Showing off their school's heritage
Tinker Elementary School, named for a World War II general, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
By JENNIFER L. STEVENSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002
By all accounts, Gen. Clarence Tinker was a man of precise planning and unrelenting action. He played a key role in opening what is now MacDill Air Force Base. Not content to sit behind a desk, he took to the skies and piloted the first aircraft there.
A recent burst of energy at a school that bears his name would make the general proud, as educators gear up with military precision to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tinker Elementary school.
The official anniversary isn't until August, but principal Cheryl Tyo is already busy making plans. She envisions the celebration as a series of events that will help students understand the heritage of the school and era. She doesn't want the party to end too soon.
"Sometimes you plan for a whole year and it lasts for two hours," Tyo said with a laugh. "Instead, we want a number of different activities we can talk up. This is not a one-day event."
Built in 1952, Tinker Elementary School was named in honor of the general, who died in 1942 in the battle of Midway. A member of the Osage Nation, he was the first general to die in World War II.
A historical marker has been commissioned for the school, telling of Tinker's extraordinary life. Other activities will include a time capsule, a 1950s sock-hop for the students and visits from former teachers. There will also be an adult reunion for former students, teachers and administrators.
"We think we have found a movie star," Tyo said. "But I can't tell you who that is yet."
She's actively looking for alumni and for ideas.
Most of the school's 554 students live on the base. She hopes the in-depth heritage lesson will help divert them from more troubling issues. Many of their parents have been deployed overseas.
"The children have a lot of questions," Tyo acknowledged. "But they are doing extremely well. Our teachers keep them focused on school. But the teachers are also very sensitive to loneliness or the thoughts of mom or dad being deployed."
The celebrations get under way in April with a school musical by the fifth grade show team, under the direction of teacher Jann Van Dyke. Students are already learning the songs. The musical will tell the school's history.
One person she won't forget to celebrate is Mrs. Tinker.
If not for Madeline Tinker, the Air Force might not have an official song. In 1939, she and the wife of another Army Air Corps general were asked to pick a song for the corps.
The two women sifted through hundreds until they found one they liked. It was just right: It captured the spirit of the corps. They named it The Air Force Song. Most people can remember a few words: "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder."
"She was always knitting stockings for Tink and Ike," said Tyo. "And no need to say who Ike was." Tinker liked to play golf with President Dwight Eisenhower. After Tinker's death, his widow remarried. She lived in South Tampa and would entertain schoolchildren with stories. She died in 2000 at the age of 104.
"She was charming," recalls Tyo, who has been principal for 10 years. "She had so much history to share with us."
The celebration won't be so much about a building's 50 years, but about its many life stories. As scrapbooks come together, stuffed with 50 years of memories, Tyo hopes the tales will touch students.
"Students have so much to learn from other generations," Tyo said. "For some students, it will foster an interest in history."
Maybe one, like Tinker, will be of Native American descent, she said.
Maybe one will say, "I'm curious."
- Times wires were used in this report.
-- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at 226-3405 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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