Video: Salyers Elementary Honors President George H. W. Bush
HOUSTON – Dec. 6, 2018 – Salyers Elementary School fifth-grader A’Niyah Bryant doesn’t remember when George Herbert Walker Bush served as the 41st President of the United States. Like all of her Salyers classmates and fellow Spring ISD students, Bryant wasn’t even alive during Bush’s years in office. But she and her friends have been getting a crash course in history this week as the region prepared to commemorate the life and legacy of the former president, who called Houston home for more than 50 years.
“We’ve been making posters,” Bryant said, “and we’ve been talking about how, even though we weren’t born when he was president, we still know he represented the United States of America. He represented it well. He was just a very kind and loving man.”
Under gray skies Thursday afternoon, the funeral procession train, Union Pacific 4141, traveled through Spring ISD on its way to College Station, where the former president was to be interred alongside his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, who passed away earlier this year. At Salyers, near the funeral train’s initial departure point, students, teachers, administrators and district trustees gathered outside the school to witness the train’s passing and to participate in the historic moment.
Watching the funeral train pass by – with its freshly painted locomotive and special windowed compartment car displaying Bush’s flag-draped coffin making its final journey – left Bryant with mixed emotions.
“It’s an honor, and it’s pretty cool, but it’s also a very sad moment,” Bryant said. “Some people think it’s supposed to be exciting, but it’s really a moment to just take a breath and look. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see.”
According to Salyers Principal Sharon Carpenter, students have been getting ready all week in various ways. Hearing their teachers present information about Bush and his life – and looking at pictures of him and his family in Houston – helped them connect with him and his story.
“We’ve been talking about what’s been going on with the kids,” Carpenter said, “sharing with them about it as a social studies lesson. And the kids – especially the older students – they understand what’s going on. He served our country in the military, he was President of the United States, he did a lot of good things for people, so we give honor and respect where respect is due and pay tribute to him.”
Around the district, Spring ISD students and staff members observed a moment of silence Thursday afternoon and conducted student-led announcements highlighting Bush’s life and accomplishments. Board of Trustees President Rhonda Newhouse was among several trustees who joined the students at Salyers.
“It’s an unfortunate event that we are sad about,” said Newhouse. “But, on the other hand, it’s a history-making event for our students. Our students are seeing history made today, and we are very fortunate that they have the opportunity.”
After serving as a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II and then earning his degree at Yale University, Bush entered the oil business, and he and his growing family moved from New England to Texas and, eventually, to the Houston area, which the former president and first lady called home for more than half a century. Bush was known throughout those years for his extensive correspondence – often handwritten.
Salyers Librarian Jamey Ullrich brought a piece of her own family history to share with the students – a letter of recommendation written by Bush on behalf of her father, who worked for Bush’s oil company in the early 1960s, before he had launched his political career.
“We’ve always kept it in the family,” Ullrich said, “and when my dad passed away, I kind of took it over. I brought it today because I wanted to share with the kids that he was a real person, that he was important to me and my family. He wasn’t president then, but he is a part of my life, and he’s a part of my family’s life.”
Spring ISD Trustee Chris Bell also shared a personal connection with Bush that, for him, added weight to the already solemn occasion.
“I actually did a congressional internship right after Reagan and Bush had been re-elected, back in 1985,” Bell recalled after the train had passed by Salyers. “I ended up being a legislative liaison – a fancy name for an intern – and I was an assistant press secretary, so I would go to all the hearings and take pictures and work with the radio stations. I remember Bush being there. He actually used to work out in one of our buildings.”
Bell said the day’s historic events were emotional for him, but that he was glad to be sharing them with so many Spring ISD students.
“We call this a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ but it’s education in action,” Bell said. “You know, you read about this, you hear about it in the history books, but our kids are getting to witness this firsthand. I just think it’s amazing for them to take part in something like this.”
Carpenter seconded that notion.
“We’re really fortunate,” she said, “because there are so many people that would love to be able to be here for this and can’t. We’re just blessed, and we’re very fortunate to have this opportunity and to be able to share it with our students.”