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Saving Brown School History

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on June 28, 2003


Memories aren't all that remind us of Eva DeVanney

By Roz Young

            Of all the people in the world, why I was chosen to appear on the stage of Brown School in a play with Miss DeVanney I will never know.
            Miss Eva DeVanney was the principal of E.J. Brown School. She wore large hats to school and spoke in a no-nonsense voice. Everybody was scared of her.
            It was the Christmas program in 1925, and I was in the eighth grade. Miss DeVanney sat on the stage in front of the whole school, and I sat at her knee. I was to read the letter Virginia O'Hanlon had written to the editor of the New York Sun originally published in 1897. It was answered by Francis P. Church's editorial, `Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.' It became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It was reprinted every year in the New York Sun until the paper went out of business in 1949. Miss DeVanney was going to read the editorial and I was chosen to read Virginia O'Hanlon's part.
            We practiced our parts and finally the day came. The whole school sat in rows in the auditorium and then Miss DeVanney, followed by you-know-whom came on the stage. Miss DeVanney nodded to me and I read my part.
            `Dear Editor-,' I read, `I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says `If you see it in The Sun , it's so.' Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?'
            Then Miss DeVanney began her part.
            `Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little.'
            I liked the part that said, `Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?'
            On and on she continued.
            The reading ended, `No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.'
            One Christmas when I was about 5, my parents assembled all my gifts under the tree and as I unwrapped them, told me who had given them to me. My Grove City grandmother sent me a doll, and my aunt had given me a hoop. My other grandmother gave me a tiddley-winks game and a new dress. Then came the presents from Santa Claus: five games, candy, a new coat and a doll. When I had unwrapped them all, I said to my parents, `What did you get me?'
            My father laughed. My mother said, `The time has come.' So she sat down and told me that the presents that Santa Claus had given me were really from my father and her. `There isn't a Santa Claus,' she said. `But you must never tell any of your other little friends because they believe in him.'
            That was all right with me. I never told the Henning girls or Dorothy Schrock or the Nielsen sisters or Corinne Ashmun or any of the others in my grade at school.
            But when Miss DeVanney stood up in front of the whole school and told them, `Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,' I said to her, `Miss DeVanney, you have told the whole school something that is not true.'
            I knew better than to say it loud enough for the others to hear, but I felt that if she believed what she was saying, somebody ought to tell her she was wrong.
            She looked down at me. `I know,' she said. `But it is only a play. It is nice to believe, whether it is true or not.' I felt like two cents.
            Long after I had left Brown School, somebody put up a tile plant stand in the wall and dedicated it to Miss DeVanney.
            Virginia Burroughs is trying to have the tile plant stand and the relief on the walls of Brown School saved.
            Let's hope she is successful.