The Esto School offered instruction in grades one through nine until it was closed in 1949.
By E. W. CARSWELL
The saddest day in Esto’s history may have been September 6, 1949 — the day the community’s school was closed.
“It was the equivalent of experiencing a death in the family,” one former student observed. The community had never appeared more lifeless than it did in the weeks following the closure of Esto Junior High School, where instruction had been offered from grade one through grade nine.
Local townspeople were met with ghostly silence from a horseshoe-shaped one-story frame school building on a hillside just north of Esto Baptist Church on the western side of Highway 79. Absent were the voices of children, who for years had gathered at the school on weekday mornings to begin classes. After the school closed, they started boarding buses a little earlier instead, heading for schools in Bonifay, the Poplar Springs community or Hartford, Alabama. Lumber from the former school was used in the construction of several houses in the community.
Some Esto residents more than 40 years later seemed still unreconciled to the loss of their local school. Those sentiments promoted a feeling of uncommon closeness among those who attended the school. It was not unexpected, then, for former students to suggest that a school homecoming be added to Esto’s annual Two-Toed Tom Festival in 1991.
Betty George, who had attended the school, organized the homecoming, which became a regular part of the festival for a few years. In an interview for Florida Public Radio in 1993, she recalled fond memories the school, and marveled at how many former students showed up for the reunion.
Holmes County Advertiser, May 11, 1967
A NEW LIBRARIAN arrived with the beginning of the sixth grade. Dianne Smith took over from longtime librarian Miss Louisa Hutchinson, who had — horrors! — gotten married very late in life and retired.
The new librarian was brimming with ideas, including a reading contest for sixth graders. For months we had to choose books from a reading list and then be quizzed by Mrs. Smith. When it was all over, the smartest girl in our class had been bested by Danny Henderson, who would soon move with his family to Esto.
A picture of the winners appeared in the weekly Holmes County Advertiser — a high honor in itself — with a story that explained: “The purpose of the reading contest was to acquaint the students with the best books in the library in the hopes they would discover the pleasure of reading and would be encouraged to do more reading on their own.”
Lynelle Vanlandingham’s pointed finger and raised eyebrow were legendary.
MANY STUDENTS from Esto and other Holmes County communities who went to school in Bonifay had Lynelle Vanlandingham as their civics teacher in 9th grade. She was from the old school, and misbehaving in her classroom was never an option. She’d point her finger and raise her eyebrow and everyone would fall in line.
That technique worked until the very end. Her fellow teacher Mrs. Dianne Smith — who first taught 9th grade English and later became the senior English teacher at Holmes County High School — recalled a visit with Miss Vann at the nursing home in Bonifay shortly before her death in 2016.
“Nelle remained as feisty as ever,” Mrs. Smith said. “I visited her in the nursing home just a few days before she died. I asked her then if she could still raise that eyebrow like she did to control students. She showed me that she could — and said she used it on some of the nurses when they did something she didn’t like.”
Read More: “Lynelle Vanlandingham was a treasure“
A HIGHLIGHT OF trips home to Esto is a visit with a favorite teacher, Beth Gavin, who lives nearby. She taught 10th grade biology — and so much more.