Wolcott Historical Society News - November 2011
By Florence Goodman
Wakelee Elementary School, which is located on Hempel Drive and was named in honor of Robert A. Wakelee, opened its doors fifty years ago on December 19, 1960. A celebration will be held to honor the occasion on November 9, 2011 so I thought it fitting to review the history of the school in this month's edition.
On December 1, 1950, the Board of Selectman purchased approximately fifteen acres of land off of Spindle Hill Road and on June 29,1959, money was appropriated for the construction of a new elementary school in the western section of town. The building contract was signed on January 28, 1960 and $793,471 was appropriated for the project.
In order to gain access to the school, a new road had to be built which was an additional $13,390 cost to the project. The road was named Hempel Drive after a former superintendent of schools, Mr. Carl Hempel. When this project was completed, the school building committee was able to give back $33,000 to the General Funds.
The new school consisted of 45,200 square feet and would house 750 students. This school had 26 classrooms and an all-purpose room, which served as a cafeteria, music room, assembly hall and gymnasium. It also included a principal's office, library space, teacher's room, health room, cafeteria, kitchen, bathrooms, storage areas, parking and playgrounds. When Wakelee School opened its doors in 1960 all elementary school student town wide were able to attend full day sessions for the first time in six years.
This new school in the western section of town was named Robert A. Wakelee after a lifelong resident who served in town government for over thirty years. Wakelee was a selectman in town from 1943 to 1973 and also served as a State Representative.
He was born in Wolcott on January 17, 1885, but his family roots go back to the early 1700s when his ancestor, Ebonezar (Ebenezer) Wakelee settled in the region just north of Sharon Road called the "The Big Plains." The Almus Wakelee house, which is still located on Wakelee Road, was built between 1822 and 1835 and was part of the extensive land holdings, acquired by Ebonezar Wakelee in 1727. Robert Wakelee lived in this house for many years and his family owned many of the surrounding houses. Even after his retirement from town government, Robert A. Wakelee remained active in town affairs until his death on April 1, 1973.
Wakelee School's first principal was Edward Kelley who served in that position for 27 years from 1960 until 1987. When you mention Wakelee School one can't help but think of Mr. Kelley and Flag Day. Dr. Robert Carroll was the second administrator of the school, serving from 1987 until 1995 when Irene Turek took over the helm. Mrs. Turek served as principal until 1999 when John Cook became principal. Mr. Cook remained in that position until February of 2006 when he retired from the school system. At that time Tom Buzzelli was appointed principal and served in that position until June 2011 when he retired. In July 2011, Rob Nagashima was selected as the new principal of Wakelee School.
In the 1989 the town appropriated funds for the first addition to Wakelee School. This addition included a new gymnasium, an elevator, four more classrooms, bathrooms, all new windows throughout the old building and updating the old multipurpose room into a cafeteria. Upon completion in 1991, the new gymnasium was dedicated on Flag Day to Edward Kelley.
By 1996-97 Wakelee School was in need of more classroom space; thus four more classrooms (two of which were kindergarten rooms with bathrooms) and a meeting room were added to the opposite end of the building. Wakelee School grew with the school population and has served the residents in the western section of town well.
So many town residents have attended Wakelee School throughout its fifty-year history as well as many former teachers who began, completed or spent most of their teaching careers at this school. At the 40th celebration in 2000 many alumni had comments about the school in the Waterbury Republican American and I would like to share those comments.
Mr. Edward Kelley, first principal stated, "I spent 27 enjoyable years here with wonderful kids and marvelous parents who made me enjoy every day of my work. It was all based on the goodness of people... I think there's something contagious about the goodness, and that's what keeps the spirit going." Dennis Cleary who was State Representative at the time and attended Wakelee School from 1962 through 1968 stated, "For the last 38 years, there have been Clearys in Wakelee School." Mike Santogatta who was Board of Education chairman stated these thoughts about attending Wakelee when it first opened, "We walked over boards because I don't think the front steps were quite in yet. It's a very unique school. It's more than a school, it's a community." Tony Gugliotti who was the Board's vice chairman at the time stated," Not only did I go to this school, I grew up here." Roberta Leonard was a student at Wakelee School in 1960 and came back to spend her teaching career there as a kindergarten teacher stated, "I have spent the majority of my life at Wakelee School. You just don't know where you will land. A lot of wonderful things happen. It has been the most meaningful part of my life." Kathy Cordone was also a student at the school who came back to teach in the building stated, "It's really a great place." John Cook who was the principal at the time of the 40th celebration had this to say, "This school has a spirit that will live here forever. Not only the people who are here, but also the people who were here before us. Once you experience it, you'll never forget it."
(Information from this article was taken from an article in the Waterbury Republican-American written by Cara Rubinsky, Dec. 2000, Town of Wolcott 1959-60 Annual Report, History of Wolcott Schools, author unknown, Wolcott School System History, author unknown, a phone conversation with Dennis Guiditta Clerk of the Works for 1st addition, a phone conversation with Roberta Leonard, and help from Ken Bly, head custodian of Wakelee School.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum is open on Sundays from 1-3 PM on October 2, 9, 16, and 23. It is also open by appointment by calling Flo Goodman (203-879-9818) or Carl Hotkowski (203-592-8237). Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 PM.
Wakelee Elementary School in December 1960.
The Almus Wakelee House located on Wakelee Road was built in 1835. Robert A. Wakelee lived in this house for many years.
A Wakelee family photo taken in 1911. Robert A. Wakelee is sitting in the front row on the right side.
Wakelee School's new gymnasium and four new classrooms that were needed for additional space were completed in 1991.
Four additional classrooms were added to the opposite end of the school in 1996-97.
Plaque at Wakelee gym entrance.
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