The community of Nikiski bid farewell to their first elementary school last month with a community event that was filled with nostalgic memories as well as hope for the future. When the school opened its doors in 1963 it was known as North Kenai Elementary, the name was officially changed to Nikiski Elementary in 1982.
The theme of the day, organized by a host of community volunteers was "Looking to the Future, Celebrating the Past." The celebration included featured speakers from the Kenai Peninsula School District, a Dixieland Band, and a barbeque of hot dogs and hamburgers with all the trimmings. "There were hundreds of people involved in today's events, they had pictures of all the classes that have been at Nikiski over the years from 1963 on and many of them were in the audience, along with many of those who worked here. This school literally impacted thousands of individual lives over the years," said Superintendent of Schools, Donna Peterson. The building will be turned back over to the Borough, with a two year term within which, if population conditions changed, the school could be reopened noted Peterson.
Gary Lamm attended North Kenai Elementary when it opened its doors in 1963, and he was present for the closing ceremonies, "What I remember the most was chasing the girls on the playground," admitted Lamm, who still lives in the Nikiski area. Rep. Mike Chenault was also a Nikiski Elementary alumni, "I remember the skiing the most, Wally Sidback had a cross country ski program and we'd go on 10 to 20 mile ski hikes and build up points for patches," said Chenault. Both alumni recalled that the disciplinary methods were quite different back then, "I remember what the ping pong paddles were used for and even a rubber hose, you'd never see it today, but I don't think it hurt us any or made us any the worse for wear," recalled Chenault. "The discipline was a good thing," agreed Lamm. Lucretia Carter taught 2nd grade back in 1966 and added, "Things have certainly changed, we use to call it the board of education, but it was never used unless necessary, and yes it was effective."
Judy Leichliter was the longest tenured teacher at the celebration having taught for 27 years at Nikiski, "It's been kind of a sad year, with many tears at times, but we know that change happens and that change will work for the benefit of the community. Every year has been very rewarding and the kids that were here taught me a lot more than I ever taught them," said Leichliter. The Nikiski Elementary population will move to North Star Elementary school in the fall where Lori Manion will remain principal, "The theme of the entire consolidation process has been Opening a new door in 2004," said Manion. Nikiski Elementary principal Mark Norgren, will become the principal of Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, and Hope schools.
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