School for the blind turns 90

The 90th anniversary of the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville-South needed to be an extra special party, for obvious reasons.

That’s why the school’s secretary, and unofficial event co-ordinator, Barbara Davis has been planning it since last year.

The special party was two-fold, comprising a reunion for past pupils and teachers, over four days – from Thursday April 27 until Sunday April 30 – and an official celebration on Monday May 8. The school’s official birthday is on May 7 but for the sake of the pupils it was important that the party kept to school hours.

Ms Davis has been at the school since 1979 but her 38-year history with the school pales in comparison to the stories of some of its former pupils.

The school has kept in touch with many of them and on the day of the much anticipated party, Ms Davis rose early so that she could fetch some of these students.

This is the kind of passion the staff at the institution are known for, said former teacher Ruth Rutherford, of Vasco.

Among the students fetched on the day was 99-year-old Maggie van der Horst, of Kuils River.

“This must have been one of the first students to attend the school,” Ms Rutherford said.

“Is there any other school that can boast of a 99-year-old attending their reunion?”

Ms Van der Horst, who insists on being called Auntie and not Ouma, still remembers the school when it was situated in Faure, before it moved to Athlone Street in Glenhaven.

This was the school’s home until 1935 when a devastating fire forced its move to Bellville-South.

Over the years the school continued to grow and its modern facilities now boast a vocational training centre, remedial teaching rooms, a multi-disciplinary medical block, school hall, gymnasium and a music centre.

“I am proud of the pupils I taught who became the first matric class at the Athlone School for the Blind,” Ms Rutherford said, adding that the first class to write the senior certificate examinations did so in 1980.

“Most of them have good jobs and a reason to feel proud of themselves.”

Many of the school’s current pupils have reason to be proud too, among them Joel Greek, a Grade 9 pupil from Kuils River who won an international essay-writing competition when he was in Grade 8. His prize was a trip to Japan and New York. Because of Joel’s success, the Consul of Japan, Yasushi Naito attended the birthday festivities as an honorary guest.