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A look back, a look ahead: Solway Elementary celebrates 25th anniversary

The opening of a time capsule, buried in 1991, highlighted a Monday afternoon celebration at Solway Elementary, which celebrated its 25th anniversary by rededicating the school. Pictured are, from left, principal Tami Wesely and fifth-graders Emma Mattfield and Peyton Oelrich, who unrolled a New Kids on the Block poster. (Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer)

SOLWAY --  As each item was unearthed from a 1991 time capsule, you could hear the laughs and whispers spread throughout the gymnasium.

Slap bracelets. A classic Nintendo Power magazine.

A pair of fifth-graders unrolled a New Kids on the Block poster and adults laughed as students asked one another what a “New Kid” is. Or was.

They did, however, immediately recognize the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure -- Donatello, as it turned out -- but other items were a bit more of a mystery, such as a cassette tape from the band Bananarama.

There was a handwritten letter from a student to President George H. W. Bush, lobbying for the preservation of the blue whale, and a newspaper reporting on the beginning of what would become the first Iraq war.

The opening of the time capsule was a highlight of an afternoon celebration at Solway Elementary, where administrators, staff and students gathered to rededicate their school in honor of its 25th anniversary.

“Twenty-five years ago, wise people in Bemidji Area Schools thought about what they needed as far as having schools for boys and girls to learn and those wise people … one of the ideas they came up with was building a new school in Solway and you’re in that new school today,” said Jim Hess, district superintendent, as he addressed students, staff and community members.

Hess commended the actions of the School Board at that time, specifically thanking retired school board member Gene Dillon, who served during those years and was in attendance Monday.

Solway School is one of seven elementary schools in Bemidji Area Schools. In 2012, Solway Elementary was named a Reward School for being in the top 15 percent of schools in the state. This year, it was named a Celebration School, another state designation for high-performing schools that aren’t deemed Reward Schools.

“(As) I walk down these hallways and I walk into the classrooms, I’m amazed by all of the great things that are going on this school,” said principal Tami Wesely, in her seventh year at Solway. “I want to thank you students for all the hard work that you do and I want to congratulate and thank our staff that work hard every day to give you the best education that they can.”

Richard Anderson, now a Beltrami County Commissioner, was one of several guests who spoke to the history of the school, which replaced the “old” Solway school, a smaller brick building nearer to Solway’s downtown.

“When I was in kindergarten and first grade, that’s where I went to school,” Anderson said, referencing the old building.

In fact, it was where he first started teaching, after he moved back to the area after having started his career in the Twin Cities.

“I really missed Solway and in 1971, I put in an application …. and I can remember how nice it was to come back home, to teach in a small community, where everyone kind of knew everyone else,” he said. “But there was one thing was kind of troubling about the old school.”

Students had to go downstairs for physical education, music and lunch.”

To do so, “We always had to walk by the furnace, this great big, huge furnace right in the middle of the school,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t a real safe place to be.”

When the School Board decided to explore options for a new school, Anderson said Solway supporters initially were a little concerned.

“Most of us in this community worried, ‘Uh-oh, there’s going to be a new school built in Bemidji and we’re going to lose our school,’ ” he said.

But that didn’t happen, he said, echoing Hess as he thanked former board members, administrators and school supporters for their commitment to the Solway community.

Back in time

After hearing from speakers, attention turned to the students’ favorite part of the program, the opening of the time capsule, buried in 1991 a few years after the new school opened.

After seeing what previous students preserved for them, current students created their own capsule to be opened in January 2039, each class having already selected their items: class lists and pictures, writings on what the students themselves expect or hope to be doing 25 years from now, a grocery ad detailing current prices, a copy of Teen Vogue to monitor ever-changing fashions, rubber band necklaces and bracelets, a signed Celebration School poster and much more.

It was perhaps a mirror image of 1991: Students packing writings and objects into a capsule, wondering whether future classes would know what they were, such as, from modern days, a jump drive.

Two decades ago, a group of students packed an incandescent light bulb into the time capsule as an example of regular day-to-day life, not knowing that in 2014, that lightbulb is nearly obsolete.

Yet, the characters on the plastic “The Simpsons” were immediately recognizable, nearly 25 years later.

“They’ve been around a long time, haven’t they?” Wesely said.