by Nicolle Hodges, Contributor
It was back to the old stomping grounds for Abbotsford Senior Secondary alumni on Saturday afternoon for the “Bye-Bye Abby Day” celebration, held in honour of the school’s 51-year history before it is demolished.
Built in 1955, Abby Senior stands as Abbotsford’s oldest school and has seen more than 17,000 graduates pass through its doors, each with their own memory.
For Judy and Chester Gmur, it was where they first fell in love.
“We met by the office right over there,” said Judy as she pointed down the hallway.
“And we have now been married for 43 wonderful years,” added Chester.
Michelle Klassen, a 1979 graduate, remembers skipping class with her friend Linda.
“I have so many memories during those times, all of them worth it.”
Edward Sawatzky, who graduated in 1962, came from a small 50-person school in Manitoba before transferring to Abby Senior (now Abbotsford Collegiate) and still remembers his first day.
“The buzzer went off to change classes and I just sat in my chair, not sure where to go or what to do,” chuckled Sawatzky. “I left my books behind, couldn’t figure out my locker combination and made it to my next class as it was ending.”
Teachers such as Eric Ratzlaff, who taught the Humanities course for 31 years, were flocked by students offering their gratitude.
“The young people made this place wonderful,” Ratzclaff said. “I truly loved every single year I taught here.”
The school’s current music students serenaded guests as they walked through lines of displays showcasing all the graduating classes from 1955 to 2011.
The school’s first janitor, 96-year-old Len Hoon, stopped by to take a look at the pictures and said he recalls “all the young faces.”
The hallways were buzzing with stories of “remember when” as old classmates and teachers reunited. A signature board was set up at the entrance for former students to sign, while a basketball game between former faculty staff took place in the gym.
Lance McDonald, currently in his fifth year as principal, understands the importance of maintaining the “Panther Pride” values in the new school.
“As a past Abby grad of 1985, I know that the four years of high school are extremely significant for development,” explained McDonald. “I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for this school, so as important as it is to create new memories, it is equally as important to preserve the old ones.”
The plan is to keep the old gym as well as feature a heritage section for old trophies and pictures.
Opening its doors in September 2012, the new Abby Collegiate, currently under construction, is one of the first schools in the province to attain a superior level of sustainable and green design by promoting energy conservation and water efficiency.
Ryan Huston of Craven Huston Powers Architect has come “full circle” by graduating from Abby Senior in 1975 to return 37 years later to design the concept for the new school.
“Initially it was only supposed to be minor upgrades, but from an architectural perspective, the school was built in the ’50s and it was time for something new,” said Huston, who has overseen the $45 million rebuild. “The mentality was to create a ‘learning environment for tomorrow.’ “
With that in mind, a three-storey rotunda was built where students can congregate and interact with plenty of open space. Huston anticipates that the new facility will serve as a “magnet” for the community.
While the old school has had an incredible impact on its students and staff, the hope is to bring that same sense of camaraderie into the new building. Former principal turned city councillor Bill MacGregor describes the faculty bond like a “band of brothers,” and said the memories “still bring tears to my eyes.”
Come September 2012, the old Abby Collegiate will no longer stand. However, everyone has a memory that they will carry forever.
“It was a school that was all about the pursuit of excellence,” said MacGregor. “It is an ongoing journey.”