By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

In 1982, a fresh young teacher graduate stepped into Pershing Park Elementary School in Killeen for a job interview.

The daughter of a soldier, Debbie Williams figured she could acquire a little job interview practice and then move on to other interviews in other places.

But, then-principal Gladys Driver liked what she saw in the young teacher and offered her a position.

Williams promptly returned to her car and cried.

"That interview was for practice," the teacher said, laughing at the memory recently. "Now, I had to go to someplace called central office to fill out paperwork. I was going to teach here for one year."

Thirty years later, Williams continues teaching at the same school on Central Texas Expressway along U.S. Highway 190 where the world drives by everyday.

This year, Pershing Park Elementary School celebrates 50 years. A celebration reception is from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the school, 1500 W. Central Texas Expressway.

Talking over memories and plans, Williams, the school's longest-serving faculty member, and campus instructional technologist Holly Landez said the school has adapted along with the growing, transient community around it.

"The military community has kept me here," Williams said. "I like the kind of kids we have here. Also, every principal has been here for the children. That's key."

The longtime teacher keeps every class photo since her first year so she can easily reminisce with former students and their parents, grandparents and other family who visit.

Walking across the school, which was built in 1962 and expanded and renovated multiple times, Williams points out the building changes and highlights the personal memories.

Along the walls, floral murals mingle with children's painted handprints, representing the school's annual United Way fundraiser. The colorful, signed and dated prints serve as unofficial archive of former students.

Changes seem to define the school. Pershing Park's mascot was the Pirates, it changed to Partners in Success and is now the Pumas.

The school opened with about 700 students and grew as large as 1,000 when portable buildings dotted the rear of the property and earned the moniker "the back 40," Williams recalled.

Now, the school stays around 740 students and has fewer portable buildings. A rezoning added more bus riders to the campus from nearby Fort Hood neighborhoods.

Some longtime Willow Springs area residents may recall seeing students parade along the walkway that connects Pershing Park to the neighborhoods across the highway.

Many students walked across the cement walkway and the school used the bridge for parades to mark antidrug campaigns.

During the Operation Desert Shield and Storm years, the walkway held handmade signs in support of soldiers.

Pershing Park Elementary School, like the neighborhood around it, is named for Gen. John J. Pershing, commander in chief of American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

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