by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (May 27, 2022) – Many schools around the country are named for significant people such as presidents, community leaders, or school officials. Others are named for the community they are located in or the street they are situated on. The names reflect a person or a place being honored. In the case of Memorial Junior High, the school honors a generation of young men and women who answered the call to defend and serve their country, and who gave their lives in that service.
Schools and wartime
Lansing’s first school dated back to the 1890s and was known as the Indiana Avenue School. Once a high school was built in Calumet City, Lansing students went there to complete their education. Coolidge School was added in 1928, but the increased industrial activity in the area during World War II led to overcrowding in the schools. School District 158 remedied the situation temporarily by renting rooms at Douglas School in Calumet City. Seventh and eighth graders attended classes there during World War II.
School District 158 had purchased land in an area known as Ward’s Fields as the site of a future school. Because the growth in population was attributed to the war effort, construction of the building was financed by the Federal Works Administration at a cost of $100,000. In 1947, the school board bought the building, named Memorial Junior High School, from the federal government for $14,000.
A School and A Memorial
As the timing of building the school coincided with the era of the Greatest Generation, the school was named with the young local soldiers in mind who did not make it home from World War II. It has since served as a reminder, too, of those who have served and been lost in subsequent wars.
According to Lansing Historical Society curator Barbara Dust, Memorial Day parades once took place in Lansing, and those parades ended at Memorial Junior High School for a community ceremony. Dust’s daughters marched in the parade as members of the MJHS marching band.
Answering the Call
“Answering the call” has become a theme that District 158 Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling has drawn from when addressing students. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic graduation ceremony, Schilling recited the words in the inscription and added, “This statement was made with respect to our veterans, but tonight, graduates, it also applies to you.”
“Students, you may be hearing the call right now,” Schilling continued. “To graduate. To get your diploma. To start your summer vacation. To start high school. To think about what college you may want to attend or what career you’re interested in pursuing. These are all good thoughts, and I am confident that District 158 has prepared you well for future success.”
He then encouraged the students to “remember also the first part of Memorial’s poem: ‘Let none forget they gave their all….’ This means to never give up. Work hard. Be committed to a task, and see it through to the end. The number one quality employers look for in today’s workforce is resilience, the ability to fight through adversity, overcome challenges, stick it out, and achieve even in the face of failure. This is the message I want you to leave with tonight, the true spirit of the Mighty Mustang. Answer the call, give your all, and never give up no matter what.”
Continuing to Honor the Fallen
Dr. Keli Ross is principal of Memorial Junior High School. She has family members who served in the military and family members who are currently enlisted. Ross says she is proud to work at a school with such significant ties to our nation’s commitment to democracy.
“I have noticed the reverence held in the community for the war memorial monument located in front of Memorial Junior High School,” said Ross. “On occasion, it has been donned with wreaths to honor and recognize those who have dedicated their life to serving our country. Often on Memorial Day, ceremonies are held by the monument as a way to remember our fallen servicemen and servicewomen over the years. Our Mighty Mustangs Memorial school band has performed the National Anthem at many of these events.
“I am proud to work at a school that honors and commemorates the important sacrifices and commitment displayed by our armed forces.”
Memorial Junior High School is located at 2721 Ridge Road in Lansing. The monument stands to the north of the parking lot and is accessible by the public 24 hours a day.