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December 15. 2012 8:27PM

Shared memories as old Exeter AREA Junior High School is torn down

EXETER - As exterior walls of the old Exeter AREA Junior High School came down last week, classrooms, a cafeteria and a flood of memories were exposed.

For former students such as Michael and Martha LaPerle, who met at the school in the late 1960s, the school on Linden Street will always have a special place in their hearts.

Michael LaPerle, 57, was a child when his late father, Richard, helped build the school that is now being demolished to make way for a YMCA facility.

His father is buried in the cemetery across from the school building.

"He always said to me, 'Mike, I'll always be able to watch the building across the street.' So this is bittersweet," said LaPerle on Friday as he joined nearly 100 former students, teachers, school administrators and community members for a farewell ceremony marking the end of the junior high building that opened its doors in 1967.

The building is being torn down after the Southern District YMCA purchased the property in September.

The YMCA is raising money to construct a 30,000-square-foot facility with a gymnasium, community locker rooms, a group fitness studio and office space. Depending on the amount of money raised, the YMCA would also like to add a pool and a second two-level gymnasium.

In many ways, the YMCA will carry on the tradition of educating children at the site.

"The YMCA educates in some ways. The school system educates in other ways," said Rob McGregor, executive director of the Southern District YMCA, adding that part of the YMCA's job is to teach children the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility so they can "grow up to be better citizens in this community."

The school, which had only two principals during its 30 years of operation, closed in the late 1990s when the new Cooperative Middle School opened in Stratham. That scholl serves students from Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham. Frank Kozacka, who passed away in 2010, was principal from 1967 to '77 and Thomas Meehan served from 1977 to '98.

Meehan, along with Kozacka's grandson, David Emanuel, and his son, Cole, 4, attended Friday's ceremony and each was given a brick from the building.

"Our emphasis was always on excellence," Meehan said, adding that the greatest achievement during his time was when the school was recognized nationally for its excellence in 1984.

Exeter Town Manager Russ Dean was a student at the junior high school in the early 1980s and also shared his memories.

"It was a time when kids were listening to Men at Work on the radio, playing Atari video games and buying their blue jeans at Stone's," a once-popular Levi store in downtown Exeter that closed many years ago, he said.

He also joked about how he tried to be a good kid in junior high.

"I managed to stay out of Mr. Meehan's office," he said.

The LaPerles' son, Matt, 28, also remembers Meehan as he was a student in the last class to attend the school before it closed. He now lives in Denver, Colo., but was able to attend Friday's ceremony because he was visiting his parents. While he had many memories at the school, Matt said, "It is neat to see a new beginning for someone else."

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.


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