfolded, her daughters Judy and Janet Anderson attended the school, and prior to Anderson’s retirement in 2004, her grandson Jonathan Grant became a South Side student and accompanied his grandmother to school every day.
The tradition at South Side runs deep, and the school’s strong ties to the surrounding Tree Streets community was evident to anyone in attendance at Saturday’s centennial celebration. There was a period of time, however, when it seemed certain the school wouldn’t be around long enough to mark its 100th anniversary.
Former South Side principal Dr. John Boyd recalled his arrival at South Side in January of 1985. Boyd came to the school to serve as the interim principal and was told South Side would soon be shut down and the students would be consolidated into a new 500-student elementary school at another location. That began what Boyd referred to as a “10-year tug of war” between the Tree Streets community and the city government.
“We fought for the neighborhood school for 10 years,” Anderson recalled. “We were afraid we’d lose the battle.”
When Boyd looked back, he marveled at the “hard work and good will used to find a solution to a very complex and vexing problem.”
While the closure of South Side remained in limbo, Henry Johnson Elementary was closed in favor of the newly constructed Woodland Elementary and Keystone Elementary gave way to Mountain View Elementary School.
Finally, a compromise was reached that allowed South Side to remain, but it didn’t come without a great deal of sacrifice from the surrounding community. In order to expand the school to its current size, the city had to purchase and level 10 homes. As Boyd recalled the sacrifices made by those homeowners, his voice cracked with emotion.
The end result, of course, was the beautiful building that welcomed back former teachers, students administrators and members of the community last Saturday morning. Bill Darden, who first came to the school in 1963 as a first-grader, spoke to the endurance of South Side.
When the new building was under construction in the early 1990s, Darden was on a committee considering whether the school should be named after a prominent Johnson Citian. Suggestions were accepted from the public as to what the new school should be called. Darden recalled the meeting where the suggestions were pulled from the box. The first five suggestions were some variation of South Side School.
And so, the name remained on the school that refused to budge from the neighborhood that nurtured it from the beginning. Somehow, that seems fitting.
“South Side is a great state of mind,” Darden said.