STINESVILLE, Ind. — No one is certain what will happen to the mural on Stinesville Elementary School’s cement-block gymnasium wall when the school closes for good in May, but on Monday evening, it was the backdrop for the wedding of Brooklyn Smith and David Navarre.

The bride wore summer sandals and a simple, white below-the-knee dress, and the groom, his military uniform. The Rev. John Baker recalled knowing Smith as a child, “a snotty-nosed kid, a little rebellious at times, who’s grown into a lovely young woman.” He performed a 10-minute ceremony in the center of the gym at a makeshift altar with tall white tapers. The basketball hoop net had been taped up, and three fancy light bulbs hung suspended from the rim.

Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. board members voted in October to close the school that started out as a kindergarten-through-12th grade building in the 1930s. The decision was heartbreaking for Smith, who works as a teacher’s aide at the tiny rural elementary located at the top of a hill in the town where she grew up.

About 200 people reside in the northwestern Monroe County town, and it’s a good bet most of them know Smith, some since her baby days. Her aunt and uncle, Tim and Pam Bayne, have for decades run the mercantile and the post office located there. Pam Bayne was her niece’s babysitter, and the child was a common sight at the store on Main Street. When it came time for kindergarten, Smith’s parents paid out-of-district tuition so she could attend Stinesville Elementary.

“I was supposed to have gone to school in Owen County, but my mom works at Edgewood High School, and she would come by this way and drop me off and I could take the bus to school,” 20-year-old Smith recalled. “It was a nice, quiet small town.”

After school, the bus would drop her off at the store. She didn’t have a Stinesville address, but Smith considered herself part of the town.

“With it being such a close-knit school, that gave me a sense of safety, and I could build great relationships and be close to people when I was growing up,” Smith said. “Everybody knew everybody’s background and their story, and that helped build me up.”

Monday night, she changed into her wedding dress in Cienna Simmons’ first-grade classroom, where she spends her days. It’s the same tile-floored, desks and chairs low-to-the-floor classroom where she polished reading skills and tackled addition and subtraction as a first-grader, when Cynthia Ware was her teacher years ago.

At 6:30, Smith’s dad walked her down the bright hallway, past the bulletin boards, toward the back entrance to the gym. Time flashed back, and he recalled his daughter’s first day of kindergarten at Stinesville Elementary. “I took the day off from work so I could bring her,” Ritchie Smith said before they entered. Twenty-five friends and family members waited. “I started here with her, and I was here for the last-day-of-school carnival when she finished in the fifth grade.”

He led her down a paper runner covered with rose petals, and stepped back as the couple married there in the gym with the mural depicting the history of Stinesville — a train chugging along the railroad tracks, scenic hills, majestic fall colors in the trees.

“The mural, I have always loved it, even back when I went here as a student, because of how much it symbolizes the town,” Smith said. “We decided to get married at the school, and we wanted the mural in the background.”

The ceremony ended, and the bride and groom sawed into a solidly frozen ice cream cake. Tim Bayne said his niece’s wedding was special, given the sentiment of the location. “I’ve been to many weddings in churches and never felt the same spirit, of a special place, like this,” he said.

Stinesville Elementary may be in its final year, but the vitality and spirit of the students still consume the building every weekday. “My kids are full of energy, and you do not stop moving,” Smith said. “I love it here and could not ask for a better job.”

Losing the battle to keep the school open was difficult. “It was hard to cope with the decision, and it still is, especially being an alum here. It’s hard to accept, that kids won’t be here doing what they do anymore.”

But there are weeks until the final bell. “Our year has not ended here, and we’re glad to come to school every day, until we can’t,” Smith said.

She hopes Stinesville Elementary has a future. “I definitely hope they can use the building, that something can be done to preserve the school.”


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/2H9nY9B


Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Herald Times.