Crestomere carries on the great country school tradition

The timely development of the Crestomere School District in 1953 was another exciting chapter in a warm and colourful history and proud tradition of Ponoka County Schools, which began in the tranquility of the pristine countryside around our community in the late 1800s and has carried on for countless decades.

The Crestomere School located on Hwy 53 between Ponoka and Rimbey has been serving many generations of County of Ponoka students from School district #971 since 1953.

The Crestomere School located on Hwy 53 between Ponoka and Rimbey has been serving many generations of County of Ponoka students from School district #971 since 1953.

By Mike Rainone

For the News

The timely development of the Crestomere School District in 1953 was another exciting chapter in a warm and colourful history and proud tradition of Ponoka County Schools, which began in the tranquility of the pristine countryside around our community in the late 1800s and has carried on for countless decades.

As the area developed and grew with great enthusiasm at the turn of the century these quaint one-room log schools were popping up in all corners of the vast County of Ponoka. These friendly rural schools not only provided a vital source of education for thousands of young settler families from countless ethnic backgrounds, they were also quite often the centre and gathering place for the new neighbours that had just arrived from throughout the world to establish their homesteads in the rugged but fertile farming districts. Between 1900 and 1950 the population of both the Town and County of Ponoka literally exploded, and the close to 70 multi-grade oneroom schools would quickly outgrow their capacity, and more individual classroom facilities were required with utmost urgency throughout the entire area.

One of those new larger County schools would be Crestomere, strategically located on Hwy 53 between Ponoka and Rimbey in the centre of the County of Ponoka. The doors of this always-friendly country school opened to classes in the fall of 1953, and the building was officially christened and the ribbon cutting was hosted before a capacity crowd of over 400 on a warm winter evening of December 10.

The name Crestomere was selected to recognize the rim or crest of hills roaming casually to the west, south, and north; as well for the tiny lake just west of the sight, as the Scottish word for lake is mere. Mr. Ivor E. Davies, the education chairman for the County performed the christening of the new school, while Superintendent of Schools Mr. E. W. White led the ribbon cutting. With this exciting opening the School Board had amalgamated nine original school districts, including: Bismarck (1903), Crystal Springs (1907), Fertile Forest (1915), Lundgren (1912), Meadowbrook (1908), Park Springs (1909), Rose (1910), Wolfville (1901) and Wilmot; the dates marking when these schools went into service. They were joined by Dakota (1902), and Iowalta (1901) in 1955; then Lundgren withdrew to join the new centralization at Sylvan Heights in 1956, while the Mecca Glen School had expanded their facilities to serve the educational needs east of Ponoka. High school students from throughout the districts of the County of Ponoka were later bused to new facilities at the Ponoka Composite and Rimbey High Schools, and the district schools would later host classes up to Grade 9.

Mr. Russell Petterson was the first Principal at Crestomere School, and remained on staff for seven years until becoming principal of the Ponoka High School in 1960 and the Composite High School in 1966. Earlier principals also included William Bodnaruk, Gordon Larson, Robin Stuart and Halvar Jonson; while other members of the initial teaching staff for the original enrollment of 212 students in Grades 1 to 12 included Mrs. Bernice Luce, Miss Rose Hagemann, Mrs. Elsie Bresee, Mrs. Elizabeth Busat, Mrs. Laureen Gillard, Mrs. Anna Siebold, Mrs. Emma Olmstead, Mrs. Joyce Petterson, Mrs. Lilly Humphrey, Miss Marlene Ohman and Mrs. Martha Kinley. Mr. Harold Luce was the first caretaker and bus driver, with other congenial support staff including Roy and George Kinley, Helmer Riley and Patrol Operator Alvin Henderson.

Ralph Simanton as president and Ern McDowell as secretary would lead the first Crestomere School Association in 1954. This always active and welcoming school community grew very quickly with the keen co-operation and team support of their board, teachers, support staff, volunteers and of course students, parents and the vibrant surrounding district. Over the many busy and enjoyable years Crestomere would add more classrooms, a gymnasium, a bus garage and magnificent surrounding grounds that feature an outdoor skating rink, playing fields and the addition of ongoing shelterbelt trees (planted in celebration of the Alberta Jubilee Year in 1955), as well as numerous flowers and plants. Another longstanding tradition to the popular school was the construction of Andy’s Store just across the highway in 1954, and although the friendly facility has changed hands and appearance several times, it has always maintained the same congenial repoir with students, staff, and customers.

As well as offering outstanding and ongoing educational, sports, and other extracurricular programs and opportunities for the students, Crestomere School has and will always continue to play host to such other enjoyable and spirited community activities such as musical concerts, public meetings, banquets, Christmas concerts, family picnics, unique fundraising projects and on and on. The Home and School Association also introduced annual scholarships for highest Grade 9 standings, as well as other ongoing awards and recognition for deserving students both then and now.

Some of the highlights at the Crestomere School over those great 55 years and counting included the flood of 1954, the first graduating class to leave the school in 1955, the presentation to Senior Citizen scrolls to our Alberta Pioneers, Elaine Cissell winning the Governor-Generals medal for highest marks in the County in 1960 and so many more. One needs only to visit the school and you will be treated to the day to day enthusiasm, as well as the hallway showcases full of mementos, class photos, awards and distinctions depicting over 50 years of learning dedication and fun by everyone involved. Meanwhile the Crestomere School is quiet at present for summer holidays, but come September the classrooms will be full of excited students once again, and principal Penny Mueller will lead 22 teachers and support staff into another enjoyable semester of learning through caring, achieving and leading together.