Berkley School District celebrates 175 years with photos, memorabilia

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Woodward Talk | Published October 7, 2015

 Berkley resident Elliot Ring inquires about the Berkley School District plaque during the district’s 175th anniversary event Oct. 2 at Anderson Middle School. The event included memorabilia and photos for the public to view.

Berkley resident Elliot Ring inquires about the Berkley School District plaque during the district’s 175th anniversary event Oct. 2 at Anderson Middle School. The event included memorabilia and photos for the public to view.

Photo by Victoria Zegler

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BERKLEY — At the corner of Catalpa Drive and Coolidge Highway in Berkley sits Berkley High School, where a senior class of nearly 300 students is working through its last year of high school and thinking about the future.


Across the street, however, Blackmon School was the one-room schoolhouse that started the Berkley School District in 1840 with about 30 students. In the 175 years since, the district has grown into a nine-building district that educates about 5,000 students every year.


The 2015-16 school year has been marked as a celebration year for the 175th anniversary of the district. The celebration continued Oct. 2 at Anderson Middle School with a gymnasium packed full of history, including photos, memorabilia, and current and past Berkley schools families.


“One hundred seventy-five years is pretty astounding really, and when we talk to people, a lot of them think we mean 75 years, as that is a long time to have a stake in the community,” said Berkley Communications Supervisor Jessica Stilger, who organized the celebration. “The district boundaries have not really changed over that time span, and a lot of alumni live in this area and send their children and grandchildren here.”


The celebration event was set up as a walk through Berkley schools’ history with photos, artifacts and articles from the 175-year past. The district partnered with the Berkley Historical Museum and the Berkley Education Foundation to present the memorabilia.


The event also came on the heels of the annual homecoming football game that night, so the district invited the alumni to stick around for the game as well.


In preparing for the event, Stilger said some of the memorabilia that was unearthed was a real surprise when compared to today.


“One of my favorites is a district ledger book from the 1860s to 1900s,” she said. “We scanned some of the pages showing teachers’ salaries from the late 1800s, what the district received in funding from taxes in the community, and it was all handwritten in pen and ink. And it is fun to see sports teams from the early 1900s and look at the equipment, like from football, and what they didn’t have to protect themselves compared to what they have now.


“We wanted an opportunity for everyone to come together and walk through the history of the district and enjoy looking at the educational excellence in the Berkley schools.”


In September, the Berkley High School graduating class of 1955 celebrated its 60th high school reunion, including Berkley resident Shirley Hansen. While the 2016 class has 295 students, Hansen said she graduated with only 46 students in her class, 17 of whom were at the reunion.


Hansen is one of only two 1955 graduates who live in Berkley, and she enjoyed sending her son to the same district she attended, and talking with her family now about the possibility of her grandson attending Berkley schools.


“One thing I have always told people is Berkley is a microcosm of society with all kinds of religions, races and everything,” Hansen said. “I didn’t want my son to go to a school in an area where all the kids were wealthy or poor or just the same. Part of school is learning how to function in society, and unless you are exposed to other cultures, you will not really learn what it is like, and I feel that is a quality I learned when I went to Berkley.”


On May 28, the district was recognized and honored by the Berkley Alumni Association, the Historical Society of Berkley and the Historical Society of Michigan with the presentation of the Michigan Milestone Award Sesquicentennial plaque for more than 150 years of excellence and service.


The plaque was installed on the site of the former Blackmon School and kicked off the yearlong celebration of the district’s anniversary.


Having seen the district grow and expand, Hansen said it is fascinating to get a look at the history of the district with events like the one held at Anderson.


“In 60 years the world has changed, and when I went here there was no swimming pool, no athletic complex, and there was no school theater,” she said. “Our parents thought about reading, writing and arithmetic and getting ready to go to college. Now the education is so diversified, and the kids have every opportunity in the world. The district recognizes all kids are different and learn in different ways and at different speeds.”


Stilger said the photos that were part of the Oct. 2 celebration will be scanned and made available on the district’s website, www.berkley schools.org, within two weeks.

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