Notre Dame Regional High School celebrates 85 years of tradition

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
St. Mary's High School graduates, undated.

For Georgia Howe, a 1945 graduate of St. Mary's High School, it was learning from the strict but patient nuns.

For Fred Meystedt, a 1955 graduate of Cape Girardeau Catholic High School, it was winning a citywide contest with his classmates.

For Sarah Vickery, a 2000 graduate of Notre Dame Regional High School, it was the musicals.

While all three graduated from different buildings with different names, all are connected by similar favorite memories that feed into the tradition of what is now Notre Dame Regional High School.

Alumni and school supporters from across the country will come together Saturday to celebrate the school's 85-year history with an all-class reunion. The event will begin at 5 p.m. at the Venue, 80 S. Plaza Way, with a liturgy.

The school's first incarnation, St. Mary's High School, graduated its first students in 1929 with a class of eight. Two buildings and three name changes later, Notre Dame Regional High School is set to receive a record freshman enrollment to its overall student body of about 525.

Howe, 82, attended the first school on the corner of Sprigg and William streets. St. Mary's High School was founded in 1925 with the purchase of the old Saint Francis Hospital, which had been constructed in 1878.

Long before "regional" was part of the school's name, she said the school drew from smaller surrounding communities like Chaffee, Mo., Leopold, Mo., and Kelso, Mo. Students coordinated buses and car pools to make the daily trek to Cape Girardeau in the 1940s.

A shortage of paper during World War II meant her class had to forgo a yearbook. Two classmates, she said, left to serve in the war before graduation ceremonies in 1945.

"It was a happy time and yet it was sad when we knew the guys in our class were gone," she said.

They returned home safe and were eventually honored at the class' 55-year reunion.

She said the class formed a close bond that remains. About 10 years ago, the group established a fund to award tuition scholarships to students.

"We all boast about it, I don't care who you talk to," she said.

The school remained at its original location for about 30 years. By the mid-1950s, supporters started a capital campaign to build a new school, which eventually cost $750,000. Classes began at Cape Girardeau Catholic High School in 1954. Six years later, the name changed to Notre Dame High School.

Meystedt, 73, was the first of three generations in his family to attend. His class was one of the first to use the new facilities on Caruthers Avenue.

"We had a baseball field and everything," he said.

There were more classrooms, it was more spacious and the school had its own sports facilities. Sports, he said, is a tradition that has grown with the school.

"We all want to excel not just in sports, we want to excel in the classroom," he said.

By 1992, a committee formed to study the possibility of constructing a larger school. A 114,000-square-foot facility to accommodate 600 students opened in 1998 off Route K.

The $6.7 million building is currently going through a $4 million facelift. The school is conducting a capital campaign and started improvements, which include a gym, classrooms and performing arts upgrades.

Vickery, 28, and her classmates moved into the current building her junior year. She said the old building had character, but there were welcomed improvements to the new school.

"First of all, it had air conditioning, which was a nice change," said Vickery, president of the alumni association.

With the new school, Notre Dame adopted a regional title and has expanded its reach into the Bootheel and Southern Illinois. Vickery said she started noticing the change as a student in the 1990s.

"We started to get a feel of it being regional," she said.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

80 S. Plaza Way Cape Girardeau, MO

265 Notre Dame Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

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