Open house to celebrate memories of Huffman

Peggy Revell

With F.H. Huffman School set to close its doors at the end of this school year, the community is invited to attend an open house on Friday, May 28 to commemorate more than 50 years of education and memories.
“The spirit in which we’re planning the closing [celebration] is to really celebrate the memories,” Huffman principal Donna Kowalchuk said about the open house, which will run from 4-7 p.m.
“It’s more like a reunion, with people coming together to chat and tell stories about days gone by,” she remarked.
Besides sharing memories, there will be a wide array of photos from past decades on display, as well as snacks and refreshments provided.
To mark the occasion, former Huffman student and local artist Connie Cuthbertson has created a painting of the school, which will be unveiled at the open house and then travel with staff and students as they move over to the new Robert Moore School this fall.
It was a little over 50 years ago when F.H. Huffman first opened its doors in 1955.
“We had a very good start in that school, we had a nice beginning,” recalled Nita Mills, one of the first teachers who worked at Huffman.
A Grade 1 teacher, Mills noted the classes were bigger back then than they are now—often with more than 30 pupils.
“One year I had eight girls and the rest were boys, and the boys were the type that liked to wrestle and fool around, so I had quite a year that year,” Mills said.
“And, of course, that was the year that the inspector came, and he didn’t think the discipline was that good in that classroom.
“I was not really a disciplinarian with children that age,” Mills explained. “They liked me and I liked them, that’s the way that I dealt with the children.
“I wanted them to enjoy the year.”
Some of the memories that come to mind from her years at Huffman include a Hallowe’en party one year where one younger girl went dressed up as the president and she went dressed up as the president’s wife.
“And she got the clothing and we danced together, and nobody knew me, nobody knew us, I even danced with the principal.
“He had no idea who he was dancing with because we didn’t speak, we just danced,” Mills laughed.
Another memory of Huffman was that of a Christmas concert when they performed the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
Students trying out for the role of the troll had to sing “I’m a troll, fo-lee-ro, I’m a troll fo-lee-ro, I’m a troll fo-lee-ro and I’ll eat you for supper,” she recalled, with the children voting on who would be best for the role.
“They chose the right one,” she noted. “The others didn’t carry a tune that well, but [one boy] did.
“So Christmas concert day came and I knew he would do it, he sang beautifully.
“He sang ‘I’m a troll, fo-lee-ro, I’m a troll fo-lee-ro, I’m a troll fo-lee-ro and I’ll eat you for thupper.
“Well, the crowd just hooted. He couldn’t pronounce his S’s,” Mills laughed.
Overall, though, one of Mills’ favourite memories of Huffman is just being with the young children.
“And the kids even now­—from the time I taught 30 years in three different schools—kids will say ‘Hello’ to me even now, ‘You were my Grade 1 teacher,” and that makes your day,” she remarked.
“The first day as principal at F.H. Huffman school stands out in my mind,” echoed Henry Miller, who was the school’s principal from 1965-75 while also teaching the older grades.
“Having had little experience and no training for a principalship, I was quite apprehensive,” he admitted. “What was I supposed to do?
“Before the bell rang that day, I realized I did not have to worry. The teachers took over,” he continued. “As the pupils came in, they explained what was expected of the children’s behaviour in the hallway and what I should be doing.
“I was even told where to stand.”
He credited teachers Mickey Christiansen, Vera LaRocque, and Laura Donaldson for taking control, making sure there were few problems his first week while he was “trained.”
“Being in a small school was great,” Miller enthused. “We knew all the pupils in the school. As well we came to know all the parents.
“The teachers and the parents they were really supportive,” he added. “The teachers were all talented and really good teachers, and the kids seemed to want to learn a lot.”
One of Miller’s biggest memories was taking the children outdoors for hands-on learning and science—such as to a bush area which was just down the road from the school.
Outdoor learning also took place when the school made trips out to Sunny Cove.
“We did all kinds of outdoor activities—I remember taking the kids out at five in the morning, some of them—not everyone volunteered to do this, of course,” he laughed.
“And there was a parent with us, and we went across the highway to a pond and sat and listened to birds and identified birds and things like that.”
And with the hands-on learning, Miller always would have creatures in the classroom, including snakes which always seemed to escape.
“I remember one supply teacher saying ‘I’ll never go back in there again because [snakes] are running all over,’” he laughed.
While he usually was at school by 6:30 every morning to do paperwork, Miller recalled one embarrassing moment when a friend phoned him up early one morning, saying there was a deer nearby.
So they went out hunting at 5 a.m.
“Unfortunately we got a deer, so we gutted it out,” Miller recalled. “I had put my suit in the school so I could just come and change.”
But he also had to go home with the deer first—and didn’t have time to wash up if he wanted to be on time.
“So I got into the office and there’s a parent there with a new child to register, and I’m all bloody,” he laughed.
Huffman School also will hold many memories for Karen Peltomaki both as a former student and current teacher and parent.
“I have very fond memories of this place, right through from kindergarten right up to Grade 5,” said Peltomaki, who now teaches kindergarten in the same room that was the her first classroom as a student.
Her kindergarten classroom made “quite the impression” on her when she first enrolled back in 1974.
Since then, kindergarten has changed quite a bit, including there no longer being a nap time.
“And I adored Mrs. Benson—she was my kindergarten teacher. So I have really positive memories of her, too,” Peltomaki noted, adding she still can remember the house centre and working on the little projects that are common in kindergarten.
“I went in the afternoon,” she recalled about the split days kindergarten students had back then.
“And one of my friends right now—she actually has ended up being my friend for my whole life—she was in the morning and she was my cubby partner, so we shared the same cubby.
“I think the biggest thing that was quite a shocker was when I came back here to teach, and supply teaching in here for the first couple of times and seeing how short everything is,” Peltomaki recalled about returning as a teacher.
“Everything is so little, but from a child’s perspective it’s huge.”
Over the years as a teacher at Huffman, one of the classes Peltomaki enjoyed teaching most was the “Living and Learning” class—a small life skills-style class for children with specific needs such as behavioural issues which meant they couldn’t always be in a regular classroom.
“It was a fantastic teaching year for me,” she enthused. “It was an eye-opener about children and just the fact that all children—regardless of what’s going on with them—have something to offer.
“And it’s getting past that, if there’s negativity, it’s getting past that, seeing through that, and being able to bring that out in them.
“The other area right now which is really rewarding is kindergarten,” Peltomaki added.
“This is my third year teaching kindergarten full-time and I just think these little guys are adorable, from what they come in with in September to when they’re going out reading [and] writing, it’s amazing.
“To be able to be in here, I just think it’s fantastic to actually be able to teach here in this same place in this same school, in this same room,” she stressed.
“Sometimes I’m quite overwhelmed that I’m actually in the same spot doing that.
“And now I’m just very, very happy that my son gets to come here, as well, and he gets to experience the small school,” she said about her son who is now in junior kindergarten at Huffman—something she’s going to miss when her other son starts junior kindergarten this fall at the new larger school.
“I really enjoy working with the staff here,” Peltomaki added, describing the current and past staff as making a really cohesive team because of being in a smaller school.
“I’m going to miss it, for sure,” she remarked. “I’m going to really miss this little building when we’re not here.”