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Hundreds return to Ridgecrest to celebrate its 50th birthday

Oct 02, 2017 11:21AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Larry Thomas, a former Ridgecrest Elementary School teacher, talks to Canyons School District Superintendent Jim Briscoe at the 50th birthday party for the school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Gallery: Ridgecrest [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

Larry Thomas walked up to the front of Ridgecrest Elementary, recalling former students he taught along with teachers he still is in touch with, even after retiring in 1999 having taught 20 years at the school.

Thomas was at Ridgecrest Elementary to help celebrate its 50th birthday on Aug. 8 at a bash where party-goers could have a photo taken with the tiger mascot, Reggie; look through memory books and memorabilia; listen to the school history; sing the school song; eat a piece of cake with the new school logo and smile for a drone that shot the crowd photo from overhead.

During his tenure at the school, Thomas, who taught fifth-graders and ran the school spelling bee, also encouraged his students to approach the Utah legislature with their campaign of putting a statue of Philo Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“That was big stuff,” he said. “The students knew each state could have two statues and we only had one to that point. When it was approved, we had a big assembly and all the hoorahs that went along with it.”

Those students in the accelerated class also traveled to Washington, D.C. singing songs on May 2, 1990 to Congress, with one song written especially for the unveiling of that statue. Farnsworth’s statue is in the visitor’s center of the Capitol today.

Parent volunteer Val Butcher also shared that story and several more during the program of the school’s history. It included how on Oct. 31, 1967, students from Mountain View Elementary walked over in their Halloween costumes bringing their totes full of supplies for the next day when the school was officially opened under Principal James McFarlane.

Since the school opened, there has been a fifth-grade wing and additional classroom pods added and the office has been remodeled. Currently, the school serves about 630 students.

“Times were very different when the school opened,” Butcher said. “One of the school rules was that girls were not allowed to wear Levis or blue denim. Another school rule was to ‘let girls have the right of way when in the halls and entering classrooms.’”

Ridegcrest’s accelerated classes were prominent in the 1980s through 2010, but were eliminated when Chinese dual immersion program began that last year. 

However, Butcher said that throughout the years, Ridgecrest has offered many fun activities such as band, orchestra, glee club, ghost town days, pilgrim dinner, spring fashion show and the annual sixth-grade versus teacher baseball game at the end of the year.

Melba Wise, who attended the school from 1984 through 1990, said she remembers dressing up as a famous person. For her, that meant Shirley Temple. She found a photo of her and Kristen Kunz, who was dressed up as a nurse.

“It’s been fun looking through all the pictures and seeing friends who went here,” she said. “I remember dressing up as a detective when it was book report day and I did mine on ‘Nancy Drew.’”

Wise and classmate TJ Marti also remember the school custodian dressing up as a mountain man for the school’s annual rendezvous.

“He was decked out in all the leather fringe and even had jerky he ate,” said Marti, who also found his name on the back of a framed school shirt from 1990.

Marti recalled spending a good time visiting the principal in the office when he and his cohorts would kick a ball on the roof, only to get it after school so they could play with it on their own.

“This has been a trip down memory lane, that’s for sure,” he said.

Students could purchase a school sweatshirt for $3 back in 1970, but on the 50th birthday celebration, school sweatshirts were $20 with the new logo designed by Canyons graphic artist Jeff Olson.

“I was inspired by ‘The Jungle Book’ with this logo,” Olson said. “We needed a logo that represented the students and their love of Reggie.”

Reggie came to the school as a gift from nearby Brighton High in 1981, Butcher said. Along with his arrival came student of the month and Tiger spirit days, both which still are practiced today.

Before the crowd smiled and waved for a drone that took a photo overhead, they sang the school song, which current and former students were able to sing from memory. 

Principal Julie Winfree said that was a request of the community.

“We’ve had people ask if we’ll be singing it because they still know it,” said Winfree, who has been principal at the school for the past three years.

Canyons Superintendent Jim Briscoe said he met several former Ridgecrest students and teachers and community members who came to celebrate.

“They’ve come back to celebrate and it is impressive how the local neighborhood elementary is the heart and soul of the community,” he said.

Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said he is proud of Cottonwood Heights’ schools.

“Ridgecrest is a flagship school,” he said. “They’re a leader in Chinese dual immersion and do a great job educating our youth. All of our schools are top notch.”

Cullimore had coached little league baseball in the adjacent Antczak Park, which was filled with games and food trucks to help celebrate the birthday.

Barry and Yumi Memmott were there with their three kids who attend Ridgecrest. While Yumi was helping sell T-shirts and sweatshirts as a vice president of the school’s PTA, Barry was looking at the chalk drawings school children had made for the 50th celebration. 

His fifth-grader, Elizabeth, likes to help with choir and behind the stage, while his third-grade son, William, participates in the school’s running club and placed second last year in the spelling bee.

His first-grader, Emma, sums it up, “I like school. It’s fun.” 

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