A Special Reunion
By: Carly O'keefe
DONGOLA, Il. -- High school reunions are about swapping stories and remember when's, looking back at old pictures and of course laughing about the silly things you did when you were a teenager. This weekend, the Dongola High School classes of 1945, 1961, 1962 and 1963 were able to reminisce within the walls of the school building they remember so fondly.
"This building is extra special," said Dongola Class of 1962 alumnus Gere "Butch" Ablett.
While some folks had to travel to Dongola from out of state, Jim Etherton didn't have to go anywhere for the homecoming.
"I am home. This is home. I've been here all these years," said Etherton.
By home, Etherton doesn't mean within the city limits of Dongola; he actually lives in the old Dongola High School building, and has since in 1973.
"Just to sit in the old school and see what Jim's done with it to make a place that everyone can come and enjoy. It brings back memories," said Class of 1961 alumnus Donald Keller.
The old school might have been leveled by now had Etherton not purchased it more than three decades ago it. The school building was for sale at auction a few years he graduated. Etherton has been working ever since to fix it up.
"All these old rooms hold memories, especially for me," said Etherton.
While it is technically a private residence, Etherton has given quite a few Dongola graduates a tour of their alma mater.
"He's had people from the 30,s 40's 50s stop by," said Ablett.
Etherton says he understands the attachment to the old building, and he's glad to invite class reunions or just alumni passing through, to spend a little time looking around his home.
"It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you've done something they appreciate. (The school) didn't fall down," said Etherton.