HEBRON – Superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg and a group of volunteers from Alden-Hebron District 19 spent a sunny Saturday hauling and installing playground equipment at an unwavering pace.
The group of teachers, staff, Hebron residents and parents, after all, had a school project of their own to finish before District 19 opened its doors for a new year on Monday.
The community project – nearly four years in the making – gives Alden-Hebron Elementary students $40,000 in new playground equipment to use. But the many volunteers at the school on Saturday had only one person on their minds, as they worked all day to erect new slides and swings.
The day, they said, belonged to Delores Swanson, a former District 19 teacher and principal of 29 years who died last summer. She was also Ehlenburg's sister.
"She was larger than life when it came to the kids. Even though she's not here, it feels like she is still here," said parent Lisa Micklevitz, who also had Swanson as a first-grade teacher. "It couldn't be more perfect."
The District 19 Parent-Teacher Organization had long wanted to upgrade the school's playground equipment, most of which was made from wood materials nearly three decades old. The broader community also uses the playground since Hebron doesn't have a park.
Having raised only $6,800 over the last three years, the fundraising effort kicked into high gear following the death of Swanson last summer.
The parent-teacher group collected numerous donations from the community and area businesses, titling events with the header "Delores' Dream Playground." Ehlenburg, meanwhile, secured $16,000 in grants to help purchase the new equipment.
The group also received $15,000 from Swanson's family for the project. By this summer, the group had raised the $40,000 it needed for the playground.
To top off the project, the parent-teacher organization plans to engrave a rock from Swanson and Ehlenburg's family farm and dedicate the playground in Swanson's name.
"There was just so many kids who she influenced over the years," said Kristen Norton, who is an English language learner teacher and worked with Swanson for 24 years. "She was a very special person."
The $40,000 in donations covers two new playground sets, a swing set and an assortment of other equipment.
Representatives from Union-based Team Reil Inc. supplied the materials, equipment and supervision on Saturday. But the credit goes to the parent-teacher organization, Ehlenburg said.
"It's so important for kids to be physically fit. This helps them meet their physical needs," she said. "There's so much that goes on in a playground socially for them to develop as well."