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Sunday, October 22, 2000

Heath graduates dedicate historical marker

Graduates of Mexican-American school remember the lessons learned, spankings earned

By Jason Ma
Caller-Times

David Adame/Caller-Times
Reynaldo Alvarez recounts the time he was spanked by the principal after climbing a tree as an 8-year-old second-grader at Cheston L. Heath School in 1932. He spoke at the dedication of the school’s historical marker.
Cheston L. Heath School alumni fondly remember their former principal and the tough love she never hesitated to show them.
   "I don't think there were too many people who escaped her spankings," said Leo Gonzalez, who attended the Mexican-American school from 1937 to 1939. "Ms. (Rose) Shaw just about spanked every class. We loved her."
   About 40 former students gathered Saturday at the Nueces County Courthouse, the school's old site, to dedicate a Texas Historical Commission marker near the Lipan Street entrance of the building.
   Now in their 70s and 80s, alumni took turns sharing favorite memories of their time at the school. Some were seeing each other for the first time since they graduated.
   Most recalled warmly the principal who disciplined and inspired them to learn. As a Mexican -American school, most students went there to learn English for the first time.
   "She gave us a feeling of belonging," said Jose "Richard" Villarreal. "She radiated attention to individual students."
   Because of Shaw, "we would personify ourselves a people wanting an education," he added.
   He also remembers getting a new first name when he arrived at the school. Because there were already two other Joses, he got the name Richard, which he still goes by today.
   From his pocket, Gonzalez pulled out an athletic letter he kept from the school's 1939 football team, which won the ward championship that year.
   "You cherish something like that," he said. "I can never forget Cheston Heath School."
   Generations of families attended the school from 1896 to 1960, when it merged with George Evans Elementary School. In 1973, the school district sold the land to Nueces County for a new courthouse.
   Pat Gonzalez was part of the later generations who attended the school. For her, going to Cheston Heath in the 1940s meant that she was following the rest of her family, who all went to the school too.
   "It connects you with the past," she said.
   Mike Arsuaga recalled his favorite teacher, who helped him love math and learn the skills that would eventually lead him to high-level math classes by the time he got to high school.
   "I still think about her," he said. Then pointing to his head, he added, "I got a calculator up here because of her."
   In 1919, the school was named for Heath, a hardware merchant and school board president who died the year before. Heath was one of the school's benefactors, often buying books for students who couldn't otherwise afford them. On Saturday, his descendants listened to the former students reminisce about their school, and witnessed the fruits of his work.
   "That's phenomenal," said Lisa Brunsvold, Heath's great-granddaughter. "There's no greater contribution anyone can offer but to education."
  




Staff writer Jason Ma can be reached at _886-3778 or by e-mail at maj@caller.com

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