MENOMONEE FALLS — When the doors opened for classes this fall at St. Mary School, it marked the first time in 61 years that there was not a Newman in attendance.
When 13-year-old Jacob Newman graduated from the school in spring, it was about more than the culmination of his elementary school education. It was, perhaps, the end of an era.
The son of Randy and Danielle, Jacob marks the end of three generations of Newmans to attend the school over the past 80 years, with 61 of those years in continuous attendance.
St. Mary Parish and School honored the family on June 21 with recognition at Mass. For Randy, the recognition was bittersweet, as he would have liked the legacy to continue.
“I wish it wasn’t the end. I would like this to continue because it is a neat little streak,” he said, joking, “but I am not having another kid to keep it going. We held out as long as we could and had three boys who all went there.”
Jacob’s legacy began with his grandfather, Michael Newman, who attended the parish school with his siblings beginning in 1929.
One of 13 children, Michael’s family struggled after his father lost his herd of cattle to disease and when the Great Depression claimed their Lisbon farm.
After relocating to Menomonee Falls, six of the remaining children – one died shortly after birth – attended St. Mary School, with Michael beginning in fifth grade. Two siblings attended third grade and Kathleen, the youngest, graduated in 1939 after attending all eight years. Michael, who died last year at 90, and his wife, Clarice, raised their 13 children, including Randy, the newly-elected Menomonee Falls village president, in the Catholic faith and lived in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. Each child attended St. Mary Parish School.
“This school has been a big part of all our lives,” he said. “Each of us lived in the shadows of St. Mary when we grew up. Our relationships are based there. Our kids went there, and, as parents, we met other parents of kids who attended St. Mary and the relationships last beyond the years in school. In fact, many of the kids I went to school with, I still see in the summers – we hook up and get together and talk. I will never forget my days at St. Mary. That part of my life is strong.”
According to Randy’s sister, Shelley Newman Kohl, 27 Newmans attended St. Mary School beginning with Jim, the oldest of Michael’s children. Included in the count are numerous siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. While her children were not among the 27, she is a member of St. Mary Parish, was involved in the religious education program and has fond memories of her years at the parish school.
“The staff members and teachers are like family,” she said. “I grew up around the School Sisters of St. Francis teaching our classes, in the convent and saw them praying and singing every day. It was totally different when I went to school because we had nuns teaching us in every grade. Now we don’t have a single nun teaching here.”
Without any family members attending the school, Kohl will miss attending the various concerts, sporting events and plays that occupied much of her nieces’ and nephews’ extra curricular activities.
“Unless a neighbor is involved in a play or sports, I probably won’t see the plays or other things anymore, and that is a bit sad,” she admitted. “When my dad was living, he always took the nephews and nieces to the after-school activities and told them stories about what it was like when he went to school there.”
Randy considered it a priority to educate his three children at the same school that he credits for giving him a solid foundation, and good moral and ethical role models.
“I figured that I could help my kids with reading, writing and math, but I really needed help with religion,” he said. “I am not the perfect Catholic and that is an area I need help with and appreciate the support. It was an investment in their futures and worth the cost to do that. The children get a good exposure to religion and see how it can be a strong part of everyday life.”
Aside from the religious education, Randy is pleased with the academic program as well as the interest that staff and other students take in helping all to succeed.
“It is a great learning environment here,” he said. “They teach learning skills that will benefit them later on in life. I really like the group environment where the higher achievers help those who might be struggling a bit. They all work together as teams to make each other better.”
The same principles apply to the sports teams, according to Randy, who marveled at the top players helping the others to make the teams better.
“This not only helps the ones who are struggling, but improves the top players as well,” he said. “There is such a kindness here and that goes a long way to getting along with people and finding success at the next level. This is one of those side things you don’t get at public schools.”
Because the school is small, teachers and other parents are able to realize if a student is having difficulty and will quickly bring it to the attention of the struggling student’s parents.
“Everyone knows each other’s business and who is having trouble,” Randy said. “Oftentimes parents will call another parent, ask how their child is doing on their project, and find out. We have smaller class sizes which foster a great foundation for learning.”
Although his children were enrolled in St. Mary accelerated classes, Randy was apprehensive as to how they would fit in with their peers once they attended public high school. His worries were unfounded.
“They used their skills and kept maintaining good grades; it wasn’t a problem for them,” he said. “Now I have sent a couple onto college and they are doing well. I have to believe that it had a lot to do with the program at St. Mary and how it helped my kids get the keys to success.”