Greg Witt, Halfacre Construction’s project manager for the Gene Witt Elementary School remodel and grandson of the late Gene Witt, remembers all the family vacations to the Wild West.
“My grandfather loved anything in the West,” Greg Witt said. “We went to Colorado, Montana, Wyoming — he loved anything surrounded by nature.”
On Nov. 8, Greg Witt will be present at the school dedicates an outdoor memorial and teaching area dedicated to his grandfather, who worked as an educator for the School District of Manatee County from 1955 to 1994 and was the district’s superintendent for 11 years. Gene Witt died in 2015.
“This obviously means so much to us,” Greg Witt said. “He was the head of our family, and people thought so much of him.”
Witt Elementary’s mascot, the eagle, will be the focal point of the outdoor classroom designed by architect Stuart Henderson of Fawley Bryant Architecture. A bronze eagle stands watch over an area that will include plaques telling Gene Witt’s story. All the work done on the project was donated, and private donations paid for the materials.
Principal David Marshall said his staff members were involved in the project.
“The staff wanted something to permanently honor Mr. Witt,” Marshall said. “After he died in 2015, we held a faculty meeting to figure out a way to show his family how much he meant to us and the community.”
Marshall said an outdoor classroom was suggested at the meeting and a volunteer force mobilized quickly. Requests for funding went out to parents and the business community.
The budget was estimated at $30,000.
The bronze eagle sits on a stucco pedestal that also contains one of Gene Witt’s favorites, granite. The plaques will highlight major events in Gene Witt’s life. The floor of the area will be a bronze compass.
Marshall said the area will be busy. He said it will be a good place just to get the students outside to do some reading. Or the students could study the plaques.
Just learning directions on the compass will be an important lesson.
While the students didn’t know Gene Witt, they like the area for other reasons.
“They love the gold color of the beak and talons of the eagle,” Marshall said. “And the students like the classroom because of the gold (colors).”
Two lights flanking the eagle’s stand were being added just prior to the dedication along with two lights shining directly on the eagle. The plaques have yet to be installed.
The students will sing at the dedication and former principal Myra Russell will attend.
“Our family is honored that people thought so highly of him (Gene Witt),” said Greg Witt. “We look at this classroom as something that remembers him.”