By Sue Loudon
Rose Marie Falco, age 92, is both a survivor of the 1957 Ruskin tornado and 34 years of teaching first grade! She taught at Symington School in the Hickman Mills Consolidated School District #1. It was the first district to be consolidated in Missouri. Now Symington School is being closed permanently as part of downsizing due to fewer children in the district.
Falco remembers that very few homes in Ruskin Heights had basements in 1957, but fortunately hers did, and she invited neighbors to take shelter when a tornado warning was issued.
“It completely destroyed the school, shopping center and lots of homes,” she said. “This was in May, so we didn’t have much time or money to build a school, but Sen. Stuart Symington really went to work to get us money for the new school. I think that’s the main reason the school is named after him.”
Falco taught for one-half year at Rockford, a two-room school built in 1916. It has since been torn down by the Longview Lake development, but she proudly displays a picture of this building in her home. She started teaching at Symington in 1959-1960, the first full year it was open. At that time she was one of six first-grade teachers.
“We all had some 30 students, no helpers, and at that time there were no kindergartens in the district,” Falco said, noting it was the first time in a school setting for many of the children. There were 864 students at Symington and the area was growing. In 1964 the enrollment was 1,117.
In 1964 her class received a first place prize at the science fair for documenting the growth of sweet potatoes in water-filled mason jars. However, the highlight of her 34-year teaching career was when one of her first graders came back to do her student teaching with Falco. “I was so thrilled to have her and know she did become an award-winning teacher!”
Falco didn’t always want to be a teacher. She wanted to be a social worker, but in 1943 World War II was raging and everyone wanted to do their part to help the war effort. She took a civil service exam and was sent to Washington, D.C. to help fill supplies for the troops. “I was only 16, but I guess the government was desperate for workers,” she said.
After the war she got married, had three children and was living in Ruskin Heights. When her youngest entered kindergarten, she decided to teach at the nearby school. She remembers “They were desperate for teachers in the growing suburban area,” and didn’t mind that her degree from the College of St. Teresa (now Avila University) was not in education.
“It was a special time and place,” she said. “I still have the picture scrapbooks I made every year.” She added that she helped gather up some wonderful memorabilia offered to the school by Sen. Symington when he retired from four terms in office. She thinks that an oil portrait of him that was used for the cover of Time magazine in November 1959 still hangs there.
“The faculty at Symington were always close friends and still are,” said Falco, who meets former co-workers and sometimes former students every other month at RC’s for lunches organized by coach Ed Madison. “I’m sad to see Symington close, and hope they repurpose the building instead of just boarding it up.”