In January 1965, students in the Tennyson-Potosi area moved the aging, three-story St. Andrews School in Potosi to a brand new facility that was a joint venture between the parishes of St. Andrews in Potosi and St. Thomas in Tennyson.
That facility, SS. Andrew-Thomas had its 50th anniversary marked this past weekend as more than 200 people, many alumni or past/current instructors at the school, came together to share stories of memories they had up and down the halls of the school.
“Fifty years seems like a long time,” Rev. Richard Leffler stated in the anniversary program for the school. “A lot has changed during those years. However, one precious thing has always remained the same - that this places, this building, this school, was founded and continues to exist because of faith, hope, and love.”
For many of the first students of SS. Andrew-Thomas, those first days roaming the halls were something they cherish.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Karla Tobin Leiser, who was part of the first first grade class at SS. Andrew Thomas. “We could run all over. This had a huge gym that was basically unheard of at that time…..it was all you could have wanted in a school as a kid.”
“When you look around at this school, the planning committee 50 years ago had everything right,” she added.
She followed up that the running around took place outside, as the sisters made sure order was maintained in the school. “The old stories about the sisters were true - they do the discipline,” Leiser stated, adding how amazed she is even today that they were able to watch over 40 students in a classroom at a time and keep things so it was a learning atmosphere. “We learned to respect, and thats what mattered.”
Leiser’s siblings went to the school as well, and she is proud she was able to send her son to the school too. She said that over the years, the teachers the school has had teach values and breathe life into the spirit of education for the students. “I think I give all the teachers credit for that.”
Angie Uppena Pierce, one of the chairs of the anniversary celebration and who has two daughters in the school currently, shared her love for the school. “It’s really important for us to have a Catholic tradition,” Pierce stated, wanting the institution to be around for her daughters’ children as well.
For older daughter Abigail, being able to walk the same halls as her mother, and maybe on the basketball team like her mom is important. “It means a lot,” Abigail said. She said she has learned a lot at SS. Andrew-Thomas, “you take the important lessons as they come.”
Alum Courtney Leibfried echoed the sentiments of having his children learn the same things he did growing up. “I see a lot of the history and values come out in his days as mine,” Courtney said of what he sees for his son, Cayden.
Leibfried bumped into former teacher Karen Marklein, who taught third and fourth grade at the school for 15 years. “I picture you all the same age, you never have grown up,” Marklein quipped, who said she traveled back because of all those fond memories of the students at the school. “They were wonderful kids,” Marklein said, noting all of the Christmas concerts and other programs the children performed over the years. “When you see the video (shown as part of the celebration, showing pictures from the decades), you go ‘I remember that.'”
Beth Flesch is one of the current crop of teachers at the school, having been at SS. Andrew-Thomas for 23 years. “It was my first teaching job, and I cannot imagine teaching anywhere else,” she said. “The people in this community, if you need anything, they support you 100 percent. Father is wonderful, Sister is wonderful, everyone was wonderful.”
Flesh stated that a lot has changed during those first years, when the school had only a couple of computers. Now they have incorporated smart boards, but even with changes, there are still a lot of constants. “I love it here, otherwise I wouldn’t have been here this long.”
Current student Brittany Horner thought it was cool to be at a school with 50 years of history on display, as pictures and newspaper clippings from over those five decades were on display at the school. As for how the school is now, “it’s hard and you learn a lot.”
Horner’s mother, Amy Bailie, went to the school for two years, and Brittany’s aunt works at the school. Amy said she gave her children the choice of where they wanted to go, and Brittany chose to go to SS. Andrew-Thomas.
During the formal program for the celebration, alum Tom Downs gave the keynote. A member of the class of 1966, Downs’ class was the first to attend one full year at the then-new school, and the experience profoundly changed his life, most notably that it was when he met his future wife, Jane Markus.
“For me, from that time on my life got a little bit blurry,” Tom joked to the crowd.
Jane had been attending Potosi Public School, but her father, Richard Markus, was on the original building and grounds committee that helped plan and build the school.
“What kind of vision did the bishop have in the early 1960s when he thought about bringing these two parishes together?” Downs asked, noting the insight and determination it took to get the school built. “It was on behalf of our children that we accomplished this.”
Admitting he was mischievous in his youth, Downs avoided telling stories that would have implicated his fellow classmates, “they asked, ‘are you going to tell this story?” Instead he focused on how the school influenced him, as he would be an educator for his career, core values instilled in him and the other students that came through the school.
Elise Oyen, a fellow student in those early years, remembered one of those moments which involved Gary David, a shell, and a hole in the ceiling of their one-year old classroom.
“It has been a wonderful place to work in, and the teachers have been outstanding,” noted current principal Sister Elizabeth Dunn, who is completing her fourth and final year at the school. She said she was not surprised by the large crowd that came back for the celebration. “People really valued the education they received here, and wanted to come back and celebrate it.”