At Bell-Avon, memories go in and out the door

Tom Yerace
| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 11:45 p.m.

The 300 or so people who showed up Saturday at the former Bell-Avon Elementary School came for two reasons — bargains or memories.

For some like Sommer Dull, who lives across the street from the old school in the village of Salina, it was both.

“I bought the only set of lockers that was sold,” Dull said. “I wanted something to remember the school by because I went to school here, my granddad went here and my dad went here.”

She was thrilled with the group of three lockers, the only free-standing ones in the building, even though that at $120, she paid a little more than she planned.

“At home, we're building an all-sports game room and they're going to go in there,” Dull said “In fact, my husband is over there now working on it.”

Kiski Area School District decided to rid itself of the building, which was constructed in the 1930s, and its contents through the public auction. The school was used until last year but was closed as the district reconfigured its schools.

Bidders showed up for the 9 a.m. start and were there past 2 p.m. The school and accompanying 5.3 acres were sold shortly after noon for $29,000 to Richard Gulyas. He refused to talk to the Valley News Dispatch about the purchase and his plans for the school.

Other successful bidders did talk about their purchases.

Two small, wheeled, wooden computer desks sitting in what seems to have been a ground- floor office, went for a grand total of $1 each.

“I would definitely say that was a pretty good bargain,” said Jim Secrist of Latrobe, who landed one of the desks. “You never know what treasures you're going to find in someone else's trash. For a buck, you can't go wrong.”

John McCaffrey of Avonmore bought two desks, a big metal desk and the other computer desk plus some metal shelving. He said the metal desk, destined for his garage, cost him $15.

“Fifteen bucks, can you imagine that?” McCaffrey said as he examined the metal desk. “You wonder how many hundreds of dollars the taxpayers spent on this back in 1970.”

Kiski Area Superintendent John Meighan and Business Manager Peggy Gillespie were on hand for the bidding and said they were pleased with the event.

“The auctioneer has done an absolutely wonderful job of presenting the building,” Gillespie said.

Room by room, auctioneer Julie Dunmire navigated through the school equipped with a headset microphone and a portable speaker. Everything from cafeteria equipment to books and shop equipment went on the block and then out the door.

Perhaps the most novel item on the auction block was the old scoreboard in the gymnasium. Gillespie said it went for a high bid of $2,200 to Salem Antiquities in neighboring Salem, although there were out-of-state bidders vying for it.

“We've had bidders from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland,” Dunmire said. “There was a vehicle out there with Texas plate on it.”

What could not be sold were the memories shared by the dozens of people who attended Bell-Avon and even graduated from it when it housed kindergarten through grade 12.

Cookie Markuzic, 72, who now lives in Indiana, Pa., is one of those graduates. She sported a white T-shirt bearing red letters that proclaimed “Bell-Avon Class of 1959” and the school's mascot, a pouncing lion.

Sitting on benches at center court in the old gym with fellow Bell-Avon alums, Markuzic said, “We're just coming here to look and renew old memories.”

Classmate Carole Novosel, 72, of Bell Township, sitting next to her, said, “We have lots of good memories here — proms, record hops. Friday nights we would play 45's (records) back in that corner there. People from Saltsburg and the surrounding area would come.”

Dolores Colledge of Bell Township said she met her husband at Bell-Avon when they were students. They have been married for 63 years.

Two 1949 graduates, Bob King and Marlene Wilmot, both 82, stood outside Room 18 on the second floor, reminiscing.

“Right here is where I got reamed for chewing gum,” King said with smile, pointing just outside the doorway.

Wilmot, who was a cheerleader at the school, said, “During World War II, I can remember looking in the window where the shop was and the women were there learning to do mechanics.”

But there were younger people with memories of their own like Michele Thomas of Leechburg. Thomas, a Kiski Area STEM teacher, began her career teaching first-graders at Bell-Avon in 2007.

“It's bittersweet, it's sad,” she said. “It brings back good memories. I remember our Halloween parades, when the kids would come through here in their costumes, and the family atmosphere.”

Colledge may have summed up best the feelings of everyone connected to Bell-Avon.

“This place is like home to us,” she said. “We would rather that it be demolished than left here to deteriorate. I would love for someone to take it and love it as much as we loved it.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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