LORAIN — Southview Saints can go marching through the halls of the building one last time.
The building, which has served as Lorain High School since 2012 after Southview High School closed in 2010, will be hosting an open house and final walk-through for all alumni and community members 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
“We thought it was important to do this for the alumni,” Lorain Schools’ director of operations, Jeff Hawks, said. “We did the same thing for Admiral King and Lorain High when they closed so we wanted to do the same thing here.”
Many alumni plan on attending the open house at the school, 2270 E. 42nd St., to see where they spent four years and have countless memories.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Jan Nathan, 61, of Lorain, said. “I’ve been in the building several times over the years but never got the chance to walk the halls. I want to see where we passed all the notes, kissed our boyfriends. I can’t wait.”
Nicole Miller, 32, of North Olmsted and a 2003 graduate, said she can’t wait to take pictures and walk down memory lane because she’s “proud to be a Southview Saint.”
Melanie MacRae, 35, of Marysville, said if she wasn’t pregnant she would be there “in a heartbeat.”
“I would love to attend the open house, but since I live so far away and I am in the last month of my pregnancy with baby No. 2,” the 1999 graduate said, “I’m not supposed to travel that far. There is a lot of history there and a ton of great memories. It would be great to stroll the halls again.”
Reginald McFadden, 29, of Elyria and a member of the class of 2005, said he hopes to attend the event because he misses the school.
“I really hope to attend the walk through,” he said. “I miss my high school days. I’m a Saint for life. I miss walking the halls of Lorain Southview. I miss every fun moment. Hopefully, we all can connect and share special moments in the future.”
Lorain City Councilman Angel Arroyo, D- 5th Ward, is a 2002 graduate of the school and said he’ll be attending the walk-through and open house because he’s not sure of its future.
“I’m not sure what will happen to it,” he said. “I want to see my old high school one last time. High school is a place where at times can be hard for teenagers and a place that will set a path for others to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. For me it was a place where I made mistakes and also learned what determination is.”
Sharon Coller, 37, of Lorain, said she wants to attend the walk-through because of how long the school was in her life.
“It was a part of my life for so long,” she said. “It always felt like there was such a sense of community there. Southview was a part of my life for pretty much my entire life.”
In fact, Coller’s father was a Saint before her. While he graduated from Lorain High School, he was the Saints’ band director for 24 years.
Claude Coller said his first year of teaching was the first year Southview High School opened, in 1969. However, he was a band teacher at one of the district’s middle schools before being transferred to the high school the next year.
“The teacher at the high school left and I think they called everyone else before they tried to talk me into doing it,” he said. “And I wanted to spend a few more years at the junior high level before I moved up to teach high school students but in the end it all happened the way it was supposed to.”
Coller, 69, said he met his wife Kaye, who also was a teacher at the school, during his time there and the families, students and colleagues were an inspiration.
“The community surrounding the Saints was always the best part of the job,” he said. “There was always and still is such support.”
Several alumni — including Donna Garza-Heuler, Tom Carter and Amy DeLeeuw — named Coller as one of their favorite teachers. He retired in 1994.
“Even though I know his whole name he will forever be Mr. Coller,” Carter, 46, of Lorain, said. “When I got to high school, as always, Mr. Coller demanded respect and your best. He always protected his students and (was) always there to give very good advice. Even today he is a pleasure to have around and fun to be with.”
Carter, who graduated in 1985, said he was pleased with every teacher he encountered during his time in high school, and Audrey Sniezek, who graduated in 1990, said without her teachers she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“I went from being a drop-out case because of instability at home to that described above and more,” the 44-year-old Seattle resident said. “The school meant a lot to me. I would not have made it where I am today without that foundation of support. School was a haven, the staff knew me personally, but I worked my butt off to get where I am thanks to those in the school who believed in me, trusted me and gave me the autonomy I needed to succeed.”
David Hall, who is the superintendent of the Oberlin school district, was principal at Southview High School until 2005 and said he agreed with Coller — community was king.
“The closeness of South Lorain is just amazing,” Hall said. “The staff was close, the community was close and the students were close. The community support that comes from that area of the city is just amazing.”
Many alumni said they too felt the closeness of the community at the time and still do.
“I live in Michigan, but my heart is still in South Lorain and probably always will be,” said Linda Harrison, 59, who graduated in 1974. “I’ve been in Michigan for almost 40 years now and I still call Ohio home. We were one big family. Everyone has everyone else’s backs. Always.”
The classes from the 1970s are so close that they’re hosting their own reunion.
From 6 to 11 p.m. Sept. 17 at German’s Villa in Vermilion there will be a “Saints of the Seventies” class reunion.
