Sixty years is long enough, if you’re a school, to see three generations pass through your classrooms.
First Presbyterian Day School began in its current form in 1960, when founder Dolly Merriam, a member of First Presbyterian Church of DeLand, asked the church to help facilitate the day school for children that she was operating out of her garage.
Once teaching students up to fifth grade, the Day School now teaches children ages 6 months to 5 years. Under the direction of Director Laura Carlisle, the Day School is the second oldest operating private school in Volusia County. Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, founded in 1959, is the oldest.
Linda Raup is spearheading the Day School’s 60th-anniversary celebration with the First Presbyterian School Board, which will include a commemorative video and the burying of a time capsule.
Raup is the moderator of the First Presbyterian School Board, but also served as director of the Day School 1997-2002. As a longtime member of the church who was also involved in the 40th-anniversary celebration, she said she loves to celebrate the school she loves.
“It’s a school; it’s not just a day care center,” she said. “The children are always learning.”
Raup estimated that, with an average enrollment of 100 students annually, the school has likely taught some 6,000 youngsters from DeLand-area families.
The 60th-anniversary video being put together by church members will feature testimonials and photos from each decade of the school’s operation, as well as the school’s official song, written in the 1980s by a staff member.
Another First Presbyterian Church member, Leah Dreggors, is helping organize the 60th-anniversary celebration. Dreggors — a lifelong DeLandite and daughter-in-law of iconic town historian Bill Dreggors — was a preschool student at the Day School’s forerunner at Dolly Merriam’s house, just up the street from her own.
While her memory is spotty — it was more than 60 years ago, after all — she remembers enjoying her time at the school.
She must have, because both of her daughters became Day School students, too.
Her daughter Angie Slappey has clearer memories.
“After the first Star Wars movie came out, our fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade class filmed our own version,” Slappey told The Beacon. “I was a storm trooper with a plastic gallon-milk-jug helmet.”
Slappey shared another fond memory of her Day School days.
“We had a field day and picked golden eagles to be our school mascot,” she said. “I had my one-week stint as a cheerleader and wore a gold T-shirt from Special T’s matching the other classmates cheering at the event.”
Slappey lives in Pennsylvania now, but her sister and both of her children were enrolled in the Day School, too.
“I met one of my lifelong friends there,” Slappey’s daughter Jessie Osterhout said. “She moved to Georgia shortly after we were in prekindergarten together, but we remained pen pals all the way through high school.”
Osterhout now teaches art at McInnis Elementary School in DeLeon Springs.
With so many members of the family going to the school, Dreggors was able to stay close to fond childhood memories.
“Day School is still a part of me,” she said. “Maybe I’ll have a great-grandchild someday coming here, too.”
When The Beacon spoke with Raup in 2000 for the school’s 40th anniversary, she said she was proud of the work they did for their young students.
“Our loving, nurturing Christian atmosphere is one of the best things we have going for us,” she said.
Twenty years later, Raup said, she feels the same.
“I think the main thing we want to say is all these friendships have been formed,” she said, “and the kids are getting an A-1 education.”
While the past year has been difficult, Raup and the School Board are happy to celebrate a school that has meant so much to students past and present.
Two such students are Tiffany Spradling and Courtney Woodruff, ages 36 and 35, respectively. The two, who first met when they were both just a year old, attended First Presbyterian Day School together for kindergarten and first grade.
“We left to attend second grade at Timbercrest [Elementary School] because it was closer to our homes at the time, and have remained best friends all of our lives,” Woodruff said of Spradling, who is godmother to Woodruff’s oldest child.
The two still live in Central Florida and work just one street from each other — Spradling for Seminole County Public Schools and Woodruff for a software company.
Sixty years of operation is no small feat, and Raup wishes the school could throw the party befitting the accomplishment. In 10 years, with no pandemic to stop them, the celebration is sure to be great.
Each classroom of students — with children ages 6 months to 5 years — will have a birthday party this May to celebrate the school.
The commemorative video for the school’s 60th anniversary will be released by the school May 16.
Have fond memories of your time at First Presbyterian Day School? Send along your thoughts and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may end up in the anniversary video.