SOUTHAMPTON – Stepping spryly with a cane, white goatee and plenty of gusto, Bob Clark, out in front of his wife, accelerated Saturday into the entrance of Buder Elementary School at Landsdowne and Macklind avenues.
Hurrying as if running late for class, he couldn’t wait to set foot inside of the elementary school at 5319 Lansdowne Ave. that he graduated from more than 60 years ago.
Once inside, Clark walked the halls, casing former classrooms and pointing out changes. He snapped cellphone photos, awakening and capturing good, old memories. Clark, 70, especially remembered the impressive stairwell and the school bell clock that was once set off by a mechanism made of paper.
On the opposite end of the first-floor hall, he stopped and planted his cane, remembering his kindergarten class and the schoolboy crush he had had on the teacher.
Standing nearby as a guide and adding a bit of surrealism to his musing was the current eye-catching kindergarten teacher, Karen Frank, with whom he spoke briefly.
Clark told her of his teacher’s congenial attentiveness. “She was very beautiful too; I was in love with her,” he said.
In appreciation, Frank remarked, “It makes me feel good to know we are remembered for years to come.”
Clark was just one of about a dozen bright-eyed, reminiscing alumni who proudly accepted an invitation to the kick-off to school’s 100-year anniversary celebration.
For many reasons beyond the century milestone, and for many people – former students, community residents and staff, some whom fall into all three categories – it was a big deal.
Opened in 1921, the school is named for Susan Rassieur Buder, a notable and caring German immigrant and businesswoman who willed that all children should have a place to play and learn.
As such, Buder Park and Buder Library are also named in her honor. In fact, the library, built onto the school in 1922, was the first St. Louis Public Library in south St. Louis.
“I always thought it was fascinating,” Donna Agah, president of the Southampton Neighborhood Association, said of the library’s genesis there.
The Buder Branch of the St. Louis Public Library is now situated at 4401 Hampton Ave.
The original library building, still attached to the school, is the subject of fundraising along with the milestone celebration. The plan is to transform the former library into a state-of-art media center.
“It’s quite amazing to have institutions start their second 100 years,” Agah said.
Stacy Himmelspach, a 1971 alum and chair of the Buder 100 Anniversary Steering Committee, said the school wanted more of an interactive experience for the students.
“We want to tap into their curiosity,” Himmelspach said.
Going forward, the school wants to further strengthen bonds with its families and neighbors and be a role model for district schools, Himmelspach said.
At the end of the open house, the school hosted a basketball game that pitted alumni (The Old Dogs) vs. current students (The Bulldogs).
Warren Hayden, another 1971 grad and basketball coach, remembers the school’s good relationship with area residents. He recalled playing with neighborhood friends in the schoolyard until dark, and the adult evening classes through which his mother earned her GED.
“We referred to it as Buder University,” he said.
Designated a “regular integrated” school, Buder sits in the diverse Southampton neighborhood. In many cases it is the first school that children of immigrants to St. Louis attend.
Currently, there are 14 languages spoken at the school.
“It’s a wonderful and diverse school with a lot of different cultures,” said Mary Thompson, who has taught various grade levels at Buder for 41 years.
She said she loved to see the alums come back.
“We got a lot of people that stayed here,” she said.
Miaad Abd, who immigrated to St. Louis from Iraq in 2009, said the school made her transition here very easy and favorable.
She has three children who attend the school, and she now teaches preschool there.
“I liked the school; it had so many activities,” Abd said. “I saw my kids day by day developing and learning more skills – they even wanted to go to school on the weekends.”
“Immigration is important to our district,” said state Rep. Donna Barringer, D-MO., 82nd Dist. Barringer, a former 16th Ward Alderwoman, has been working to improve the neighborhood’s business district.
“We have a lot of diversity from now and then, and I chose this neighborhood many years ago because it reminds me of a small town.”
Fourteenth Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard presented the school with a resolution from City Hall. So did Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office via Wilford Pinkney Jr., the new director of children, youth and families.
“She [the school’s namesake] believed that all students have a good education,” Howard said. “Buder is carrying on that heritage and the message of a good education.”