The news that W.C. Mills Elementary would be closing its doors and consolidating with O.J. Neighbours and Wabash Middle School came earlier this school year, and the news was difficult for many students and community members, including the school’s former principal and current Wabash mayor, Robert Vanlandingham.
“I was there for a long time. When they closed Carpenter School, I went to Mills and taught fifth grade for a year and then became principal,” Mayor Vanlandingham told The Paper.
“To me, it’s a great neighborhood. It just seemed like that corner lot, with all the kids coming to school; a lot of focus came on that lot. We had a great staff. I’ll never forget my 50th birthday. I used to have an IU flag hanging and I would mess with kids and make them salute the IU flag. I came to work on my 50th birthday, and the teachers had a hoop with black and gold paper I had to run through.
“I get through it and all the teachers are dressed in black and gold. The hallways were decorated in black and gold, and then students were all dressed in black and gold. Every half hour, there were five kindergarten girls, dressed in Purdue cheerleading outfits and they would stand outside my office and do a Purdue cheer. Everyone got along so great. We had a staff that was so creative. We got a lot of work done, but we did it in a fun manner,” Mayor Vanlandingham continued.
Mayor Vanlandingham reminisced about events like his birthday, the Mills 500, which they held during their old race day, and renovations to keep the building going.
“The kids took a lot of pride in that building,” said Mayor Vanlandingham. “Everyone was there for one reason, and that was the kids. There are a lot of fond memories in that building.
“There’s a part of me that goes when that building goes, but I have a lot of confidence in our board and school officials. They wouldn’t have done this without a lot of thought. I was at Mills a couple weeks ago doing an interview with fourth graders. When we got done, I asked them a question. I asked, ‘How do you feel about closing your building?’ One of them teared up and said she was unhappy. I remember saying, ‘You know, this used to be my school, and really and truly, it will always be my school.’ I told them that one day the school may not be there, but it will always be their school,” continued Mayor Vanlandingham.
Located in the main lobby is a painting of the Challenger, which Mayor Vanlandingham has requested be saved.
“I remember making a big thing about it. We had all the kids sitting around the TV sets, watching the launch, and when that exploded it was the dummy principal who had to stand up and talk about things I wasn’t prepared to talk about. I have asked Mr. Callahan to save that so that other people can enjoy it in the future.”
Ron Woodward, Wabash County Historian, provided The Paper, with a glimpse of W.C. Mills’ history. The school was dedicated back in 1963 in honor of south-sider, W. Cecil Mills, who was the head, for many years, of Community Service for young people. It was originally Linlawn High School, after the school was relocated to the location on Vernon St from Pike Street in 1953. This was due to a consolidation of Chippewa High School and Linlawn High School. It then became Noble Township High School. In 1960, fire destroyed the LaFontaine High School and its students were transferred into Noble Township High School. In 1962, Noble Township High School closed and the students were moved to Southwood High School. Wabash City Schools purchased the school soon after from the Metropolitan School District of Wabash County. The building underwent remodeling in 1962, followed by its dedication in 1963.
W.C. Mills Elementary will be hosting an open house for any former students and community members who would like to visit the building one last time before its closing. The open house will be held on Sunday, May 18 from 2-4 p.m. and is open to the public.