Area residents are invited out for an afternoon of games, music, and delectable sweet delights as part of the dedication of The Glen S. Keller and Barbara S. Johnson Memorial Garden at the Simmons School – One Room Schoolhouse, located just off State Road 9 in Hope, starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 1st.

“The event is intended to honor late community members Barbara S. Johnson and Glen S. Keller and formally dedicate the memorial gardens at the Simmons One-Room Schoolhouse in their honor,” says Beth Newman, who co-chairs the current schoolhouse committee alongside Taylor Hurt.

Former Hauser graduate Keller, who is remembered as being passionate about helping others, began his career in education in the late 1950s when he served as principal of Clifford Elementary, Petersville Elementary and later at Hauser High School respectively until 1985. Later that year, he would become superintendent of Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corporation and serve in that role until his retirement in 1995.

Newman says it was Keller who first envisioned the idea of the one-room schoolhouse when Hope Elementary was built in 1988.

“He conceived the idea that he wanted to bring a one-room schoolhouse to campus so kids from all over the state could come and spend a day there and experience it,” according to Newman.

Johnson, who served as long-time president of the one room schoolhouse committee, was just as passionate about the project as Keller, Newman says. Johnson served as the inspiration and driving force behind the schoolhouse project for more than 30 years, Newman adds.

The initial plan for the memorial garden was conceived in the fall of 2020 and, since early spring, community members and students from the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School district have come together to design and maintain the memorial gardens.

When the schoolhouse was first moved to its location, Johnson and her husband, Ed, planted some strawberries as a symbolic and practical gesture.

Each year when third graders would make their trip to the schoolhouse, strawberry shortcake was always prepared as a snack utilizing the garden’s fresh berries, Newman recalls.

Today, there is now an entire bed dedicated to strawberries, Newman says.

In addition to the beautiful flowers, including native perennials and annuals offered by the Sierra Club and local nurseries, additional elements have been placed in the gardens in remembrance of Keller and Johnson.

“We do have a sundial that is in the garden that is a memorial to Glen, and there is a plaque that is there,” Newman says. “We’d never really had a formal ceremony, so we thought let’s do this for both of these people who were integral to the restoration for Simmons One-Room Schoolhouse.”

There will also be the surprise dedication of an additional gift that will be permanently placed in the gardens, Newman says.
Betsy Downey, co-owner of Duck Creek Gardens, has offered advice and assistance with the planning and delivery of some of the plants for the garden.

Downey recognizes the importance of the garden as not only honoring the memory of two pivotal figures in Hope’s rich history, but also offering a creative opportunity for continued community participation.

“My kids were involved in the schoolhouse the very first year it was built,” she recalls. “One of my son’s classes was the first to meet out at the Simmons School, and it was a really neat experience for him. It is really important to me what it provides to the kids in the community.”

Since the start of the pandemic last year, things have been very quiet around the schoolhouse, Newman says. However, with people seemingly ready to get out and socialize now seems the best time to welcome people back to the school and breathe new life into a cherished Hope attraction.

“It is not only an opportunity to honor the memory of Glen and Barb, but it is also an opportunity to put a little fresh blood and revitalization into the schoolhouse,” Newman says. “We are really looking forward to the fall when we are expecting to have kids out there again and are able to do programming.”

A few years after the schoolhouse was moved to its current location on September 19, 1989, an ice cream social was held as a way to raise funds.

From that point on, there was a social held annually on the first Sunday in August as a way to raise money to help with the continued renovation and maintenance of the property.

Sunday’s ice cream social is intended as a nod to that original gathering, Newman says, and hopefully a reboot to a longtime tradition.

As the event edges closer, Lisa Webster, who also serves on the One-Room Schoolhouse committee, is working closely with Janice Montgomery to continue gathering donations of sweet cakes and other delights from area churches, nonprofits and businesses that will be offered not only alongside the homemade ice cream, which will be supplied by Koverners in Seymour, but also for the day’s cakewalk.

“We’ve had a lot of Columbus businesses donate food products to us as well,” Webster says. “Some people have also donated flowers.”

In addition to a variety of children’s games that will be held as part of the event, Hope resident and singer/songwriter Avery Tallent as well as Dan Fleming and the Hauser Ensemble will offer the day’s musical entertainment, Newman says.

Tents will be set up to shelter guests from the heat and sun. In the event of adverse weather, the event’s secondary location will be the Hope Elementary School gymnasium, Newman says.

Newman admits the greatest challenge in making this event a reality is essentially the knowing that Johnson isn’t around to help out as she once did.

“Up to now Barb Johnson was in charge of everything, and she had the magic touch of making everything fall into place just like it needed to,” Newman says. “Her presence is truly missed, but now it hits home harder.” I’ve said all along, ‘It’s a darn shame Barb isn’t here to help us with this because she would know exactly what to do.'

Newman isn’t the only one keenly aware of Johnson’s absence. It is felt across the community.

Webster agrees that Johnson’s humbleness and absence is felt moreso now. But that tender recognition is tempered with Hope’s strength to come together as a community – just as it has always done.

“She would be so proud that so many people are stepping up to try and fill her shoes,” Webster says. “Of course, she would give all the credit to everyone else. That was typical Barb, always thanking everyone else.”