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Wilkes students take final look back at their beloved school

Former Wilkes Elementary teacher Sylvia Martine shows students an apron keepsake from her wedding shower that was signed by all of her students in 1960.  - Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review
Former Wilkes Elementary teacher Sylvia Martine shows students an apron keepsake from her wedding shower that was signed by all of her students in 1960.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review

Students got a humorous history lesson during their last assembly of the year at Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary School.

They also became a part of history themselves.

The all-school gathering on Friday, June 15 was the last time the students, teachers and staff would gather in the gym at the school. Wilkes Elementary will be torn down sometime this summer to make way for a new Wilkes Elementary that is being built alongside the old school on Madison Avenue NE.

Students packed the gymnasium, along with parents, former teachers and others, as an impressive lineup of Wilkes veterans shared stories about the venerable institution.

There were many endearing stories of year’s past, and tales of the school’s move to modern times.

Sylvia Martine recalled her first year at Wilkes as a first-grade teacher in 1960. She was known as Ms. Smith back then.

“I got married that year and my whole class came to the church at Saint Barnabus,” she said.

Donning a white apron, Martine held out a corner of the 50-year-old keepsake from her wedding shower.

“And they all signed their name here,” she told the students.

“Some of those first-grade students are still around on the island now, considerably older,” Martine said to a laughing audience.

Though she left the school district after her first year, she later returned to teach at Ordway Elementary for 20 years.

Lee Adamske, the school’s fourth principal, recalled her 12 years at the school and how she helped spend a “boatload” of money on new technology, on everything from computers to smart boards.

“If you have a computer in your classroom, I was probably here when it was purchased,” she said.

The star of the show, though, was Ed King, the first principal at Wilkes.

“I started in 19 ... wayback,” King said to loud laughter.

Though King came without prepared remarks — he said he didn’t expect to have a speaking role during the assembly — he quickly had the great group of youngsters entranced.

“Stop me if I bore you,” he quipped.

It never happened.

He recalled the school where he taught before Wilkes, a wood-frame building in Winslow that had one of its most important amenities on the outside.

“We had to go out on the porch to use the bathroom,” he told the students, and many looked on in disbelief.

Wilkes was much smaller when it was first opened, he said, and King taught the fifth grade.

“And by virtue of the telephone being in my classroom, I became principal,” he said.

All three of his children attended Wilkes, as did his grandchildren.

“Can you imagine going to the school where your dad or your grandpa is the principal?” King asked the kids. “You really don’t have a chance to get out of line.”

“And to top that off, when they left here they went to the middle school, and their mother was the PE teacher. They didn’t have a chance.”

Some times, his own kids had to come to the office. But that wasn’t as bad as it sounds; that’s where they sold tickets for school lunches.

“Our youngest girl came in one day for her lunch money and said, ‘Fill it up, dad!’” King laughed.

Bruce Colley, a longtime elementary school teacher and former principal himself, praised the patience of those at Wilkes who have made sacrifices during the construction of the new school.

The replacement school is being built behind the historic Wilkes school, and students have been in class while construction has been going on outside this school year. The new school will be finished by the time classes resume on Aug. 29

“I want to congratulate the staff, the students and the parents for putting up for a full year without a playground,” Colley said.

“I was a school principal for 15 years, and the thought of not having a playground gives me chills to this moment.”

“I’ve lived through a couple of remodels at buildings, but nothing like this,” he added. “It’s pretty awesome that you survived.”

Colley recalled working for King as a teacher, and said his former principal had been a role model for him.

“One of his goals was to be retired for as many years as he worked, and I’m happy to report he has exceeded that,” Colley said.

“For that reason, he remains a role model for me,” he quipped.

Colley encouraged the students to keep an eye on their school over the summer, as the old one is demolished and a new school rises to take its place.

“It’s kind of fun to watch old buildings come down. It makes a big mess. And nothing is cooler than that,” he said.

“I think you’ll enjoy watching the new building really move out,” Colley added.

It was King, the school’s first principal, who put it all in perspective, however.

“It’s been a good ride,” King said. “We worked so hard, we wore the building out.”

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