Their eyes lit up with the glow warm memories bring to aging faces, their words running excitedly together as they suddenly recalled moments they didn't even know they remembered.
The plays in the auditorium, the lessons in the classrooms, even the stern reprimands from teachers. All of it, said the group gathered at Edward W. Bower Elementary, helped make them the adults they are today.
As the Lindenhurst school district prepares to permanently close Bower, dozens of former students and teachers gathered last week to reminisce. Organized by the Lindenhurst Historical Society, the program on the school's history was part lecture, part reunion.
"I can't believe we're here," gushed Pietrina Giordanella-Corsitto, 52, her eyes scanning the auditorium for the first time in more than four decades. "Everything seems so much bigger when you're a kid!"
Last year, facing the loss of millions in state and federal aid, the district decided to close Bower. The school, the smallest and one of the oldest in the district, suffered from declining enrollment, an issue facing many districts such as Mineola, which is closing Cross Street Elementary this year and Willis Avenue Elementary in 2012.
When Bower opened in 1953, officials at the dedication were asked to make predictions for life in 1978, the 25th anniversary of the school. Some forecasts -- that Long Island would be a state -- were a little far-reaching. But one prediction -- enrollment -- was underestimated. Bower's first principal foretold of a high school graduating class of 200. The class of 1978 was nearly 800, said the historical society.
After the presentation, the group swapped stories of favorite and feared teachers, as well as wistful recollections of a simpler time when kids walked home for lunch.
Giordanella-Corsitto stepped into the gym and was smacked with the memory of square dancing on hardwood floors, hoping her crush would be her partner. "The colors have changed, the bleachers are modernized, but I remember," she said.
Teachers also felt the pull of nostalgia. "I feel like I'm in my old stomping grounds," grinned Andrew Maceiko, 84, who taught sixth grade in 1953 and became principal in 1960.
Jim Westpfahl, 66, spoke of when he and other boys attempted to hold a chin-up contest in the bathroom. Maceiko grabbed them by the ears and told them he expected better. Westpfahl said decades later he thanked Maceiko because the incident reminded him that he could do better. "That had a huge impact on me," he said.
State Assemb. Robert Sweeney, a former Bower student, was unable to make the gathering, but recalled later how enrollment was so large while he was there in the late 1950s that they had to split classes into morning and afternoon sessions. "It is the end of an era," he said. "There is emotion involved in closing that door."
Some former students took a stroll through the hallways for one last look. "It's the saddest thing," Giordanella-Corsitto said. "For all of us, for the town. It's just sad."