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Only Memories Left of 1891 Visitation School Building.
by Marvin Kusmierz
March 17, 2005

When I read the March 15, 2005, edition of The Bay City Times newspaper and learned that my old school building was being torn down it, I couldnít help but feel some sadness at its passing. My formal education began at the old Visitation school building. I knew the building was old, but how old or its history until this week after spending some time at the library.

School Building's History

The school building was erected in 1891 on property off the corner of Smith and State streets prior the establishment of Visitation church. The property was owned by Joseph Trombley who had purchased it in 1889 so that it would be available for the French Catholic community. At that time the French from the area attended St. Mary's church, and the Sisters of Mercy from that church also ran the new school building. However, the operated only two years before it was close for lack of financial support to keep it open. Father Sanon lived in the building until 1987 when a permanent rectory became available. The rectory was a home moved from the corner King and Smith streets. In 1924, the school building was moved to northern edge of the property to make room for a new rectory built next to the church building. The school was moved for a time in 1949 to the east line of the property and a year later, it was converted into a small gym.

The Visitation school buildings have been owned by the Bay County Public School Adademy since 2002. The old school had to go to make room for a new gym that can better serve the needs of the present student body.

Banks Housing Project.

My first school experience began in the old Bank housing project. For those of you that donít remember the Banks project, it was a low income housing community in the area north east of E. Smith and Joseph streets. It was a fairly large residential district with each of the single level housing buildings of the same construction. Each building had four residential units, and each unit had a small wood storage shed.

I have some vivid memories of the project, especially the shed outside of our dwelling where mom stored the garbage. Its where I first learned about the existence of maggots. The project had only few trees and shrubs, so the shed was one of the few options for youngsters to explorer or hide. One hot summerís day I found the maggots there which wasnít alarming to me until mom explained they came from the spoiled food. In a childís mind, or at least my childís mind, that meant all the food I ate would turn to maggots in my stomach. From that point on, mom had a difficult time getting me eat anything the came close to looking like a maggot to me Ė noodles, rice cereal, etc.

Iím sure that I was handful for mom. In later years she often reminded me of some of the things I did, and I can recall a few of them. Like the time I took her scissors and clipped the bottom of the drapes to make them looklike cowboy chaps, you know, the leather strips that dangle off the edges. I was never able to find where she hid the scissors after that.

Probably the most frustrating problem that mom had with me was attending kindergarten school in the project. It was a nasty experience for both of us. I can remember that small open room with carpeting and a number of toy boxes spread around. While I didnít like it when departed and left me alone there, the toys were a sufficient attraction to make me want to stay. However, when play was broken up for rest time Ė I had enough of this place and when we were allowed to go to play in the yard surrounded by a white picket fence, I climbed over it and headed home. Mom wasnít pleased to see either.

First Grade.

The next year we moved to an apartment house on the south west corner of State and E. Smith streets, it was kiddy corners to the Visitation church building and within a short walk to the old school building.

After my kindergarten experience, I wasnít a happy camper when mom told that I would be going to school there. My first sight of the old school building convinced me that I was right and she was wrong. The building was huge to my eyes. Had I have known what a prison looked like at that age, Iím sure thatís what I was feeling about upon seeing this building for the first time which sat in an isolated low land area.

Mom dragged me down the hill and into the school building, where she turned me over to my teacher. If you can, image seeing a num for the first time. It was a shocking and scary image for me. This teacher didnít in anyway, look like my kindergarten teacher. She was draped in a black satin garb from head to foot except for her face which was framed by a stiff white material. If I had understood evil at the time, Iím sure that I would have described her appearance as Satin in disguise.

Even my room was totally different. It didnít have carpeting and there wasnít any toy boxes! Instead, these odd looking chairs with a table attached to them filled the play area. They were lined up in rows and all of these chairs faced one direction, and I couldnít image why?

