Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Going Home - Schools October2

Recently I returned to La Grange, Illinois for my 60th high school reunion. I drove around my hometown heedful of the fact that "you 
can never go home". This, of course is corollary to the Heraclitus saying that "you  never step in the same river twice".  Despite the expected differences I drove around the town to places that have shaped my life.
La Grange is a village 13 miles west of Chicago. It is at the crossroad of La Grange Road (US 45) and Ogden Avenue (US 34) on the Burlington Route which goes  between Chicago and Denver. Fourteen thousand years ago the land under La Grange sat on the western shore of Lake Chicago, the predecessor to Lake Michigan. The shoreline is delineated by Bluff Avenue where the land goes gradually downhill on the east side of the village. La Grange was founded by businessman F.D. Cossitt in 1879. My mother graduated from Cossitt Elementary School in 1915.

My elementary school, grades kindergarten through fifth grade, was the Ogden Avenue School which is still going strong. William Butler Ogden was the first Mayor of Chicago. When it opened in 1910 Ogden School replaced two previous schools. They were: Poets Corner (1885) at  La Grange Road and Oak Avenue, and the North School (1893) on Kensington between Bell and Ogden Avenue. What I remember about Ogden was that it was "old and solid' like its Principle Nettie J. McKinnon. It had a gymnasium with a very low ceiling and a large playground behind. I could walk or ride my bike to school and crossing Ogden Avenue was a challenge. I remember taking naps in kindergarten on a hand hooked rug from home. In first grade a big kid named Rod playing kick ball broke my wrist with a ball that came so fast I couldn't move. I was standing near second base and I remember Miss Stevens, my first grade teacher, came right over because I was pale and in shock. A policeman drove me home and I had to wear a cast for six weeks. The class rooms had attached cloak rooms where sometimes we students were sent if we acted up. On the corner to the west was Turks Store where we could buy penny candy after school. My favorite was a strip of paper with chocolate drops that you had to bite off the paper. On the way home at the southeast corner of Ogden and Brainard was a wondrous store - Stuliks -  which had rock gardens of flowers and fish and birds. There were canaries and parrots and the unmistakable smell of their droppings. Nettie McKinnon could best be described as a "force".When she walked down the hall (she was as wide as she was tall and wore grandmother long dress clothes) the hall became instantly quiet and frozen in time. This was caused by a mixture of fear and awe.
One day on the way home when I was in fifth grade I was riding my bike on the right edge of Ogden Avenue - a definite no no.  When I passed Brainard Avenue I swerved to the left to cross to the other side without looking behind me. The next instant I was on the ground having clipped the back right side of a speeding car that I never saw. It happened so fast that I did not have time to be afraid but  I was brought to reality by the frightened look on the face of the driver who thought he had killed me. I realized how unthinking and lucky  I had been. Even now I can remember what a close call it was and how fast it happened. There were no injuries at all but no thanks to me. I was so embarrassed that I don't think I ever told anyone. I was much more careful after that and I never rode on Ogden again. Everytime I have a close shave
and there have been more than a few I think how lucky I have been to still be hanging around.
Nettie Mckinnon sponsored a program where we students would sell magazine subscriptions and the proceeds would be used to purchase a painting or other work of art which would become part of the schools permanent collection. My brother David was invited to accompany Nettie on a trip to an art gallery in downtown Chicago where that years purchase was chosen. As I remember the gift painting from our class (1949) was a small original painting of George Washington by the American artist, Gilbert Stuart. The collection resides currently in a gallery at the Park Junior High school.

After fifth grade we attended the Oak Avenue School for sixth, seventh , and eighth grades. Also in District 102, Oak School was built in1928 to relieve overcrowding at Ogden. Nettie McKinnon was the Principle at both schools. I played on the Lightweight Basketball team and we beat Cossitt twice. Mr. Seibel, the coach, was also the Industrial Arts teacher and taught me anything I know about using tools and making things. My favorite memory was that when I was in eighth grade I got to raise the flag every morning and take it down in the afternoon.

In 1888 Lyons Township High School became the sixth Illinois high school organized under a new law permitting townships to form high school districts.  The vote was 380 for and 328 against. 
Secondary school education was not high on the list of community needs. In 1890 the school moved into its new building at Brainard and Cossitt. I the 1920's the district 204 high school drawing area was slimmed downward to include La Grange, Western Springs, Hodgkins, Brookfield, La Grange Highlands, Indian Park, Countryside, La Grange Park and Westchester. When I attended the school there were 2 buildings, 2 athletic fields and 3 apartment buildings on 66 acres. When I graduated in 1954 my class size was 415 and the school population was 2,010. Currently there are two campuses with the juniors and seniors attending school in the original  building. When I went to LT there was a junior college (LTJC) which met on certain parts of the third floor. It had several names : Tick Tock Tech - referring to its near proximity to the clock; Upstairs Tech, and "The College in the Clouds". It merged with the College of DuPage in 1967.
My high school years were magical. We lived on Dover Street just two small blocks across the tracks so it was a 10 minute walk to school. Day and night at home I could hear the bell tower clock. The Saturday afternoon football games were exciting with coach Chuck Bennett and successful teams led by Leon McCrae and Dean McKown. We won the state basketball championships in 1953 with a fast breaking undefeated team led by Nat Smith, Joe McCrea, and our classes  Ted Caiazza, and Chuck Sedgewick. During our time in school LT won the State Track Championships under the leadership my neighbor Coach Russ Deason an extraordinary three times. I was captain of the tennis team and our team won the District. My partner Gay Messick  and I lost in the state semifinals in 3 sets to the eventual winners. At the Gilbert Park courts one afternoon we beat Evanston High School breaking their four year dual meet record without a loss. I was taking interesting courses like Latin and German and doing well academically. My senior year I was co-editor of the Tabulae with Annette Wylie and Helen Long. The many afternoons after school were certainly more fun than work. Socially I had all the same issues facing adolescent boys and girls that everyone had to address. I had a small loyal group of close friends, more on the academic side than the athletic or popular side. We loved going to the Corral on the week-ends. Beginning to drive at age 14 enlarged our sphere - we were able to drive to away football games, on dates, and to Hamburger Heaven in Elmhurst. I thought I was pretty grown up until I got to College - but that's another story. What stands out most clearly now, 60 years later, was the extraordinary support we got from family, and teachers, and mentors but most of all from our fellow classmates. It is no surprise since the school was set up to produce success and which it consistently delivered.

No comments: