Former school now home to teachers, students

June 25, 2013

From “Former school now home to teachers, students” — After graduation, most students are happy to leave their school building and never return. And although young children often think so, teachers do not live in their classrooms.

But in Marshfield, however, some students are living where they learned and some teachers where they taught.

For decades, the historic Purdy Building nestled in Marshfield historic downtown district, served as the city’s junior high and vocational school.

Named after Marshfield’s World War I war hero, the Willard D. Purdy Junior High and Vocational School began holding classes in fall 1920. After McKinley High School burned in 1936, the Purdy School served as both junior and senior high, and in 1971, after the completion of Marshfield’s new high school, Mid-State Technical College moved into Purdy.

Throughout the years, many students and teachers passed through the hallways of the Purdy Building, and some of these academics are back because of the site’s transformation into a retirement community. Maintaining many of its original features and its unique collegiate gothic style, Purdy was transformed into the Aster Retirement Community of Marshfield in 1996.

Don Erpenbach, a Neillsville native, taught psychology at the Purdy Building when it was Mid-State Technical College. Today, he enjoys his meals near his former classroom.

“We had classrooms, and now we have apartments,” he said. Aster hosts 53 apartments, and living in one of them brings back memories of Erpenbach’s teaching days.

Another former teacher, Joey Mulholland, also resides at Aster. Although she taught at Columbus Catholic High School, her four children attended school in the Purdy Building and she took MSTC courses. Her decision to live in a former school was purely coincidental.

“There’s no rhyme or reason,” she said. “I like the location and I like what (Aster) offers, and the staff is wonderful.”

Tenants often casually remark how this room used to be their home economics classroom or that room used to be the gym, and it is these stories that Activities Director Janice Christiansen enjoys.

“It’s kind of neat how much history is in this building, and it’s interesting that you get to hear about it every day from the residents, to learn what it was like back then,” she said. “It’s surprising that we have several teachers that live here. One is even 100 years old. It’s the full circle of life, where they were teaching here and now they are living here.

“Many residents here were students, too,” she added. “I think it gives them a sense of home.”

Reunions between students and teachers also have occurred within the walls of this former school building. Before one memorable performance, local musician Mike Holubets, who often donates his talents to entertain the residents at Aster, recognized the familiar face of Bob Campbell, his childhood music teacher and career inspiration.

“It think it’s so cool,” said Christiansen. “A former student took and went into music, and here his teacher is listening to him.”

Campbell passed away earlier this year, but his wife, Janet, continues to marvel at the unexpected reunion between teacher and student. “It’s interesting how people connect,” she said. “It isn’t very often that you find someone that lives in the same place he taught.”

Whether residing at Aster Retirement Community by choice or karma, former teachers and students living in the historic Purdy Building definitely feel at home in a classroom.


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