By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

I don't know but I've been told - this year Peebles turned to gold!

About 685 Peebles Elementary School students made footprints Thursday morning walking through their school building with party hats on and pushing borrowed grocery cart floats.

Several of the students chanted slogans wishing their school a happy birthday. They decorated donated shoes for the party theme, 50 Years of Footprints.

The students joined a group of past and present staff members and other guests on a sun-drenched ceremony on the school blacktop to mark the 50th anniversary of the north Killeen neighborhood school.

Three former principals and family members of two others joined current principal Gayle Dudley and David Peebles, the son of the late Lee Peebles, a former Killeen ISD superintendent and the school's namesake.

"You are what this is about," said Ernest Chambers, the school's first principal, who recalled 1960, when the school opened in a Methodist church in downtown Killeen prior to completion of the building.

Chambers said the first Peebles staff worked during the Christmas vacation of 1960 to "move into our sparkling new building," at 1800 N. W.S. Young Drive.

In those early days, the ground was dirt and rocks and Chambers said an innovative PE teacher came up with a game for students to fill garbage tins with rocks in order to clear the rocky ground.

Megian Douglass, granddaughter of the late Jack Arnold, spoke on behalf of the school's second principal.

She said her grandfather adored the school and told stories daily of the children. She recalled attending the school and getting in trouble three times for one infraction, from her teacher, her grandfather principal and her mother.

Melissa Connell spoke on behalf of the late Dr. Anna Connell, her mother and Peebles' third principal. She said her mom brought a woman's touch to the school and went about decorating the building.

Connell, Union Grove Middle School librarian, remembered when the Peebles library was contained in two classrooms.

Former principal Sherry Ward said Peebles was a pre-kindergarten through third-grade campus while she was principal. She remembered completion of the school's PE building, new library and cafeteria.

"My prayer for you is that you will work hard and respect each other," Ward said to the students. "Enjoy your education and you will have good memories."

Current Iduma Elementary School principal Judy Tyson, Peebles' most recent former principal said she and Dudley are best friends of 12 years. The two are principals of KISD's two International Baccalaureate World Schools at the elementary level.

During five years as principal at Peebles, Tyson said every morning she said "Good morning Peebles students" over the intercom and could hear the echo of student replies down the hallways.

"I'm very proud of this school," Tyson said. "Peebles has always been a family. I'm so happy to still be a part of the family."

David Peebles, son of former KISD superintendent Lee Peebles, said his father came to Killeen during the Great Depression when he found out the school district needed a teacher.

Lee Peebles was a teacher and coach when the whole school district was contained in the Avenue D School in downtown Killeen. He was superintendent from 1935 to 1953 and was school district business manager from 1953 to 1970.

His son said when the school board decided on the name for Peebles Elementary School, his dad thought the name was People's. He never considered his name would end up on a school building.

Peebles said his dad watered and mowed the football field, drove a bus, counted gate receipts after sporting events and even drove newly acquired buses to Killeen from Georgia.

The former superintendent started KISD's breakfast and lunch program, as well as the transportation department.

Peggy Volpe, a kindergarten teacher at Peebles the past 32 years and Dana Tucker, a kindergarten aide the past 25 years, both attended Peebles as students.

Tucker said two PE teachers at Peebles mentored her. "They inspired me to give students something special everyday. For me, this is home."

Volpe attended Peebles from third to sixth grade, including when it opened in 1960 at the Methodist church. She recalled her teacher walking sideways to make her way up the crowded rows of desks.

Those early days, she said, influenced her to become a teacher. "We've always been a family," Volpe said. "We carry one another. It's uplifting. We care about each other."

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