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Virginia Parks School turns 20
Bruce Cole walked onto the Virginia Parks Elementary School campus last week, amazed that it looked as fresh as the day it was completed 20 years ago. Cole, who was one of the crewmen of J.L. Bray Construction that built the school, was on hand for the 20th anniversary celebration on Sept. 15.

"This school looks amazing," said Cole. "Look at it. It's 20 years old and looks new. They're doing a marvelous job."

Cole and his wife, Debbie, a former maintenance worker, returned to take part in the evening celebration which featured speeches by school officials and past principals, and a barbecue dinner. The Mae Hensley Junior High School band was playing as a large crowd was arriving.

A handful of current and past teachers, staff members and students and their parents attended the outdoor event. An arch of blue and gold balloons - for the school colors - formed a background to the speakers.

Fifth-grader Stephanie Ortiz sang the National Anthem and members of the local VFW and American Legion posts posted colors.

Noticeably absent was Virginia "Betty" Parks for whom the school was named when it was finished in 1989. Mrs. Parks, who was a Ceres School Board member in the 1950s and 1960s, was able to get to the school earlier in the day but unable to attend the evening celebration.

Bea Lingenfelter, who opened the school as principal with Supt. Bruce Newlin 20 years ago, was in attendance, as were former principals Lynda Maben and Jose Beltran. Tina Gore, principal from 1990 to 1993, and former principal Sharon Shanahan (2004-06) were unable to attend.

"This is a very special place for students and parents," said Ceres Unified School District Supt. Walt Hanline who credited Lingenfelter for helping to foster a "culture at Virginia Parks that is one of excellence and high standards." He said since then the school has been known as doing "unique things" for children.

The school twice been bestowed with the honor of being a California Distinguished School and has been a Blue Ribbon and Title I Achieving School. Hanline noted, too, that Virginia Parks has met its API (Academic Performance Index) target every year since 2005.

School Board trustee Betty Davis recalled her days as a teacher when the new school opened. "We were thrilled to be at a new school," she recalled. Davis noted that the positive path continues to be followed today.

Lingenfelter said the building of Parks School was a big deal because Ceres hadn't seen a new school since Mae Hensley was built 15 years prior. She noted that the building of schools in Ceres has happened in commonplace fashion.

"It was an exciting, exciting time," Lingenfelter remembered.

That first year she said students had to eat lunch under the overhangs in bad weather because the school opened with no cafeteria because of lack of funding.

Lingenfelter remembered how excited the fifth- and sixth-graders at the time were in assembling items for the time capsule. They were told the capsule would be opened and added to at the 20th anniversary celebration, remarking that the 20-year wait was "way out there."

Principal Jennifer Backman noted that custodians were unable to unearth the capsule but would continue searching for it in order to add more items to it.

Lingenfelter drew chuckles when she noted that she probably would be around to attend the 50th anniversary in 2039.

Lynda Maben, who was principal from 1993 to 2004, gave some of her anecdotal insights about the school.

"My husband told me to tell you that I still believe in blue and gold," she said, in reference to her heart still being with the school.

Backman was presented with proclamations of honor from both Congressman Dennis Cardoza and State Senator Jeff Denham.

After the remarks a barbecue dinner was served by the Virginia Parks Parent Teacher Club.