Kindergarten class that stayed in touch

Members of the kindergarten class of 1953-54 at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Galveston have stayed close to each other throughout the years.

Courtesy file photo

Sept. 8, 1953, was the anniversary of the 1900 Storm, and the day that 60 precocious children stormed the kindergarten at Sacred Heart Elementary School on Galveston Island.

The kindergarten classroom was in a two-room wooden building, separate from the impressive main elementary school. It was large enough to house 60 students.

Instead of desks, the students sat at rectangular or round tables. The floors were wooden.

The windows were large. A piano stood in the front corner of the room. The cafeteria was down the hall.

The teacher was Sister Mary Ernest (Elizabeth A. Schwerdtfeger).

She graduated from Notre Dame and went on to obtain her doctorate in music from the Sorbonne in Paris and her doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome.

Before the start of the school year, the sisters sent out instructions to the parents as to how they were to behave.

The letter said, “Tuesday will be a great day for your ‘Little One’ who begins a school career.

“For some, it will be an easy break from Mother and home; for others it will be quite difficult. Please do your part in helping the good Sister care for these … children without difficulty, by trusting her.

“This you’ll show by leaving immediately and by not returning until 11:45.”

Based on reports, not all the children had an easy “break.”

Each day’s schedule included prayers, reading, coloring, music, resting, snack, recess and maybe standing in the corner.

Sister Ernest had only one assistant, an eighth-grade student at Sacred Heart, Edna Patane Grillo.

When asked what it was like to take care of 60 children, she responded: “You were no trouble at all.”

This may be true, but that’s not how the students remember it; most of their first recollections of kindergarten are getting in trouble.

After kindergarten, most of the class continued to attend Sacred Heart. Many attended Kirwin, Dominican and Ursuline together. Others attended the same college.

Regardless, of where they went, they have remained close in spirit, if not in proximity.

They find time to gather for “any excuse.” Last October, the class of 1953-54 gathered in Galveston to celebrate 60 years of friendship.

The activities included a golf outing, dinner, a Buddy Holly revue, a trip to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and Mass at Sacred Heart Church.

The Mass was celebrated by Father Frank Fabj, perhaps the most successful member of the class of 1953 of all.

The class lost a number of classmates, including Jendell Combs, Dickey Coffey, Albert Ibanez, Pat O’Hara (a Vietnam casualty), Gary Negrini, Skippy Padia, Lawrence Nieves, Richard Pierson, Herbie Seale and Jerry Marza. They are not forgotten.

Cynthia Wilkinson, a member of the Class of 1953-54, is the daughter of the late Frances Wilkinson, who had Wilkinson’s Grocery.

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