The students came from years away, back to Gault Middle School, the place where they started growing up.
The school on Tacoma’s East Side closes this summer, shuttered by tight budgets and declining enrollment. This fall, remaining students from Gault (and McIlvaigh Middle School, which also is closing) will enter a new building: First Creek Middle School.
Friday was the closing ceremony for Gault – a farewell party for the proud Gazelles, the school mascot. The place was packed. The lines spilled out the door. Returning students were divided by decade, stretching back to 1927.
Many said the place looked the same, though it seemed so much smaller. Ex-students walked the halls in gossiping knots, echoes of their younger selves.
“Remember Mrs. Hill?” one woman said to another.
“She was in attendance,” the other said.
“Yeah,” the first said with emphasis. “She was a tough cookie.”
Robert “David” Rebar, who graduated from Gault in 1963, couldn’t resist a return visit, along with his three brothers. When they told him about the closing ceremony, Rebar replied with two words: “I’ll drive.”
His fondest memory? A teacher. Willie Stewart, biology.
Yes, that Willie Stewart, whose career in Tacoma schools spans five decades. Stewart started as a teacher, later became the principal of Lincoln High School, and moved on to district administration. He retired in 1996, then won a seat on the Tacoma School Board, where he stayed until 2005.
“One of the few who really had something good to say about me,” Rebar remembered.
A current teacher, Barbara Williams, looks forward to the new building. “They were talking about a new school when I got here in 2000,” she said.
Williams teaches special education. She remembers the rainy days, and buckets spread across the floor to catch the leaks from the tired ceiling.
“I feel fine,” she said. “It’s time we get a new school. The kids are going with us, so we’re not leaving them behind.”
Jessica Crask, 14, is a member of Gault’s final graduating class. On Friday, she wore a badge and stood outside Room 108, welcoming former students from the 1980s.
Her school’s closing is a disappointment, she said. The new school will come, but the history of the old one will have no home.
“They had so many memories that are already here. The … what’s the word? The legacy will end,” she said. “The Gazelles will have nowhere else to roam.”
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486