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Dennis Grade School 100th

Photos contributed by Jim Sober


Dennis School celebrates 100 years

Roy Schilling's walk is halting, and he said his vision isn't as good as it once was, but his memory is just fine when he talks about Dennis School.

Schilling, 96, was principal of Dennis from 1964 to 1971 and was an honored guest at the school's 100th anniversary celebration Friday.

"This school's only four years older than I am," Schilling joked as he took the podium during the program, which drew former students and teachers, his fellow former principal Bill Cogan, parents, grandparents and future students in the arms of their moms and dads.

Dennis opened in fall 1910, replacing the small Forest Grove School that was built on land donated by Andrew Dennis. At that time, the school was three rooms, but by 1955 and two additions later, it held more than 600 students.

Schilling remembers that in 1970, enrollment was close to 700, with two classes meeting in the hallway for lack of space elsewhere.

Old friends Jim Chiligiris, Jim Douglas and Gary Shutter met at the school in 1945 when they were all in first grade.

"I'll tell you how stupid I was then," Douglas said. "I wanted to knock on the (second-floor) window and (two friends) held me out the (third-floor) window so I could reach down there."

The men remember the fire escape slide, like a large metal tube that ran from the third floor to the ground, and the ash waste piled on the playground.

Shutter said classmates still meet regularly for reunions.

Outside the school entrance, to underline the massive changes since Dennis opened, was a horse-drawn carriage, a typical family conveyance of 1910, and next to it a bright red 2010 Ford Mustang GT for contrast.

Dennis' biggest claim to fame is, of course, that its third-graders petitioned the state of Illinois to name the monarch butterfly the state insect, which it was in 1986. In 2006, students planted a butterfly garden to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that event, and Decatur artist Larry Wetherholt, using pieces made by students in the school, created a butterfly mosaic for the outside of the building.

Gently teasing his former principal, Cogan, guest speaker and alumnus Andrew Scott said he remembered what Cogan always said at school assemblies.

Making his voice gruff to resemble Cogan's, and raising a hand over his head to wave for attention as the principal did in those days, Scott said, "I want you to keep your eyes open, your ears open and your mouths shut!" Grinning, and checking over his shoulder to make sure Cogan was smiling, too, Scott added, "I've waited years to do that."