For anyone who grew up in or knows someone who was raised on the west end of North Riverside, chances are Komarek School holds a special place in their hearts for being a pillar of their formative years.
To help celebrate eight decades of education, welcome back graduates and invite young families to check out the district, Komarek is hosting an 80th anniversary celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 28 at the school, 8940 24th St.
While Komarek hosted a small scale celebration in-house for their 75th anniversary five years ago, administrators and staff decided sponsoring an open house would be a great way for those who are both lifelong Komarek families or know nothing about the school to join together and learn about the history of the school as well as Komarek’s future.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to bring alumni and new families into the building to celebrate who we are and who we were and looking ahead,” Superintendent Brian Ganan said. “This gives us the opportunity to do that without waiting another 20 years, because we want to show who we are now and where we’re going.”
District 94, which was first established by township school trustees in 1931, was first housed in a building called Peterson School, located at 25th Avenue and Cermak Road. In 1936, that building was closed when Komarek School site opened as a two-room school.
The school was named for A.W. Komarek, an early Realtor in the North Riverside area who donated an eight-lot site for the construction of a school.
The two rooms of the original school were incorporated into what is now known as the school’s east building, and in 1954 the board of education purchased land west of 13th Avenue to construct Komarek’s west building. The west building houses kindergarten through third grade, and the east building houses fourth- through eighth-grade classes. An overpass was eventually built, connecting both buildings.
At Komarek’s celebration on April 28, staff and a number of retired staff members will be around, greeting guests and mingling with alumni to relive school memories of yesteryear.
Throughout the evening, student council members will lead scripted tours of the facilities for visitors to see changes the building has undergone in recent years. Guests can also enjoy a photo booth, light refreshments, a DJ playing music from the decades, participate in raffles to win prizes from local businesses and restaurants, and check out donated memorabilia documenting the school’s history.
And, to celebrate special Komarek traditions, all of the eighth-grade scrapbooks from the past will be on display in the east gym along with all of the graduation banners from classes since the tradition began in the 1980s.
Sandy Lid, of North Riverside, is not only a longtime Komarek first-grade teacher but is also an alumna and parent of Komarek graduates. From the time she was a student herself all the way through today, she says she really doesn’t notice much having changed at the school.
“I just think Komarek is a fabulous place and family-oriented because it’s so small,” she said.
She also explains the close-knit feel of North Riverside has benefitted the school’s culture.
“Being at a school our size, you can watch [students] from pre-K all the way through eighth grade to see how they’ve changed and see how they’ve stayed the same,” she said. “I love the environment of our school, our mission, what we promote and I like being able to do my job every day the way I’m allowed to do it the best of the ability.”
Neil Pellicci, who came to Komarek in 1987 and retired 28 years later in 2015 as superintendent, will be at the celebration. He hopes alumni and those new to the community both come out to learn about the school, which he says has a “family-oriented” feel.
“You have children of alumni that are attending [and] grandchildren of alumni, so it’s a very tight community as far as the people in the neighborhood that know each other, Pellicci said. “A highlight for the school is the fact that everyone there is very close. People that have moved away still keep in touch with those they went to grade school with, which I think nowadays is kind of an unusual thing.”
Ganan, who joined the district in the fall of 2015, has been happy to learn about Komarek’s cherished history these past few years.
“There’s so much pride in the community, which I love,” he said, “and the school is a big part of that.”
Additionally, organizers have set up an app for the event, where visitors can post photos and stories that will be shared at the celebration. For more information, visit apps.clubphotobooth.com/KomarekSchool.