By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
St. Dominic School has spent the past few months celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The school on Columbus Road opened in the fall of 1963, but the site wasn't dedicated until May 10, 1964, when Bishop William O'Connor of the Springfield Diocese presided over the celebration.
The new school started out as a "suburban" addition to St. Francis School at 17th and College, which was growing steadily and at capacity. The new school initially served 208 students in grades 1-4. One extra grade was added each subsequent year until the school was serving grades 1-8.
It didn't take long for the school to seek out a measure of independence.
According to The Quincy Herald-Whig's archives, the name of St. Francis Suburban School was changed to St. Dominic School in February 1964 to differentiate the schools. The new name was chosen to acknowledge the Dominican sisters who staffed the school in its early years.
Today, the Dominican sisters are long gone, but the school continues to persevere. It has enrollment of 147 in grades K-8, along with 37 more students in a preschool program.
"We're doing well," Principal Sue Kelley said. "We're growing with the times and with the technology."
Kelley said she can't believe a half century has passed since the school's inception. When the school opened, Kelley was a student at St. Francis.
"At that time, we were bursting at the seams," she recalled. "At that time, it wasn't anything to have 50 kids in a class."
Kelley said some St. Francis families who lived closer to Columbus Road sent their children to the new school.
"It really helped with the overcrowding at St. Francis, but the new school was still part of the St. Francis parish," Kelley said. "The families still came to St. Francis Church. They were still members of St. Francis, and the St. Francis pastor would come out here (to St. Dominic) and have school Mass every once in a while."
The opening of the school caused some unusual family splits.
Donna Richmiller, who has taught at St. Dominic for 29 years, recalls how the four children in her family ended up in three different grade schools after the school opened.
Richmiller -- then known as Donna Buening -- was in sixth grade at St. Francis at his time. Her older brother, Steve, was in eighth grade, so those two stayed at St. Francis. However, her younger sister, Chris, was in fourth grade and was sent to the new school. Because the new school didn't have a kindergarten yet, her youngest sister, Mary Ann, went to Ellington School.
"It was almost like it divided the family a little," Richmiller said.
Richmiller's harried parents would attend activities at all three elementary schools while shuffling the kids between the various locations.
"We all survived," Richmiller said with a laugh.
Richmiller said she's glad St. Dominic opened because it provided a roomier campus with about 20 acres of open space.
"What's so great about this school is we have so much land," she said. "At St. Francis, when I played ball, we played in the street. It was all concrete. There was no grass absolutely anywhere."
St. Dominic eventually had its own church and parish, but the parish ended in 2007. The school became part of St. Anthony of Padua parish, though, some families went back to St. Francis parish.
A committee has planned a series of activities to celebrate the school's 50th anniversary.
Cassie Mefford, chairman of the committee, said the group kicked things off with a special Mass during Catholic Schools Week in January, followed by a potluck lunch. The committee also hosted a trivia night in March to raise money for a former student's Eagle Scout project, which will improve the school's entrance.
The committee has been selling commemorative T-shirts, and it also erected an elaborate display of old photos and scrapbooks inside the school.
Mefford, whose daughter is in second grade at St. Dominic, said families feel a closeness to the school.
"We love the school," she said. "We like the atmosphere and the small class sizes."