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Benson column: Academy Building reverence

Last Tuesday evening we had over 200 people attend a farewell open house at the Academy Building. We honored the past and looked fondly on our children's future.

Among those who attended were alumni, former teachers, board members (past and present) and administrators of the Academy Building. The gathering was one to remember as we all shared in the feeling of pride in either serving at, or attending this school as a student; we all felt proud to be part of this community that relentlessly puts kids first in so many ways—including their education.

The Academy Building is part of that pride and we fully understand, share and appreciate the passion for this historical place; certainly this is a place that has a long history in educating our community.

Although there is some sadness in seeing replaced the 1920's and 40's sections of the Academy, our board and our community have made the decision to turn another chapter in our educational history book. None of these decisions were reached overnight—in fact the process leading to this change took well over a decade.

As we turn this chapter, we do so with great reverence, and this farewell open house was part of that respectful process to honor the education (and the memories) that were forged at the Academy.

We celebrated the fact that our school board and community voters have made a commitment to keep a school at this same site where there has been a school since 1854.

We have also committed to preserve some artifacts; some items for a silent auction to be held on May 4; we will preserve a few items and build them into the new addition; preserve photographs; and we even have some video testimonials recorded from Tuesday night.

It is our responsibility to pay tribute - we must honor not only this site and this building, but also the institution—the educational institution that it represents.

As we came together to celebrate the history and the memories of the Academy Building we celebrated our entire district's educational history and the path this community has forged as an education leader in our state and region.

That historical path really started at the Academy Building and therefore, it seemed fitting that we look at history and review how this place fits in the context of the entire gift of education that our forefathers and each generation thereafter has so strongly supported here in River Falls.

It started back in 1854 when a group of early settlers pooled together $500 to build the first school In 1855, tuition was 50 cents per week; there were no high schools in existence - only college prep (Academy). Eventually the school district bought the Academy for $1,500; in 1876 enrollment reached 100 students; in 1879 the Academy burned to the ground and a new brick school was built; in 1881 there were 300 students; in 1926 this new building burned to the ground; in 1927 the Academy Building was erected with additions in 1949 and 1990.

Our community's founding fathers/mothers clearly believed in similar values as Thomas Jefferson.

It was Jefferson who favored a school system "which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest."

It was Jefferson who thought that an educated citizenry, civic knowledge and public service were the essential cornerstones of our Democracy.

Jefferson reminds us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. They can help bridge the gap between the world as it is, and the world as it should be—and to do so through education.

Certainly the Academy halls and classrooms have served that purpose over the past 90 years.

Last Tuesday, we celebrated the passing of an era; we celebrated the history of the Academy Building; and we will always remember fondly its splendor, its integrity, and its heritage.

Moving forward, we say, "Hats off" to those first settlers who built that $500 school and all those who have influenced educational advancements here in River Falls over the generations.

And, "hats off" to all who have continued the rich pride and traditions of this entire River Falls educational institution, as we also recognize that our future building on this site will allow for generations of children to soar, to grow and to flourish at this same site where education has existed since the mid-1800's.

With great reverence, we honor the past and look fondly on our children's future.