Echoes from Killeen’s past sounded through the hallways of Fowler Elementary School on Saturday in an emotional family reunion celebrating a hallowed past and heralding a hopeful future.
The school, Killeen Independent School District’s smallest, built in 1956, will close when the school term ends next month and the staff will move to the district’s newest school building, also named Fowler Elementary School.
In a closing ceremony Saturday, principal Debra Drever and four former principals addressed a standing-room-only crowd, recalling generations of staff members who cared for children as their own.
At the end, former staff and students walked through the hallways again, visiting classrooms they once attended. They hugged former teachers, took photos of their classroom pictures and placed their hands on painted handprints on the walls.
In a powerful closing, Fowler music teacher Lillian Billie, a 42-year Killeen ISD teacher led an adult choir in songs that spoke of home and memories.
“It was fantastic,” Drever said, “a happy day.” The school’s principal, who attended the neighborhood school as a student, said she wanted the Fowler family to gather to celebrate the positive road they traveled.
Leona Parker, wife of the late Eugene Parker, the school’s first principal, was one of the hundreds who walked through the school. She said the day brought “a flood of memories” and noted that the land where the school sits on Trimmier Avenue was barren in 1956 and it was her husband who planted the trees in the shaded schoolyard.
Many spoke of the family feel Fowler maintained through the years. Sue Cummings, the school’s latest former principal, said she lost her mother the first year she was principal and the school’s staff provided her with needed support.
Becky Smith, a former principal who said she figured out she spent about 2,712 days at Fowler in 12 years, spoke of the spirit of the school.
She recalled dress-up days when she wore a gorilla suit and a black-eyed pea costume. She showed a picture of her family dog Sprout that turned up at the school as a stray.
Referring to a scripture from First Corinthians, she said, “It’s not the place, but the spirit of the people and you will carry that on to a different neighborhood.”
Dick Thomas, principal at Fowler from 1986 to 1992, said the word family best describes Fowler. He thanked school district leaders for maintaining the school’s name and praised the staff members who have served the school.
“I would say well done, good and faithful teachers,” Thomas said to the audience of Fowler faithful.
Following the formal ceremony, many walked the hallways stopping at enlarged photos of the school’s past and signed their names as evidence that “I was here.”
Many walked through the building as multiple generations.
Ian Osborn, who attended the school from 1999 to 2006, placed his hand on a handprint he made as an elementary student as his mother, Amy Mariah (1982 to 1986), and relative, Perk Bearden (1958-1960), took photos.
“It was a neighborhood school,” said Bearden, who recalled walking from his house near Conder Park to the school when he was 6 and 7 years old. “Back then it was a brand-new school. We thought it was huge.”
April Steck Ruggieri was one of many mothers pointing out her school photos to her own children. She was a teacher at Fowler from 1990 to 2001.
“It was a unique teaching experience,” Ruggieri said. “It molded me into the mother, teacher and woman I am today.”
Temple resident Richard Miller felt compelled to bring a framed copy of a report card he received upon completing the first day of school on Sept. 3, 1963. He was an assistant fire marshal as a fifth- and sixth-grader at the school.
“The best time of my life I spent here,” Miller said. “I have great memories. Stepping in here is stepping back in time 50 years.”