Vienna Elementary Celebrates 80th Anniversary

Vienna Elementary Celebrates 80th Anniversary

School site is the oldest in Fairfax County.

During World War II, Vienna Elementary teachers gave their students spoonfuls of cod liver oil every day, thinking it would make them healthier. But Nancy Beery Keeran hated the daily dosage so much that she got her mother to write a note for the dosages to stop.

“That was really disgusting,” Keeran said.

Lighthearted reminiscences were among the thoughts shared during a celebration marking Vienna Elementary’s 80th anniversary. Held last Friday, the event brought together former students, now much older, and present students and their parents.

“It was very interesting. I was really glad I came,” said Corinne Lindenfelser of Vienna, whose son, Andre, attends fourth grade.

Although Vienna Elementary celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2003, schools have existed on its campus for over 200 years, making Vienna Elementary the oldest school on-site in Fairfax County. A white, public grammar school opened to 67 pupils in 1872. One of five graded schools in Fairfax County, the building was a two-story, wood-frame structure with two rooms. The school day was six hours long: from 9 a.m.-noon, then 1-4 p.m. Teachers earned $25 a month.

Throughout the years, additions were made on school grounds to accommodate student growth. But in the winter of 1919, a furnace boiler exploded, causing a fire that burned the school building down. All that remained was the chimney and cinderblock. To replace the school, the Town of Vienna borrowed $25,000 to build a new school, which opened in September 1923. It had six classrooms.

From the 1940s to the present, additional classrooms and new wings have been added to the original 1923 building. The latest changes occurred in the 1990s, when the school received building-wide air conditioning and an addition of an upper wing. Today’s Vienna Elementary boasts around 350 students.

THROUGHOUT THE EVENING, former students shared with the audience their memories of attending elementary school. During the Depression, there was no money for textbooks, so children copied everything they needed to know from the blackboard. In the 1930s, students helped clean the school because there were no janitors. Teachers were also expected to make daily visits to students’ families.

One of the evening’s panelists of former students, Sam Savia of Vienna recalled walking to school in 1932 until he graduated from Vienna Elementary in 1938. On the first day of first grade, Savia said he started crying because he didn’t want to go to school. But his teacher, Nancy Jones, took him under her wing.

“By second or third grade, I was ready to come to school every day,” Savia said.

In the 1940s, Keeran recalled having to change the way she said the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of putting her hand out toward the flag during the pledge, she was told to keep her hand over her heart. The gesture of pointing to the flag was too similar to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi gesture of the extended arm.

Yet the evening’s reminisces included not only memories from older students but more recent remembrances as well. David Meyer attended Vienna Elementary from 1961 to 1964. He told the audience of the drills where students ducked underneath their desks in case of an air raid. The classrooms had televisions in their rooms in 1961, and through that, students watched the first U.S. space flight, as well as the announcement by Walter Cronkite on Nov. 22, 1963, that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

“We were on the cusp of major changes,” Meyer said, adding that he entered a segregated school system in 1958, but integration occurred before he graduated from James Madison High School in 1970.

After the panel shared their memories, guests were escorted around the school by their sixth-grade tour hosts.

“History has an emotional location and spiritual location,” said Meyer, of returning to Vienna Elementary to visit. “Tonight it’s all positive, I assure you.”