“This was the best school.”
That simple statement from Kelly Nylander, who attended Holly Hills Elementary in the late 1970s, accurately describes the feelings of many of the school’s past students and staff members. Dozens of alumni and former employees made a point to attend the school’s 60th anniversary celebration held on Oct. 11.
“We all came to celebrate Holly Hills,” said Melissa Mayes Kucera, who was a student there from 1973 to 1976. She and several classmates joined alumni from the 1960s through the 2000s, as well as current students and staff, to celebrate a school that has long been the center of a close-knit neighborhood.
“The community is just unbelievable,” said Eric Flor, who served as who served as the school’s principal from 2001 to 2005. “It’s a hard-working community that supports its school.”
Holly Hills, which opened in September, 1958, is one of the oldest schools in the Cherry Creek School District. It’s located in the well-established Holly Hills neighborhood near Holly and Evans.
“It was just a great, wonderful neighborhood,” Kucera recalled. “Everybody really cared about each other. I’m probably Facebook friends with more Holly Hills people than any other school - college or high school – that I attended. These are old friends I’ve had for my whole life.”
Those lasting relationships were evident as friends and family members gathered for the anniversary celebration. The event began in the gym with Principal Molly Drvenkar noting past and present accomplishments. Then the Holly Hills choir sang a medley of songs representing the school’s six decades, followed by the school’s cheerleading squad performing a precision dance number. Representatives from American Legion Post #1, a longtime partner of the school, presented a check for $1,000 to support the library at Holly Hills, which now serves students in third through fifth grade, and its nearby, sister school, Holly Ridge Primary. The primary school, which opened in 1961, serves students in kindergarten, first and second grade. After the assembly, guests walked through Holly Hills hallways and down memory lane, looking through old yearbooks and reminiscing about the things that made Holly Hills such a special place.
“Just the atmosphere, the people,” said Philip Cavos, a Holly Hills student in the early 1960s. His niece and her daughters also attended Holly Hills. The Cavos family is just one of many families that have had generations of students at Holly Hills.
One constant across the years is the outstanding Holly Hills staff.
“From kindergarten all the way through sixth grade, every teacher remembered everything about you,” said Tracy Nylander, a Holly Hills student in the late ‘70s. “It didn’t matter which class you were in, they always knew every student in the school.”
“The staff was unbelievable,” recalled former principal, Eric Flor. “They were young, talented, so into learning.”
Many of those dedicated educators have gone on to serve as principals in other Cherry Creek Schools. They include former teachers Rachel Rubio, now the principal at Summit Elementary, and Chris Hardy, principal at Sunrise Elementary.
But others have remained at Holly Hills. Fifth-grade teacher Michael Medina has been there for 29 years and can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I love this place. I’ve been part of this community for so long, it just feels like family. It feels like my second home,” Medina said. “It’s just such a great place to be.”