It was a grand send-off as more than 1,000 people walked the halls of McCormick Middle School one last time Saturday.
The building, in existence for nearly 150 years on South Main Street, will be demolished this spring to make way for a park. The last set of students in the building will head to a new building on North Main Street after Thanksgiving break.
Former students from as far back as the 1940s headed to McCormick Middle School to visit old classrooms, share lunch together and shoot hoops and dance in the auditorium. The building housed first- through 12th-graders at one time before finally becoming a middle school.
Delbert Mohrman, class of 1946, attended first through 12th grades at the school and graduated in a class of 50 that consisted of 23 boys and 27 girls.
Mohrman, an Army veteran who served as a gunner in the Korean War, where he spent nine months in a sandbag bunker with no electricity or running water, said he’s proud to call Wellington home.
Mohrman remembers when the school auditorium was built, and although he’s fond of the building, he said today’s students deserve their own space where they can create their own memories.
“This was the largest auditorium in Lorain County in 1939,” he said while seated in the front row. “No school had something like this where you could sit in a 530-seat room and watch basketball games or shows. But I don’t shed any tears about it coming down — this old building has got to come down.”
Cheryl Ewel Hines, who graduated in 1964 with 100 students, recalled being at McCormick when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was the only time students were allowed to turn on small radios in class to listen to the news, she said.
Hines said hers was the first class of baby boomers, or those born in 1946, to walk the halls of the school during a time when no jeans could be worn and girls had length restrictions on skirts and dresses.
“But our dresses kept getting shorter,” she recalled. “They were up to our knees by the time I graduated.”
Al Leiby, who graduated in 1971, also remembers how dress codes still were strictly enforced. Leiby would leave school early in his junior year in 1970 because he worked part-time at a lumber company.
“I was expelled from school for wearing engineer boots,” he said. “I wound up raising enough Cain that they allowed me to stay and wear them.”
The class of 1964 played many pranks on teachers, Hines said, and at one point her class went through four different English teachers in six weeks despite the fear of being caught by Principal Roy McCormick.
“When you heard Roy McCormick walking down the hall you just froze,” she said. “But we were willing to play pranks if we could get away with it.”
Many that came to the school Saturday remembered McCormick, a Wellington alumnus from the 1920s who returned to teach from 1927 until 1945. He became principal of the school in 1945, a job he held until 1963.
Roy McCormick was a man devoted to education and community, people said, but he could also strike fear into the hearts of students because he knew how to use a paddle for discipline.
Bob Bradstock, who left the school in 1955 to join the Air Force, received an honorary diploma from the class of 1956 in 2006 at the 50th class reunion. He remembers being on the receiving end of Roy McCormick’s paddle for his own prank.
Bradstock said he was blamed for a spitball that was thrown at science teacher George Green. As a result, he was placed in a special seat near some book cases, which he discovered had just enough room to walk behind because the walls in the classroom were being painted.
So Bradstock sneaked behind the cases while Green was writing on the blackboard and goosed a friend who shouted in pain. Roy McCormick came along, Bradstock said, and gave him two solid whacks with the paddle.
“If he didn’t strike fear into you he’d take you down to the office and give you a couple whacks and that would straighten you out,” Bradstock said.
Becky Norton, who attended McCormick Middle School, taught fifth grade for 34 years at the school upon returning from college. She recalled how surreal it was to return to teach among colleagues who had once taught her.
“I remember wanting to knock on the door of the teacher’s lounge before entering because that’s what students did,” she said.
Norton said it was great to walk the halls one last time, but like others, she said the old building is no longer adequate for today’s students and staff.
“I hate to see it go, but it really was not meeting the needs of today’s kids,” she said.
Scott Markel, vice president of the board of the Spirit of ’76 Museum, who helped put on the event with the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, said the day was a success. People came from other states to visit the school, he said, and many memories were shared.
He and other board members said they wouldn’t be surprised if a candlelight vigil is held when the wrecking ball is taken to the old building.
“We’re a very sentimental town,” he said.