Harrison, who is organizing the reunion, said since the alumni often took courses with people from other graduating classes it might be a good time for them to all mingle together and remember the 1970s.
“It was a time of love, peace, unity, kindness, etc.,” she said. “Of course we had peace rallies, Woodstock, Vietnam and other negative things in our lives, but we didn’t dwell on the negative. It really, truly was a time of peace and love, and both of those attributes were alive and well inside the walls of Southview.”
Tickets are $35 per person and payment can be sent via PayPal to 2016SaintsReunion@gmail.com. Checks can be mailed to Harrison at 8380 Davison Road, Davison, MI, 48426.
“There are so many memories from that time,” Cheryl McElroy, a 1975 graduate, said. “The attire for school included all the fashion fads — bell bottoms, ‘earth shoes,’ afros, bib overalls. The music is still among the best. So many good memories.”
Nadine Burich-Donat, 59, and a member of the class of 1975, said the students at the high school were so close because of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Most of us were first generation Americans,” she said. “Our parents or grandparents came through Ellis Island. They instilled a sense of pride in us that carried us through. South Lorain and Southview will always be near and dear to me. I may live in Calabasas, California, but you cannot take South Lorain out of the girl.”
Diversity in the community
DeLeeuw, 49, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and graduated in 1985, said the diversity of her classmates allowed her to be more tolerant.
“We were all unified by being ‘saints,’ ” she said. “I feel that my time at Southview made my world view large and that I really understood the value and importance of diversity and tolerance toward others. I learned to see people, not race, gender identity or religion. Everyone was so different and from so many parts of the world. It just didn’t matter where you were from or the color of your skin.”
Comedian Ramon Rivas, who recently filmed a half-hour special for Comedy Central, which is expected to debut this year, said during his time at Southview High School the diversity of the student body and community helped him.
“It was so culturally rich and really gave me a real world balance of things that I wouldn’t experience again until I started traveling to major cities,” the 31-year-old said.
Rivas, who graduated in 2003, expressed his “unique” idea for the school and land’s future.
“They should make one big giant safety town,” he said. “The biggest in the land. Then build a baseball diamond over it. Then a workout shed. Then another school building. Wait, they did that already,” he said.
Many would like to see the area become a fixture for the surrounding community in the form of a park or recreational facility.
“I would personally like to see the property used to be developed as property for activities for the community, have programs for the kids,” Arroyo said. “I would love to see the gym and auditorium to stay up and used as a community center and a veterans hospital built for the veterans in our county.”
The school district and the city did reach an agreement to turn in a proposal to turn a section of the property into a VA clinic but there have been no recent updates on where the facility will ultimately end up.
Superintendent Jeff Graham said the Board of Education has not made any decisions in regards to the school building or the property it sits on.
“Lorain is a city that has lost so much,” MacRae said. “But so much of our city is hanging by a thread. It would be so nice to see it bloom again and become even a semblance of the great city it once was.”
Carter said he was grateful for his time at the school and he friends he made.
“There I met and get to know many friends for which I am grateful,” he said. “I don’t think I would have gotten that in any other school system. Even one of them remains my best friend today.”
Garza-Heuler, 46, of Eaton Township and a 1987 graduate, said she still reconnects with her friends from high school and are going to Rockin’ on the River this Friday.
“There were cliques in high school but the cliques were all friends with each other,” she said. “The stoners, jocks, band people, cheerleaders, smarties. It didn’t matter. We all had and have each other’s back.”
DeLeeuw said Facebook allows her to keep in touch with people she otherwise might miss.
“Facebook has allowed us the opportunity to maintain that closeness and share in the joys and sorrows, ups and downs that come with life,” she said. “If you ask for prayers you are bombarded with them; if you share a success you are sent a thousand hugs and well wishes.”
MacRae said, while it might seem naive, the school was always a safe place and the friendships were forever.
“Like any high-schooler you felt your life was surrounded by drama but looking back it was just a blip in the radar of our life to come,” she said. “It goes by so fast but so much of it makes up who you become as an adult. The friendships you forge and the lasting impressions you glean are so wonderful, even the bad memories and the friends that drift apart, they all shaped the future version of all of us whether we realize it or not.”
Ralph Berrios, 52, a Lorain resident and member of the class of 1982, said the memories of his time at Southview and the friendships he made there aren’t likely to fade.
“It was a sad day when they closed the school from South Lorain,” he said. “The friendships that I have still to this day are priceless. The teachers we had made my experience one never to forget. From the band, sports teams, clubs and the school itself, I sure will miss the school. Once a Saint, always a Saint.”