Sharing a laugh and reminiscing in front of the school building at Gomer are Darrell Frysinger, left, Elwood Thomas, Joann Thomas, Carla Olds, Tom Williams, and Jack Walls.
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GOMER, Ohio - The Gomer Bobcats were known for their fine baseball teams and their prize-winning choral groups made up of kids with singing in their blood.
The tiny Welsh community near the Allen-Putnam County border said good-bye to the Bobcats in 1969 when Gomer became part of the Elida Local Schools. Now, it's saying good-bye to the red brick building that has been an integral part of the village since 1914.
The school, which has housed Elida's fourth and fifth graders in recent years, will close permanently May 28.
"The bad news is this building marks the end of an era. The good news is I cannot imagine a better place I could have gone to school," said Tom Williams, a 1952 graduate. "It was a small school, and I got the chance to play baseball all four years."
A marker at the Sugar Creek Township Hall describes Gomer's Welsh ancestry.
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Mr. Williams and his wife, who now live in North Muskegon, Mich., traveled the 271 miles to Gomer this week for the annual alumni dinner tomorrow night. An open house for the public also is planned from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
"It's hard to miss this, especially when it's such a special one - very likely the last alumni meeting in the building," Mr. Williams said.
"Maybe the last anything in this building," added Darrell Frysinger, president of the alumni association and a fellow 1952 graduate.
Alumni from the school - who have faithfully attended reunions each third Saturday of May for decades - are sorry to see the old school close. They'd like to see something done with the building, but they know it's unlikely.
"There were all kinds of rumors of what could be here - a Welsh bed-and-breakfast to handle the crowds from our little museum," Mr. Frysinger said with a laugh. "There was talk of a rest home, a private school, county offices. The problem is the water and sewage."
The whole town relies on well water and septic systems. The school, which was built in three phases on three levels, is not handicapped accessible, has asbestos issues, and a number of other maintenance needs.
"Even for free, it would be a very expensive gift," said Elida Superintendent Todd Hanes.
Short of anyone coming forward to take over the building, Mr. Hanes said the district plans to tear it down when it qualifies for state assistance through the Ohio School Facilities Commission in four to five years.
Its old fans say that's just as well.
"I don't want to see it sit here with the windows smashed out," said Elwood Thomas, a Gomer resident who graduated in 1946. "I'd rather see it torn down. I'm just trying to be realistic."
Gomer, a town of about 350 people, has seen bits of its identity chipped away in recent years with the loss of its post office and the only bank in town. Alumni hate to lose the school, but they do have their memories to hold onto.
Several recalled the legendary D.L. Beougher, who served as Gomer superintendent in the 1940s and '50s. He commanded respect and inspired pride.
"He was superintendent but he also taught history, coached the baseball and basketball teams, kept the busses running, and each summer he refinished the gym floor," Mr. Thomas said.
Jack Walls, class of '47, recalled his senior trip to Put-in-Bay where some of the students carved their names on Perry's Monument. On the bus trip home, Mr. Beougher told him, "Fools' names and fools' faces are always seen in public places." He never forgot it.
"I loved to come to school," said Carla Olds, a 1966 Gomer graduate. "I lived just down the street and I'd walk to school everyday."
Today, only two of the 382 students at Gomer live close enough to walk to school, said Sherry Heitmeyer, principal of Gomer Intermediate. The kids don't have the same attachment as the graduates, she said. The closing will be harder on staff than students.
"We're trying to stress that what we have is not based on a building. What we have is based on people, and we're all going to be together," she said. "We're going to do our best to hang onto our Gomer culture."
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