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Photo by Chet Strange
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Photo courtesy Luther Memorial School
In June of 1856, five years before the start of the Civil War, a few congregants of Bethlehem Lutheran Church founded a one-room school on Sixth Street near Clay. The pastor taught at first, for a monthly tuition of 50 cents for members and $1 for nonmembers. The next year, they hired a full-time teacher at the rate of $250 a year plus housing.
This past summer that same school, now known as Luther Memorial, closed its Robin Hood Road facility after 160 years in operation, with officials citing concerns about its financial viability. The oldest parochial school in the region educated generations of Richmond children, from prekindergarten through eighth grade. (An early group of students is shown above.)
Christa Hubbard is a 1959 alumna and was principal of the school from 1995 to 2005. She remembers the space at Grace and Ryland streets where the school moved in 1924 — and where Bethlehem Lutheran Church now stands.
“It was three rooms for eight grades,” she says. “We had one teacher a room. When he was teaching sixth grade math, the seventh and eighth grades would sit very quietly and do deskwork. “For recess, we played kickball up on the flat roof with a 3-foot wall around it. The balls would go over the roof, out in the street and we’d go pick them up. Times were different.”
She remembers her graduating class had only 13 or 14 students. “Very large,” Hubbard says, laughing. “Everyone knew everyone else.”
In order to grow, the school bought the property on Robin Hood Road in 1956 and dedicated its first building there in 1962. “We always had children that weren’t Lutheran, but once it moved, that grew,” says Hubbard.
Attendance this past school year, Luther Memorial’s last, was around 180.
Since the announcement of its closing on July 9, many alumni have stopped by the building for last glimpses. “This mother and daughter, they were here for an hour and half, just walking through the classrooms,” says Hubbard. “They must’ve sat in every classroom and reminisced about what went on.”
A 2002 graduate brought by a picture of a winning basketball team. “There’s been sadness in the fact that it’s closed, but what people remember most is what a special place it was — a good education, lifetime friendships,” Hubbard says.
Though some alumni have expressed hope of Luther Memorial’s return, David Voss, president of the school’s foundation, says that for now, the school is “focused on gracefully closing down school operations.” Voss had two kids enrolled and another set to enter prekindergarten; all three now go to nearby Veritas School.
There’s a silver lining to the closure, he says. “Luther Memorial lives on in other schools. The students and parents are seeds of grace, and now they’re going to be spread throughout the Richmond area. They have a great opportunity to make an impact where they’re planted now.”
For its profound effect on the lives of many generations of Richmonders, and for the lessons, relationships and memories that took root there, we name Luther Memorial School our Richmonder of the Month.
Members of the community are invited to a closing worship service for Luther Memorial School on Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3 p.m. at 1301 Robin Hood Road. Attendees can walk the school hallways and classrooms afterward, from 4 to 5 p.m.