I got the nicest surprise over the weekend when Julia Nolte, a dear friend from elementary days at St. Matthew Lutheran School on the outskirts of downtown Houston, posted a photo of our first-grade class — one I’ve never seen — on our school group Facebook page (thank you, Julia!). The moment I saw it, my eyes went straight to me and I couldn’t believe it. I have some individual school photos from St Matthew, but no group pics, so this is a real treasure for me — even if I only recognize about five other kids.
This was the 1966-67 school year, and as the story goes, I started the fall in kindergarten, having turned 5 that February. My memory’s a bit foggy after almost 54 years, although I remember a little from that K class — singing “I”m a Little Teapot” and sleeping on red-and-light-blue nap mats.
But the teacher, the principal Mr. Schaefer, and Mom and Dad came to an agreement after the first few weeks that because I was bored, knew more than I needed to know to be in K and was wasting my time sitting around playing and taking naps, I should be moved into Mrs. Carnitz’s first-grade class just down the outside hall.
So that’s how I came to be with this group of kids, which is missing at least two very important ones — the boy who became my best friend, Paul Sweitzer, and sweet Marianne Pape Bliss, both of whom must’ve been playing hooky that day. The kids I do remember in this pic, and quite well, are all 3 girls at left in the back row, Elizabeth Renfro, Camille Peeples (Spreen) and Julia; John Reed, second from right on the middle row, who lives in Fort Worth and with whom I reconnected last year; and cutie-pie Liz Perkins (Roos), at the right end of the front row.
By the way, if you haven’t found me, that must mean you need some clues. All I can say, despite my complete modesty, is that of the nine boys in this group of 15 kiddos, I’m the cutest. Think the dark brown hair I used to have. And the big brown eyes. But if you really still can’t figure it out … I’m front row, far left! And no, back then I didn’t smile much for photos.
Over my years at St. Matthew, we added and subtracted a number of other great kids to our class, and we always had a close-knit group and wonderful teachers like Chris Kuhlmann Winstead, our fifth-grade teacher who was in her first year out of college that school year in 1970-71.
My brother Isaac (a year ahead of me at St. Matthew) and I and our parents moved north of Houston to Conroe ISD halfway through my sixth-grade year when I was just 10 years old in December ’71. But I’ll always cherish the nearly six years of school I attended at St. Matthew and the wonderful friends I made there.
The St. Matthew school we all loved is no longer open (although it’s still there on the church grounds), having closed years ago due to declining enrollment and financial constraints. But the church is still doing well, and Julia and Liz and their families still attend.