Playground at Girard’s St. Rose named for teacher

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Virgina Rice Smith, second from right, and her husband, Frank Smith, watch as St. Rose School students try out the new playground Monday. The school named the playground for the 37-year teacher after her husband made the highest bid for naming rights during the project’s fundraising auction.

By robert Guttersohn


For most of the past century, St. Rose Parish and the school associated with it have been staples in the city, leaving their mark on many of the city’s residents.

Girard Mayor James Melfi attended the school. His children did, too. And now his daughter teaches there.

“There’s been four generations of Melfis [at the school],” he said.

On Monday, Virginia Rice Smith, a 37-year, retired teacher at St. Rose, was guaranteed to leave her mark at the school.

Officials had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Virginia Rice Smith Playground, a $30,000 project built where the original St. Rose school once stood.

“I was blessed,” Virginia said when she found out about the honor.

The honor also was a gift from her husband, Frank Smith.

When the school began fundraising for the project in 2011, they auctioned the future name of the playground to the highest bidder. That highest bidder was Frank, who kept his bidding a secret from his wife until the school announced that the playground would be named after her for his $500 bid.

“He’s known that my heart is with this school, and this is the best way for it to carry on,” Virginia said.

Melissa Malito, the home-and-school association president, said after the old school was demolished last year, the original plan was to turn the vacant space into an expansion of the parking lot. But the school persuaded the church instead to turn it into a playground.

After the fundraisers, which ranged from selling bricks to $5 “dressing down” stickers that allowed students to wear something other than their school uniforms for a day, came the construction.

“We built it from the ground up ourselves,” Malito said.

Malito said the playground arrived in parts, and in a churchwide effort, volunteers erected the entire playground.

Joe Kraus, a designer from Akron-based Meyer Design, said all his crew did was oversee the digging of the holes for the supports for the playground equipment.

After seven months, volunteers completed the playground last week.

Like Melfi, Virginia is part of three generations that have attended the school. After graduating from Youngstown State University with a master’s in education, she taught for three years in Los Angeles.

After that, she filled a teaching position at her former school.

And she stayed for more than three decades, eventually teaching the children of former students.

“St. Rose is a very special place,” she said just before the ceremony.

After St. Rose’s Monsignor John Zuraw blessed the playground and the ribbon was cut, the school’s current children formed lines awaiting the opportunity to swing and climb where many of their ancestors once sat in class.

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