Happy birthday, Lacamas Heights

Camas elementary school to mark half-century with a party

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In 1964, The Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the “race to the moon” made headlines and a new home cost $13,050.In Camas, Lacamas Heights Elementary School opened its doors to 500 students for the 1963-64 school year.

On Jan. 17, the school. located at 4600 N.E. Garfield St., will celebrate that milestone with a birthday party. Duane Freeman, a sixth-grade teacher that first year, will be attending the party, along with several alumni and current students and staff members.

Principal Julie Mueller, a parent committee and school alumni have been working since last spring to create an event that all attendees will enjoy.

“I think it is awesome,” Mueller said. “I started teaching at Lacamas in 1995 and was there until Liberty Middle School opened.

“To come back as principal this year and be a part of all this history is amazing. It has been really neat to see the impact that this community had on the lives of the kids who attended Lacamas over the years.”

Sharon Carmichael, then Sharon Howard, was part of the school’s first sixth-grade class in 1963-64.

She now serves as a school volunteer and is helping to plan the 50th birthday celebration.

“Being in this school is like coming home,” she said. “My roots run really deep in this community. Three generations of my family have attended Lacamas: Myself, my daughter and my granddaughters. I have really fond memories here and it will be nice to connect with other alumni.”

Karen Wood is the Parent Association of Lacamas vice president. She has spent the last several months getting in touch with alumni, collecting photos and memorabilia and putting together a special movie for the event.

“With this year of transition, we really wanted to have a celebratory feeling,” she said. “It’s been a fun puzzle to piece together. Everyone has their own special memories.”

Wood and PALS members have been hosting small events each month to build anticipation for the birthday party.

Some of these have included teaching students the Twist, having a dance with 60s music, and dressing up as superheroes during the school sport-a-thon.

“It’s been pretty fun,” Wood said.

She’s also spoken with former teachers and the school’s first principal, Gayle Marrs, who now lives in Eastern Washington.

“He was surprised the school was still going,” she said. “But because of the way Lacamas was designed, it has the flexibility to change with the times.”

Although many things about education have changed in 50 years, the common goal to help students be successful has remained the same.

“They were dealing with some pretty heavy stuff when Lacamas opened,” Wood said. “Back 50 years ago, a lot of the kids lived in the country where they still had dirt floors and no running water. Their parents worked swing shifts at the mill and had trouble getting them to school, so there were a lot of home visits and checking in to make sure they were OK.”

Just before winter break, Mueller visited several kids and their parents.

“We still go to kids homes and have that desire to connect with families,” she said. “Caring for our kids hasn’t changed.”