From Mr. Bob & Mr. Bill, to PE uniforms, to first dances: Curtain closes on Churchill

Mike Trueblood
For The Register-Mail

GALESBURG — Churchill Junior High students attended their last day of classes on Wednesday.

The school's teachers and staff reported to work at 905 Maple Ave. for work for the final time on Thursday.

On June 30, the 65-year old building including a gymnasium, auditorium and adjacent land to the north that once housed Bateman Elementary School will become the property of the city of Galesburg.

A community open house was held at Churchill Junior High on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

Then George Churchill Junior High will be nothing but decades of memories — of making new friends, multiple classrooms, buying and wearing a PE uniform, first dances, first lunch menu choices, assemblies, ballgames, calling yourself a Blue Streak and taking big steps in the journey of life.

"I love meeting and greeting the kids in the morning. That's the best part of my day," said Nick Young, Churchill principal for the past year. "I love to see them engaged and seeing that light pop on for some of them.

"It's a unique age, they're changing so fast. They'll have tears one day and belly laughs the next."

And despite the significance of Wednesday, Young admitted things weren't a whole lot different.

More local news:Open house prompts public opinions on city options with Churchill as community center

Last day of school bittersweet for many

"It was bittersweet," he said. "We had kids coming in for their last day and you had a relationship with kids that was going to end.

"But we were just trying to make it the best day it could be. We had an awards assembly during the day and I was thinking this will be the last school event held in the auditorium.

"It probably won't hit me until later." 

Previously:Churchill marks 50 years on Maple Avenue

Galesburg school District 205 has closed Churchill as part of its facilities plan. Beginning next school year, the current Galesburg High School building will house all district students from grades 7-12.

It means another move for Young.

A Churchill student in the mid-1990s, he served four years as Lombard Middle School principal before this year working at Churchill. He was Lombard assistant principal three years before that.

"I'm the answer to a trivia question," he said. "In terms of renovation at Lombard and Galesburg High School, I've been part of both of them.

"I packed up there and I'm packing up here."

Next school year, Young will work as an associate principal at Galesburg High School. Many teachers and staff will make the move, too.

"It's the people and the kids I'll remember," said Sue Dickinson, a Churchill teacher for 32 years who retired in 2014.

"I always thought of us as a family. Maybe we hit it at the right time, maybe the stars aligned. 

"I am friends with many of the people I taught with," she said. "My colleagues are my friends. 

"The kids were engaged. It was a family. We supported each other."

For some students, the years spent at Churchill were some of the best of their lives.

The pride of being a Blue Streak

A community open house was held at Churchill Junior High on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

"It was the pride and tradition you had," said Eric Johnson, who was developing into a star basketball player while at the school in 1978-79.

"It was the sense of getting ready and getting your grades together. School was great. The teachers were great."

Johnson, whose wife Katrina taught math at Churchill, formed a bond with longtime coaches Bob and Bill Morgan that has lasted a lifetime.

"They were an influence both on and off the court," Johnson said. "I was blessed. I was very, very fortunate."

The Morgans, who both taught and coached at the school for over 30 years had the Churchill gym named in their honor in 2010. Bill, still remembered for his daily fitness walks through the halls of the school, continued to work for 19 years in the cafeteria after retiring from teaching.

A week or two prior to last month's open house at the school, Johnson and friend Jeff Holt got inside the gym on a Sunday after church and shot a few baskets for old time's sake.

"It's where it all began, you know," Johnson said.

Mr. Bob and Bill: Coaching and teaching legends at Churchill

Bob, left, and Bill Morgan, in the Churchill Junior High School gymnasium.

Along with the imprint they left on Johnson, it's safe to say, that for over three decades, few left a bigger impression on the students they encountered than the Morgans.

Steve Cheesman, a former Churchill student, returned to teach and coach there for 32 years, retiring in 2014.

"In all my years of being in education, I have never seen two people have the positive impact on kids that Bob and Bill Morgan had on the kids at Churchill," said Cheesman.

The city of Galesburg voted 4-3 last month to acquire the Churchill building from school district 205 at no cost.

Previously:Morgan brothers draw a crowd to gym dedication

Council members voting yes saw the acquisition as an opportunity to transform the building into a community center. Other potential uses mentioned include a daycare center, a fitness center, community classrooms, a homeless shelter and office space for organizations.

Cheesman remembers when he attended Churchill in 1970-73, there were 1,200 students in grades 7-9 in the building and many had to share lockers.

On Wednesday, 555 kids in grades 7-8 attended the school's last classes.

Dickinson thinks the city's deal was a steal.

"It's really sad because Churchill is a great building," she said. "It was built to last.

"Yes, it needs some updates but I hate to see it close.

"Still, I think it has some life left. I'm excited to see what the city does with it."