Home schooling has taken on a whole new meaning in Irvine.
That’s because what used to be their school is now home for three residents of Irvine School Apartments.
And they love it.
“This has got to be the best place to live in Kentucky,” says 90-year-old Marguerite Thomas Witt, while sitting in the school’s old auditorium with two of her closest friends and neighbors.
Witt, Wilma Calmes, 83, and Peggy Powell, 76, are not only surrounded by friends in the renovated 17-unit building, but by fond memories as well.
“We used to love coming to assemblies here,” says Calmes as she looks out over the huge seating area that all agree is little changed.
The most significant changes are to their former classrooms, where chalkboards and school desks have been replaced by modern appliances, gleaming painted walls and lush carpet.
When the large brick building was opened to students in 1920, there was reason for immediate confusion.
According to the name chiseled in stone above the front door, it was called Irvine High School, but always served only grades one through eight.
“We’re told it was named Irvine High due to this part of Irvine being known as the High Grounds,” says Powell, noting wings were added to each end of the building in 1939.
Powell says one of her classrooms was next door to the lunchroom in the basement, a location causing great discomfort.
“Only the underprivileged students were allowed to eat in the cafeteria, and it smelled so good we all wanted to eat there,” she says.
Students not qualifying for the school lunch program either brought their food, went home or walked to nearby Maupin’s Grocery.
Some would visit a store in the basement offering snacks alongside pencils, tablets and other assorted goods. It was operated by Arthur Durbin.
“We were always saying we were ‘Going to Mr. Durbin’s‘” recalls Calmes.
Each school day started with bible reading and the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, they recall.
Wednesday assembly programs were highly anticipated due to such performances as a man with a traveling show featuring monkeys.
Fire drills (the siren remains attached to the front of the building) and days the furnace was inoperable were also highlights.
“As much as we loved going to school, it was always special when the furnace wasn’t working because that’s the only time school was called off,” says Calmes.
“We prayed a lot that it would break,” says Powell, noting that allowed them to stay home and listen to radio programs like Amos & Andy and Lowell Thomas.
There were dreaded days too, such as the times when a student had to be reprimanded by Principal Robert Frederick Flege, a tall man who lived to be 96.
“We were all scared to death of him, and we didn’t get over our fears until after we graduated, then we loved him,” says Powell, laughing.
Another authority figure commanding attention was Landon McDowell, a math teacher noted for having holes in his often-used paddle.
“He was very strict and had these piercing brown eyes. When he raised his eyebrows and bit his lower lip, you knew he meant business,” recalls Calmes.
These stories and more are shared daily by the former students as they gather upstairs in what they call their “Chat Room”, or on benches under a large tree out front.
The daily meetings have taken on added importance for Calmes who became a widow last November.
“I didn’t need to go looking for a support group. I had it here,” she says.
The trio of good friends, often joined by three or four more residents, also have a routine that includes going out for breakfast together every Saturday.
Seldom does a day pass when they don’t keep each other posted on their plans, which always make for interesting conversation because none act their age.
Witt, who took up golf after turning 50, still longs to return to the course.
“I’ve got lots of balls, but I need a set of clubs,” says the former mail carrier. Calmes is scheduled to leave soon for a vacation in Hawaii, and Powell looks forward to having guests come by who know how to play the piano sitting in the auditorium.
“None of us can sing or play piano, but we all know how to dance,” says Powell, who also serves as the unofficial jokester of the group and is fast with a quip.
Positioning themselves for a group photo after being interviewed for this story, Calmes told everyone to say “sexy” because saying the word will make a person smile.
“It just tickles me to death,” says Powell.