The first thing I learned is that this teacher didnít mess around. Any shenanigans on my part or by my classmates, would not be tolerated by her. Fear was our constant companion as we learned what behavior resulted in punishment. We knew someone had crossed the line when she came rushing down the aisle and pinched the ear of the offender which was taken to the front of the classroom. There the offender held out the open palm of one hand which received a firm smack with a ruler. She was mom, but tens time more potent.

The fear strategy she employed was very effective in maintaining control of the classroom. We quickly learn from experience that were to give her our undivided attention. We were there to listen and learn. This experience pretty much controlled my classroom manners in the years that followed.

Our time for some liberty came at recess when we could go outside in the school yard and play. There was no fence, it wasnít necessary because we all knew the arbitrary boundaries which were defined by our teacher, and what the consequences would be if we wondered beyond them.

An example of the change enforced in my school manners, is the day when a number of my roommates and I were playing hide and seek on the east side of the building. The area wasnít groomed and it had tall grass along few wild shrubs ideal for hiding. I found myself a nice hiding spot where I sat down and hid. When we returned to the classroom and were seated, I suddenly felt a bite, and it was followed by several more. I had apparently sat on an ant hill during play and had them crawling all over me. I never raised my hand once or flinched enough to draw the teacherís attention. Now thatís discipline.

Visitation Church.

I continued in the Visitation school system for a couple of more years . In that time, the school day began with a short mass at church before walking over to the school building. Mom was an early morning person, and she occasionally slept in and was late in getting me off to school. The first time this happened is etched in my mind.

I remember approaching the church building and climbing the steps and wondering how I was going to get one of those huge doors opened so I could get inside. I grabbed the large metal handle and pulled with all of my might and was able to wedge it open enough to squeeze through and get inside. That turned out to be the easy part. Once inside the entrance there were doors to the sanctuary. It was much easier to open but it creaked so loudly that it drew the attention of everyoneís eyes to me, including my teacher who came marching up the aisle to greet me. A pinch of the ear brought sudden pain and no further noise from me.

The next time mom slept in, there was no way that she was going get me to go to school late again. Thatís when I learned that mom had the power to excuse me from school simply by putting something in writing and I wouldnít be punished for something I wasnít responsible for.

St. Joseph Cemetery.

Another fond memory of that time was the old {St. Joseph cemetery} that was right across the street from the apartment house where we lived. It was an excellent playground for the neighborhood kids as it was no longer in use or maintained. Nature had pretty much reclaimed the open areas around the tomb stones which were hidden in most areas by tall grass, shrubs and small trees. It was an ideal place for adventure games, where we hone our hunting skills finding snakes and chasing rabbits or anything that nested there.

Coffee Cup Restaurant.

My mom had a part time job at the Coffee Cup restaurant. It was located only a few blocks to the south of where we lived on State Street at the foot Elm Street. I spent quite a bit of time at the penny gum ball machine trying to get a black and yellow marble which could be redeemed for a nickle.

Sarath Junkyard.

One of my favorite summer experiences was going to the old Sarath junkyard. Some friends and I stumbled on it one day while adventuring on our bikes beyond the area imposed by our parents. I think what puts us in contact with junk was the old viaduct on Marquette Street. It was a great spot for biking, going downhill we could reach speeds higher than we could do peddling on flat land.

The junk yard was full of foul smells coming from the numerous junk piles, but we knew that in them piles we could find a treasure. Amazingly, the workers there showed great tolerance of our presence. They told us what piles we could get into and the ones that would get us banned from the yard. We seldom left there empty handed.

When mom questioned me for the first time about where I got my treasures, I told her that I found them in some curbside junk. After bring home a few more items, she forced me into recycling them to our curbside junk. The next time, I made sure to bring home something that she might like. A tactic that allowed me to continue my treasurer hunting.

Time For Change

I wasnít a happy camper the day that mom told me were moving to the east side of the river. It meant starting all over again, a new school, neighborhood, friends, and another challenging period in my life.

Itís that feeling that I have today about the passing of the old Visitation school building. Over the years whenever I traveled down State Street, I often slowed down to catch of peak of the school building I once attended. While I wonít be able do that any more, itíll always be there in my mind.

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