Colette M. Jenkins

RANDOLPH TWP.: Alyssa May was astonished to learn her elementary school didn’t always have indoor plumbing.


Her eyes widened in wonderment as she listened to her great-grandfather, Andy Englehart, recall his days at St. Joseph School.


“We had outside toilets; and boy, did they stink!” said Englehart, a 1935 graduate of the parochial school. “I walked 3› miles to school. Sometimes, I would ride the kid hack [a horse-drawn school carriage]. I still remember the names of the horses: Dolly and Nip!”


Englehart will represent the first of four generations who have attended St. Joseph, which claims the title of the oldest English-speaking elementary parochial school west of the Allegheny Mountains. His daughter, Barbara Fahrny, who graduated in 1967, represents the second generation. Her daughter, Jennifer May, who graduated in 1990, is third generation, and her children — Alyssa, 11, Andrew “Drew,” 9, and Aric, 4 — make up the fourth generation.


The Atwater Township family will join others in the Catholic parish and alumni and current students during a special Mass to observe the school’s 180th anniversary at 5 p.m. Saturday. Youngstown Bishop George V. Murry will celebrate the Mass. A reception and open house at the school will begin at 6 p.m.


The reception will include stations with foods prepared by school organizations.


The open house will give guests an opportunity to walk through the school, which has been decorated with memorabilia provided by alumni and with artistic expressions by current students.


At the Mass, Murry will bless items to be added to a time capsule that recently was unearthed at the school. The capsule, about the size of a shoebox, was placed in the school cornerstone June 18, 1922. It contained coins, holy cards, medals, a financial statement and money from 1922.


Items to be added include a registration form, a school profile, a summary of the school budget and a memory stick containing photos and student schoolwork.


“We hope that when the time capsule is opened during the 200th anniversary, in 2032, people will say, ‘Wow! They really loved this place,’?” Principal Beth Frank said. “Our making memories, keeping them and passing them on speak volumes about how passionate we are about this place.”


Jennifer May said she sends her children to St. Joseph because it continues her family’s tradition of instilling faith into their lives.


“It’s a great school academically, and it helps with faith formation,” she said. “I can’t think of a better place for them.”


Her children agree.


Aric, who attends the preschool, said that when he comes to school he learns “to write my letters and play.” After a little thought, he said the most enjoyable part of his day is when he gets to play.


Drew, who is in third grade, loves recess and gym time but admitted it’s nice that “we can learn more about Jesus and being Christians.”


Alyssa, who is in sixth grade, said her small class size — 14 — is a plus.


“We don’t have a lot of distractions because there aren’t a whole lot of kids in the classroom,” she said. “We’re like a family here. We all know each other and we all help each other.”


Campaign saves school


Last year, parents and members of the parish rallied to keep the school open after receiving a letter from the diocese that indicated it could be closed because of declining enrollment and dwindling finances.


To turn things around, the school consultative council of the parish launched a campaign to balance the budget, to prepare a five-year plan outlining the sustainability of the school, to collect signatures on a petition asking the bishop to keep the school open, to collect donations for tuition assistance and to recruit more students.


The undertaking netted its desired results and the school remained open. The council surpassed its goal to enroll 100 students for the 2011-12 school year by 32 percent. Current tuition at the prekindergarten through eighth-grade elementary school is $2,400 for the first child, with multiple-student discounts and financial assistance available.


The only other Youngstown diocesan elementary school in Portage County is St. Patrick, at 127 Portage St., Kent. Its website is www.stpatskent.org.


Early history of St. Joseph


St. Joseph school was established in a log house in 1832. Three years later, the Catholics of Randolph agreed to build a combination log church and school. The one-room schoolhouse, which was built first, was used for Mass until the church was built in 1838.


Church records indicate that sometime between 1875 and 1885, the school was moved to its current location at 2617 Waterloo Road.


The brick school on that location was dedicated in 1922. The school cafeteria opened in 1960. A kindergarten curriculum was added in 1979.


Englehart attended the school when there were four classrooms — each containing two grades. In those days, there was no tuition, and the Sisters of Notre Dame, from Cleveland, were in charge.


“They were hard to get along with sometimes,” Englehart said of the nuns. “But they were excellent teachers.”


During his daughter’s years as a St. Joseph student, the nuns were still in the classrooms and the school was still tuition-free. Fahrny recalled there were two classrooms for each grade and about 36 students in each class.


“I was here during the baby boomer surge and a section was added to the building,” Fahrny said. “Even though the education was free, we came because it was our faith.”


In the 1970s, the school assessed each family a “book bill.” As operating expenses grew and the nuns gave way to lay teachers, tuition was added.


Today, the nuns have disappeared from the school, tuition has been raised and a technology fee has been added.


The school has committed to introducing Apple iPads into the classroom next school year and is inviting families to explore what St. Joseph has to offer through an informational campaign (to be launched during Saturday’s reception) called Do a 180 & Take Another Look at St. Joseph School.


Alyssa is certain that if they do, they will find something they like.


“It’s just a good place to be. We learn a lot and we grow in our faith,” she said. “I’m excited to be a part of something with so much history. One hundred and eighty years is a long time.”


For information about St. Joseph’s, call 330-628-9555 or go to www.sjsrandolph.org.


Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.