DOVER — St. John’s Lutheran School closed its doors forever Friday.
But its students are the gift that will continue giving to the community.
School spirit rallied until the end, even as enrollment dropped steadily in the past decade.
The school that peaked at approximately 100 students in 2008 had 26 kindergarters through eighth-graders the past two years.
That caused its demise.
Students moving to other schools next year will arrive with life skills learned at St. John’s, and continue with the sevice project-mentality emphasized in its curriculum.
“The closing is sad and it shouldn’t close because it’s such a valuable asset to the community,” said Ralph Mallamace, whose daughter attended for five years.
“It’s probably the best school in the county. The way they teach children to be good students, good people providing service to the area here is invaluable.
“They don’t just teach the ABCs and every alum I’ve ever talked to said they were very well prepared to move to another school and be ahead of those already there.
“They’re just very well rounded. My daughter learned Chinese here and now orders for me in the language when we’re at restaurants. Plus they teach the basics of writing in cursive, diagramming sentences, things like that.”
Between licks on a multi-colored popsicle, seventh-grader Tripp Taylor took a simpler view of saying goodbye.
“I’m going to miss all the fun stuff we do. I’m going to miss all my friends. I’m going to miss all my teachers. I’m going to miss everyone else here,” he said.
Recent First State Military Academy graduate Brice Taylor took one last walk through the building he entered as a 2-year-old and left as an eighth-grader.
The mayor gets ice cream for the kids.
“It’s emotional and very somber in a way but also very uplifting when you think of all the great things accomplished and how much the service to others in the community will continue wherever these students and former graduates end up,” he said.
Said alumnus James Duke, now a high school junior at St. Thomas More, “The physical part of the school is ending, obviously, but all the spirit will remain in so many other places.”
Pulling money from his own wallet, Dover Mayor Robert R. Christiansen summoned an ice cream truck that students flocked to on a hot day.
“I wanted the ending to be on a sweet note,” Mr. Christiansen said. “It’s a great school and I hate to see any school close but figured the kids deserved one more sweet moment.”
Kindergartners through eighth graders showed appreciation by singing in happy birthday style “God’s blessings on you, God’s blessings on you, God’s blessings on you, the whole way through … And many more.”
Tears and lamenting
Dr. Dina Vendetti, the school’s only principal for the entire 19-year run, fought back tears when describing the final day and looking ahead.
“There was a big show of community support and it reminded us all that what we’ve done is legacy and about taking it wherever the kids go from here,” Dr. Vendetti said.
“We are sure that they will be successful wherever they go and the community will be better for it.”
One week after filling pie tins for students to throw into Dr. Vendetti’s face while celebrating the conclusion of a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser, administrative assistant June Bell lamented the closing. Her daughter graduated from St. John’s and her granddaughter currently attends.
“It made her so strong in so many ways, including how to speak in front of adults and not be uncomfortable with that,” Ms. Bell recalled.
“There’s so many great things here but I try not to think about the end of it all.
“I’m more concerned about the people who work here. I’m going into retirement but I want them to find jobs that they can be happy with.”
As a salute to Dr. Vendetti, Jamie Millhoff headed north from West Ocean City, Maryland, to support her former principal at Baltimore Lutheran School.
“She’s a great person who put a lot of heart and soul into this,” Ms. Millhoff said. “I’m here to support her and to let her know that a lot of the credit of this school’s impact should be given to her.
“She’s been the shepherd of what great things occurred here and needs to be reminded of that.”
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org