Lansing Sees An Eastern Sunset
Today, Lansing is saying goodbye to its Eastside icon. This is the last day of the final class at Lansing Eastern High School. The city’s oldest school has anchored its neighborhood along Pennsylvania Avenue since 1928.
When Lansing superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul addressed the Eastern High Class of 2019…you could sense an emotion in the room not normally felt at a graduation.
“This is a very special day,” she noted. “It’s a bittersweet day. This is the last graduating class out of the original facility that was built in 1929 on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The gravity of the moment was not lost on the graduates. When the ceremony ended, a fleet of buses carried them back to their old school.
Some, says principal Marcelle Carruthers, found it hard to pull themselves away.
“When we came back once we dropped the students off, a lot of them didn't want to leave,” says Carruthers. “So they actually walked the hallways until about nine o'clock so they had a chance to realize that, you know, this is it.”
Today, that feeling has come for those who still remain at Eastern.
This is the last time the bell will echo through the halls of this Gothic Revival gem. In August, Lansing Eastern will move to the modern building that until 2018 was home to Pattengill Middle School.
Just outside the main office is a sort of lobby. A large blue and gold Eastern Quakers banner graces the window tops of this dark wood-paneled niche. A trophy case recalls past sports glories and academic accolades.
This is where teens and teachers crossed paths to laugh and chat for nine decades.
To Marcelle Carruthers, it’s the heart of the school.
“This is the spot,” he says. “If we can just take one spot, lift it and move it over, this really is it.”
Jack Davis’ 1956 debate championship trophy is still here. Today, he’s president of the Lansing Eastern Alumni Association. Even now, the Ivy League alum still talks about the culture of his beloved alma mater in the present tense.
“We feel a great camaraderie among us, and nobody is superior,” Davis says. “I went to Harvard Law School, so if anybody knows about a superiority attitude, it would be me. And I appreciate that we didn’t have anything like that here. It made us all grow together, and I think we’ve made good citizens as we’ve lived in Lansing.”
Many Lansing families have a deep bench of Quaker alumni.
Veteran counselor Lee Howell started at Eastern 29 years ago. He won’t be coming with his colleagues to the new site next fall. He’s retiring, and Howell feels honored to have upheld a family tradition. His mother graduated from Eastern in 1960; his grandmother, in 1937.
“So having both of those connections on opposite sides of my family, my mom's side and my dad's side and me coming together to be that meeting point and being hired here school which my mom’s grandparents were a wonderful way to end the career,” says Howell.
What’s to become of the building that’s become a community touchstone in Lansing remains uncertain. In 2016, the Lansing School District sold the property to Sparrow Hospital, whose main campus sits adjacent to Eastern. Since then, the regional health care giant has been tight-lipped about its plans.
Jack Davis has tried to encourage Sparrow to keep even part of the building as a learning center.
“I think they could use the auditorium,” he says. “They've got such big staff now that the size that or term is kind of perfect compared to what they have now. And then if they can modify these classrooms for instruction of staff, that would be perfect. I don't know if that's the way it's going to go. That's what we're hoping for.”
Sparrow says it’s considering its options. In a written statement, the company says it shares “many common interests” with the Lansing community, including the “continued health, education and economic growth of the area.”
For now, though, the glow of graduation has not yet faded in Lansing. The Eastern Class of 2019 is off to discover the world.
But thoughts of the place that shaped their path won’t be far behind.