Bill Clinton was president. O.J. Simpson was on trial. Don Read and the Montana Grizzlies started a run to their first Division I-AA national football championship.
It was September of 1995, and in the South Hills of Missoula, Principal Mark Thane greeted 467 students to the new Chief Charlo School – the last school to open in the Missoula County Public Schools district.
Now superintendent of MCPS, Thane was on hand Thursday morning for the opening of a time capsule filled 20 years ago by Carla Woehler’s fourth-grade class at Chief Charlo.
"I didn't even think about this end of it," admitted Woehler, one of five original teachers still at the school.
It’s been stored all these years on a shelf in the teachers’ storeroom, said Thane, who remained the school’s principal until 2008.
“I was always so nervous we’d forget about it,” he told an assembly in the school gym.
Out of a small packing box covered with colored construction paper came photos (Polaroids, as current principal Vinny Giammona pointed out) of every class in the K-5 elementary school in the 1995-96 school year and the signatures of Woehler's first fourth-graders.
There was the thank-you flier to families, friends and students at the dedication of the new school in September 1995 and a cover of Time Magazine with its 1995 man of the year, Newt Gingrich.
Also included was the Missoulian’s Montana Life section from Aug. 27, 1995, titled “First Days of a School: Chief Charlo opens its doors for learning” and the front pages of two other Missoulians highlighting the Simpson trial and Grizzly football.
It was special, Giammona noted, to see “where we were, what was happening at that time, and the impact that it had.”
The artifacts were revealed with the help of Peter Contos, who was in first grade at Chief Charlo that first year after spending kindergarten at Russell School.
Contos, whose mother Coleen has been teaching at the school on the hill since its second year, went on to Meadow Hill Middle School and graduated from Sentinel High in 2007. He still lives and works in Missoula, while his parents live two blocks from the school.
Contos was joined at the capsule by Jenny Gentilli, a student teacher at Chief Charlo whose older brother Pat was a first-grader in 1995 and works in New York.
Current students were asked in the first couple of weeks of school to find artifacts for the next 20-year time capsule.
As students and staff watched, fifth-graders Zoee England and Odessa Manry; third-grader Arden Crowser; second-grader Will Meissner; and first-graders Joselyn England and Davin and Max Farrell filled a modern container.
Waiting to be reopened in 2035 are a Whizz Pop Bang science magazine; a copy of Chris Colfer’s “Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell,” and an out-of-commission cellphone.
“I wonder what one of these is going to look like in 20 years,” Giammona said of the phone.
A digital photo of the first-grade class is in there, as is a Minions poster, a thumb drive containing a video of student robotics projects, and a nature journal detailing plants and animals found in the neighborhood over the past few weeks.
Giammona contributed a personal piece, a stuffed Olaf, the lovable snowman from the movie “Frozen.” The principal confessed he took it from his young daughter’s room.
“If she asks I’ll just say, 'You know, you’ve gotta let it go,' ” Giammona said. His younger audience got the joke.
Kim Brown, president of the school's parent-teacher organization, added the September issue of the PTO newsletter "The Howl" and a note from the PTO board, along with one of those familiar Scholastic book order forms. She also threw in some fake mustaches.
"We're hoping in 20 years they're going to get a good laugh about what was cool to our children in 2015," Brown said.
Thane was the first and Giammona is the third principal to guide Chief Charlo Elementary. The second, for the past six years, was Dave Rott, who was on hand Thursday. Rott was appointed this summer to fill Thane’s old position as the district's human resource director.
Thane called it “a once-in-a-lifetime professional opportunity” when he was hired as Chief Charlo’s first principal. He gave recognition to the staff members still at the school 20 years later – music teacher Judy Kilgore; Woehler and fellow second-grade teachers Annie Hull and Sue Ray; fifth-grade teacher Cari Fullbright; and custodian Matt Patterson.
The superintendent recalled the first assembly at Chief Charlo, when descendants of the great Salish chief (1830-1910) gave a Native blessing to open the 1995-96 school year.
“It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by,” Thane said. “It’s really been an amazing run and Chief Charlo is still in my mind one of the shining stars in Missoula County Public Schools.”
The final item from the 1995 time capsule was a letter composed by staff and students that school year. It mentioned the Simpson murder trial, the Unabomber manifesto, the Freemen standoff in Jordan and the Grizzlies’ march to the national championship, led by Read and quarterback Dave Dickenson.
Marc Racicot was governor, Dan Kemmis was mayor, and Brooks and Dunn, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men were the hot musical acts.
“We hope Missoula and Chief Charlo School are still a beautiful place,” the letter concluded. “Our wish for you is one of peace sent from an earlier time.”