Four generations, one school

Wharton family legacy continues at Harrison Elementary School

Published: September 13 2013 | 5:30 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 8:23 pm in
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Dorothy Wharton never could’ve known that she’d be starting a legacy as she walked through the doors of Harrison Elementary School in 1930. The former location was damaged by a fire in early 1929 and Dorothy was a member of the newly constructed building’s first kindergarten class.

Now, 83 years later, Dorothy doesn’t recall a lot of specifics from her time there.

“I just remember I really liked school,” she said. “I liked music.”

Reflections sprang out of her earlier this week as she sat in a pint-sized chair at a low table in her great granddaughter Annabelle’s kindergarten classroom. A few weeks ago she began attending Harrison, becoming the fourth generation of her family to go to kindergarten at the school.

“I just think it’s the greatest thing,” said Dorothy, whose husband Lewis Wharton also went to Harrison.

He was also a member of the building’s inaugural kindergarten class, though Dorothy said she didn’t realize it until much later.

Their son Bill Wharton followed in his parents’ tracks in 1965 and Annabelle’s father Owen Wharton did the same, beginning kindergarten at Harrison in 1990.

“We love it that they went here,” Bill said of his own children who have attended the elementary school. “The fact that (Annabelle) gets to go here is great too.”

Successive generations of the Wharton family have continued to live in Cedar Rapids’ Time Check neighborhood – Harrison is located at 1310 11th St. NW – and they’ve observed its changes over the years. Dorothy remembers her parents selecting the location because her grandparents were nearby.

“You played with your cousins,” Dorothy said. “In those days you knew everybody on your block … The kids all came to our house to play.”

Bill then chose to live close to his parents. Now Annabelle is growing up one house away from the house her father Owen grew up in, where Bill still lives.

Dorothy, Bill and Owen all agree that the biggest event to impact the Harrison area in their lifetime was the 2008 flood. All three of their homes were damaged in the disaster, which occurred about a week after Annabelle’s birth. As people left Cedar Rapids in the flood’s wake, Harrison and other Cedar Rapids Community School District buildings became targets for closure.

“The day they decided to keep Harrison open was so important to me,” Dororthy said. “It was the best thing.”

Bill agreed.

“When they saved the school, that was a big deal,” he said. “I was very happy that (Annabelle) was going to be able to go here.”

As the neighborhood has evolved, so has Harrison. The students now carry backpacks, a foreign concept to Dororthy and Bill when they attended the school. Even Owen was unsure of whether or not he had one as a kindergarten.

Owen expressed a humorous bit of jealousy over how Harrison kindergarteners now have multiple options for lunch while Bill commented on the air conditioning unit humming in the window of Annabelle’s classroom, technology not present when he attended Harrison.

Yet the school remains familiar enough to Dorothy.

“To me, it’s always looked the same,” she said.

Some traditions remain throughout the years. Annabelle is just like her great grandmother when it comes to her favorite things about kindergarten.

“I like playing games,” the five year old said. “I like music.”

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