For the better part of a year, Tana Odean and seven other women met in the basement of the Davenport Public Library to methodically scroll through microfilmed newspaper pages, gleaning information about the former St. Mary’s Catholic Grade School in Davenport.
They found and copied some 800 articles on graduations, first Communions, May crownings and sports events.
Meanwhile, Odean called and emailed classmates to collect nearly 1,000 photos — everything from formal occasions and snapshots of everyday activities to portraits of the priests who served as pastors and the religious sisters (Sisters of the Holy Cross) who taught at the school. Most of the photos have captions identifying the subjects; Odean was a real stickler for that.
The research was to prepare for a free, all-class reunion that will be 1-4 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at the St. Anthony’s Church hall, 4th and Main streets, Davenport.
St. Mary’s was a grade school operated by St. Mary’s Parish at 6th and Fillmore streets from 1902 until the late 1960s. For a time, there was even a high school. Odean hasn’t been able to pinpoint the exact date of the last eighth-grade graduation, but by the early ‘70s, St. Mary’s had joined nearby St. Joseph’s to become Holy Trinity School.
As near as Odean can figure, 1,089 students graduated from the school.
The research was more fun than tedious, said Odean, a 1958 St. Mary's graduate and the former president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend. In fact, “it was a real adventure,” she said.
“The wonderful stories — all these fun things came out of their mouths,” she said of interviewing alums. “They said, ‘I haven’t thought of these things for years.’ ”
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Her research also speaks to a different time and place. Odean’s mother, for example, should have graduated in 1933. But that was during the Great Depression, so she dropped out of school to help support her family of 10 brothers and sisters by baby-sitting for another family. Odean’s mother and her twin eventually returned to school and graduated in 1935.
The school building still exists and is used for religious education classes as well as meetings of various groups such as Girl Scouts and adult church organizations. The two-story brick structure has a gym with a stage and velvet drapes, a kitchen and two classrooms on each floor. Tours of the school and church will be offered from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. before the reunion.
The reunion itself will begin with a prayer offered by the Rev. William Meyer, pastor emeritus at Our Lady of Victory Church in Davenport and a 1939 graduate of St. Mary’s.
Participants also will be able to view a slideshow of all the pictures, something that Odean created and set to music. Selections include “Immaculate Mary” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” a nod to St. Mary’s predominantly Irish heritage. (St. Joe’s, just blocks away, was German.)
Copies of the CD with the slideshow on it will be sold for $10, with proceeds going to an endowment Odean set up on behalf of scholarships for Catholic education.
There also will be time for reminiscing. Odean’s own memories, for example, include learning to conjugate sentences and hearing from Sister Joseph Mary that people can tell what you are thinking by the expression on your face.
“That was a real eye-opener,” she said.
Classmates also will be invited to sing the school fight song, led by 10 pompom-waving cheerleaders organized by Anabel Flaherty of Davenport.