Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed LangloisChildren watch dedication of new preschool at Woodburn's St. Luke Parish. 
                                                                      Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Children watch dedication of new preschool at Woodburn's St. Luke Parish. 
WOODBURN — St. Luke School here this fall dedicated a new preschool in an old building.  

The new space for tikes is housed in the old Woodburn rail depot, which dates from the 1890s. It was moved from downtown Woodburn a half mile to St. Luke's 30 years ago.

Inside, where passengers once queued for tickets, children play with blocks and do art around small colorful tables. The current upgrade included paint, windows and landscaping. Still in the works is a new roof.  

The preschool was dedicated to a St. Luke graduate who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Tony Justeson was 22.

The preschool is meant to get families involved at St. Luke early on, increasing enrollment. Because of the economy, area families have had a harder time affording private education.    

Sandy Lonergan, the current principal, was a teacher for years before assuming the top post. She recalls Justeson, a 2003 graduate, and his natural ways with younger children.

Jeremy Rehder, Tony's younger brother, held a flag during the dedication ceremony. Children and parents heard a passage from the gospel of St. Matthew: "You are the light of the world."

"I think this is awesome," says Steven Rehder, who raised Tony from the age of six. "Tony loved this school."

Steven Rehder, who himself grew up as an altar boy at St. Luke, says his adopted son had a "heart of gold."

"Tony was a really gentle person," says Liz Rehder, Tony's grandmother.

Dennis Rehder, Tony's grandfather, says the military gave his grandson meaning.

Dennis, a parishioner since 1992, served on the school advisory board when he heard about the preschool project. Then came the devastating news from Afghanistan, where a bomb planted by insurgents killed Justeson. The funeral was at St. Luke's.  

"When Tony was killed, it just went into my head that this project was something I could do," says Dennis, who owns DGS Construction.

The renovation included a covered play structure for rainy days, a running track and playfield built on a former swamp. It's the first major building project at St. Luke since the 1980s. Children, Dennis says, need places to play.

The school is fronted by shrubs trained to spell out A B C.  

"My heart was in this thing from the beginning," says Roger Midura, a developer and school foundation leader who helped raise funds for the memorial project. He made scores of calls, pounded the pavement and called in favors. He attended breakfast with 10 local farmers who sat with stony faces as he described the plan. A few days later, a check for $10,000 arrived. With Midura in the lead, the foundation gathered $75,000 in cash and $225,000 in donated labor and material. Had the school paid workers for the jobs, it would have cost $500,000.

Part of the funding came from memorial bricks placed on a walkway in honor of Justeson.

The dedication came as welcome good news just a week after St. Luke's pastor, Father Angel Perez, was arrested for sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy.