By LANCE FLEMING
Abilene ISD Communications

Past and present met last week at Bonham Elementary School to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the opening of the school that has anchored the Elmwood neighborhood in west Abilene since it opened in 1953.

Thousands of students, teachers, and staff members have called Bonham their elementary school home for the last 70 years. The original campus stood until it was replaced in 2016 by the new building on the corner of South 7th and Buccaneer, giving new life to this neighborhood stalwart.

After all these years, Bonham remains one of the only true “neighborhood schools” in AISD. The only school buses that transport students to Bonham are for special programs. Otherwise, students walk, ride their bikes, or are dropped off for school by parents.

For the 70 years the school has served students and families, it’s been that way. The second-oldest elementary school and third-oldest school overall in AISD that is still open, Bonham has been a school, meeting place, and refuge for the neighborhood for multiple generations. And that’s what current students, faculty, and staff, and former students, faculty, and staff celebrated last Friday, May 10.

This campus has provided a community for people that need one,” said Emily Meador, who attended Bonham from Kindergarten through 6th grade and then taught at the school from 1983-2012. “It’s been home for people who need a place to call home or people they can count on. Those who live in this community know when they’re in need, Bonham is a place with people they can count on. Bonham is a place with loving and caring faculty and staff that meet the needs of each of these students.”

After retiring in 2012, Meador spent 10 years at Ortiz Elementary School as an interventionist before returning“home” to Bonham last fall in the same role. One of the first things she talked to principal Kevin Wellborn about was the upcoming 70th-anniversary celebration for one of AISD’s oldest schools.

“Not long after I returned (from Ortiz), I asked Kevin, ‘What are we doing for the 70th anniversary? Who’s in charge of the party?’ ” Meador said. “He didn’t have anyone and asked me to do it.”

Meador formed a committee of herself, Natalie Terry, Taylor Moreno, Melissa Bell, Julie Pillard, Alicia Luna, and Heather Cairns, who all spent considerable years working at Bonham.

After several months of planning, the school’s 70th-anniversary celebration included an introductory speech by Welborn and dances by each grade to popular songs from each decade of Bonham’s existence.

The celebration was a reunion for former teachers and staff members, including former principals Royce Curtis, Stevanie Jackson, Katherine Horner, and David Polnick. Horner is currently the interim superintendent for Winters ISD and said the relationship between Pioneer Drive Baptist Church (directly across the street to the west of the campus) has been another driver of Bonham’s success.

“That relationship between Bonham and Pioneer Drive has always been an integral part of the neighborhood,” said Horner, principal from 2011-13. “When we had activities at Bonham, volunteers from Pioneer Drive would come over to help. We hosted community events in the evenings and on Saturdays, and they helped build a sense of security and safety that made parents feel good about sending their children to school at Bonham. They knew their kids would be loved, respected, cared for, and taught.”

Meador said she was flooded with memories of her time as a student and staff member while preparing for the celebration.

“I had a chance to re-live and think about all of the great memories that not only I have of Bonham, but others do as well,” she said. “I’m sure people at other campuses feel this way about their community, but when you’re with someone on a school campus as long as we are, it becomes like a second home. And these people become like your family. You develop a bond with them, it’s special that the 500-plus kids on this campus can feel like they’re part of our family.”

Seventy years in, the family is still going strong.

Bonham Notes
• Bonham is the third-oldest school in AISD still in operation behind Abilene High School (opened in 1888) and Bowie Elementary School (opened in 1951).
• Abilene land developer, W.S. Wagley, was essential to the city’s growth west of Elm Creek. He paid for the bridge across Elm Creek on South 7th that some Bonham students still cross each day as they walk to and from school. Wagley built the shopping center and donated land for a new elementary school to serve the students in the growing neighborhood.
• Bonham’s special programs are part of what makes the school unique in AISD. The West Texas Rehabilitation Center began in a single classroom on the Bonham campus. It started as a community effort that included teachers, doctors, parents, and junior service league volunteers to address the cerebral palsy and polio epidemic of the time. Physical therapist Shelley Smith – who later founded the WTRC – was hired to run the program at Bonham. That work continued at Bonham until they opened their facility in 1955.
• Bonham continues to serve the Abilene community in this way through its Adapt program. A.D.A.P.T. stands for Abilene Developmental  Academics and Practical Training. The program serves students with special needs from across AISD. Bonham continued its tradition of specialized excellence as it added two classes to the district’s Student Achievement Program (SAP) five years ago.