Written by Crista Gibbons
Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, sings the Star Spangled Banner.
Last Saturday, rather than tend to my normal “mommy” weekend duties, I left the kids with my husband and went to work. But it was no typical day at work -- it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and moving memories I have of my nine years at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
I drove two hours to Rappahannock County in rural Virginia to attend the re-dedication ceremony of the Scrabble School. It is a former Rosenwald School that has been restored and reopened as a senior center thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and support from private and public organizations such as Lowe’s and the National Trust.
The celebration opened with a prayer, followed by the Color Guard (local Boy Scout troop 36) unfurling the flag for Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Nanette sang with such emotion that the entire crowd joined in. It was a beautiful moment that moved many of use to tears.
The Scrabble School, before its renovation.
The Scrabble School is a wonderful preservation success story. Just a few years ago, area residents facetiously nicknamed it the “Scrabble Mall,” a reference to the dumpster divers drawn to the school each Saturday when the County dumped new loads of rubbish in the two dumpsters in front of the school. In addition to the trash in the front, the building itself was in disrepair and being overtaken by brush.
Today, the building is fully restored and open for business as the new Rappahannock Senior Center. And bringing this story full-circle is the fact that many of the seniors that will use the center and benefit from it today are among the alumni of the Scrabble School. The building stands strong and offers a beacon of hope to so many other Rosenwald Schools that are endangered across the South. So many, are in fact at risk of being lost forever that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rosenwald Schools to their “11 Most Endangered” list in 2002.
Scrabble school alumni say "This Place Matters!"
After the ceremony, I was able to sit down and interview many of the alumni. As they spoke fondly of their years as students in the small, two room schoolhouse, I listened to countless memories that flooded through their minds. They talked about their walks to school, vocabulary lessons, spelling bees, theatrical plays, feeding the stoves, crushes on boys, and so much more. Almost all of them mentioned “Soup Day,” a special day once a week when a mother brought in warm soup for all of the children. The rest of the time they packed cold lunches and sandwiches, as there was no stove for warm meals.
Lowe's employee Judi Vigay and her aunt, Scrabble School alumna Laurie Noakes Jackson.
Judi Vigay had both a professional and personal connection to the school, representing not only the local Lowe’s store, but also sharing the moment with her aunt, Laurie Noakes Jackson, a 1924 alumna of the Scrabble School.
The day was full of these poignant examples of the personal impact of preservation. In the coming weeks, excerpts from my conversations with the alums will be posted on PreservationNation, and I encourage you to tune in.
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Click here to read The Rappahannock Voice story about the event.
Crista Gibbons is the assistant director of the Business Development office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.