OCOEE Many schoolhouses have come and gone in this area’s history, and then-District 3 Ocoee Commissioner Rusty Johnson recently helped to unite a piece of that school history with the present — literally.
Johnson had been safely keeping the dedicative plaque from the 1922 Ocoee Elementary building for more than 20 years in his house, until current Ocoee Elementary and Orange County Public Schools officials were ready to rededicate it at the present site.
“From years ago, the building was torn down, and one of our building guys that worked for us, Buddy Elmore, who … was in Public Works, picked it up and saved it for me,” Johnson said. “I’ve kept it all these years, waiting for this. I had it sitting on a flat table in my garage.”
That large building was three or four stories of old-time brick and where Johnson’s high school graduation was, he said. It was a frequently used building, especially its auditorium for formal events and even karaoke, Johnson said, especially with multiple expansions added to it.
“With the trees and everything, it was a beautiful place,” Johnson said. “The parents and the community built the stadium themselves — it was huge.”
Today’s Ocoee Elementary has a different look, but engineers helped to piece together the cracked plaque and mount it on the outer wall, right in line with the plaque from the school built in 1978 and the current school’s plaque from 2014.
“He was telling me he had it in his house, and I’ve been doing a history of all the schools in my area,” Orange County School Board Member Christine Moore said. “So I told Rusty, ‘I want it out of your closet,’ and so that was how we did it.”
Moore said she had told Ocoee Elementary students how special it was to have a school go back as far as theirs — to the 1880s as Starke Lake Elementary in the same decade Ocoee got its name — something to be proud of. Children counted the years and were astounded by the age of the 1922 school, which looked like an old Victorian house, Moore said.
Teachers for the 1922 school had lived all around the school in close proximity, Johnson said. One of his favorite teachers in high school was the sponsor of the Future Farmers of America group. The Ocoee Middle School version of FFA should be a key contributor to the beatification of historic pieces of Ocoee schools, Johnson said, further contributing to that meeting of past and present.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].