There’s an old decal on a side entrance door at Cedar Elementary School in Beatrice. It’s a little chipped and scratched, and there’s some paint on it from when the door frame was touched up years ago.
“Welcome to our school,” it reads. “May your visit be pleasant and worthwhile.”
It has probably been there since some of the first students at Cedar first walked through the doors, and it has stayed put to see the last elementary students leave for the final time.
At the beginning of the next school year, Cedar Elementary becomes Beatrice Community Preschool, and the students and staff of Cedar will be distributed among the other elementary schools in town. To celebrate the history made inside the school since its opening in the mid 1950s, Cedar held an open house for former and current students and teachers on Wednesday afternoon.
When they walked in, visitors were given name tags and offered cookies and coffee in front of a bulletin board that read, “Welcome back! Not the end, but a new beginning!”
All of Cedar’s classrooms were open to wander through, though most visitors were content to talk in the hallways.
In the school’s library, former students pored through previous yearbooks, looking for old classmates and relatives.
Current Cedar fourth graders, Bryleigh McKernan and Hallie Borgman, leafed through a 1999 yearbook and found a photo of Borgman’s uncle from when he was a fifth grader.
Beatrice High School juniors, Cameron Jurgens, Colton Gronewold and Jerad Humble laughed as they saw old photos of classmates that brought back memories.
“It's always fun going back and remembering what you did,” Humble said.
Walking through the halls, the trio reminisced about their time in elementary school, pointing out old cubbies and classrooms from their Cedar days.
“We'll see something and remember when that was there,” Gronewold said. “And then when we broke it.”
Now well over six feet tall, the three remember things being a lot bigger when they went to school here.
That’s a pretty common reaction, Cedar principal Theresa Smith said. The kids get bigger, but the school stays the same size.
“Cedar has been the smallest of the buildings,” Smith said. “I think, because of that, it's very close knit. It's just really a family atmosphere.”
At the end of the school year, Smith will retire after 13 years at Cedar. She said Cedar’s parent teacher organization really supported the kids and teachers at the school, and gave it that family feel.
Beth Jurgens has taught at Cedar for 29 years. Currently the third grade teacher, Jurgens has taught every grade at Cedar except for Kindergarten and said it definitely feels like home.
“All three of my kids went here,” Jurgens said. “My husband actually went to school here. It’s a family feel. I kind of know two generations of families at least. You kind of know all the kids that are coming through because you've either taught their siblings or possibly a parent.”
All past alumni and staff of Cedar were invited to the open house. Even though it was scheduled during work hours on a Wednesday, dozens of people took time to walk through the doors again to talk about their time there. The sign-in sheet was full of names and well-wishes for the future for staff and students alike.
“It's always sad when a school closes,” Smith said. “There's a lot of memories here.”