KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: Irwin Elementary School has a special connection to my family

Kerry Hubartt

I wrote in a recent column about how the November death of my older brother left me as the last survivor of my nuclear family.

Dennie had lived in Alaska for decades since graduating from Purdue University in the 1960s, and serving in the Army before studying at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks to get his master’s degree in biology. He died on Veteran’s Day in a Seattle hospital, after being airlifted from Ketchikan, Alaska, following a long battle with cancer.

Preparations for a memorial service we had for my brother early last week here in Indiana revealed something I just have to share.

For the past few years, my wife and I have been picking up one of our granddaughters from school in the afternoons when her mother is still at work. It’s a labor of love.

The school is Irwin Elementary, named for John S. Irwin, who was superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools from 1875-1896.

As my wife Beth and I were sorting through a box of pictures of Dennie that had been handed down by my parents, picking out some to display at the memorial service, I rummaged through one last folder of photos, mostly snapshots from his early childhood. And among them were a couple of elementary school class pictures I had never seen before. The first I found showed Dennie’s little mug shot among the rest of his 5th-grade class at St. Joe Central Elementary School in 1953-54– that was where I went to school from 1st-6th grades, from the 1955-56 through 1960-61 school years. Dennie would have finished 6th grade there in 1955 before going on to New Haven Jr.-Sr. High School where he graduated.

But the second class picture was from 1951-52 and showed Dennie’s photo among his schoolmates in the 3rd grade–at John S. Irwin Elementary School.

My jaw dropped. I never knew that my brother went to the same elementary school as my granddaughter. I couldn’t believe it! They would have been in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades in the same school exactly 66 years apart. She’s in 4th grade this year.

And I never told Dennie what school this grandchild was attending. Surely he would have been fascinated by the fact his grandniece was going to his old school. What a gem of a coincidence that would have been for him to have known.

My family lived in southeast Fort Wayne on Queen Street when I was a baby, just five blocks from Irwin Elementary going east on Oxford Avenue. We lived there until we moved into the house my dad had built on St. Joe Road in northeast Fort Wayne when I was 3. That was when Dennie transferred to St. Joe Central.

John S. Irwin, who had been a doctor at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh until his health failed, came to Fort Wayne to work as a bookkeeper for the private banking firm of Allen Hamilton. He stayed in banking, according to the biography on the Irwin Elementary website, for about 20 years until ill health again forced a change.

But in 1865, still a banker, he was appointed to the city school board. And when Superintendent Dr. James Smart was elected state superintendent of public instruction 10 years later, Irwin was elected superintendent of the city schools.

Irwin Elementary looks much as it did when it was built in 1927. May Griffith was the school’s first principal when it opened in 1928, and Mary Kinniry is principal there today.

Irwin became the district’s math and science magnet school in 1989. It was my daughter’s choice for our granddaughter when she entered kindergarten, and we’ve loved the teachers, staff, volunteers and students at that school ever since.

I just never imagined that it had a part in my brother’s life as well. All the more reason it will remain a special place to me.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.