Janette N. Luu‎ > ‎In the News‎ > ‎

Grads recall school days

August 26, 2004 . Living . Page 1D

By Nancy Vendrely, The Journal Gazette
High school reunions - enjoyed by some, avoided by others - have become a tradition in American culture. They usually begin five years after graduation and might occur in five- to 10-year increments thereafter.
The amazing thing about them, however, is their inexorable proof that the decades pass too quickly. Twenty years out, you're still perking around the dance floor; 10 years later, you're wishing they'd turn the music down; and by the next gathering, you're wondering whether you can get home before dark.
When you hit the 50-year mark, slivers of disbelief assail your mind. How could it be? Where did the time go? It can't be 50 years. Yes, it can.
The Central High School Class of 1954 knows that now. As they prepare to celebrate Sept. 4 at the Baker Street Station, some of the party planners talk to The Journal Gazette about high school life 50 years ago. And, to bring us back in 10-year steps, individual graduates from 1964, 1974, 1984 and 1994 offer a glimpse of their lives and times.
To set the scene: In 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. An armistice had been signed in the Korean War the year before so high school boys no longer had that shadow hanging over them. Unemployment was at 2.9 percent; a first-class stamp cost 3 cents and life expectancy was 69.6 years.
Television was just beginning to reach into American homes. "The Jackie Gleason Show," "Hit Parade" and "Make Room for Daddy" were popular series. "On the Waterfront" and "Rear Window" were big movies that year, and radio disc jockeys were spinning platters of "Sh-Boom," "Shake Rattle & Roll" and "Oh! My Papa."
The Central High School cafeteria rang with such music on Friday nights as students did the bunny hop, jitterbugged and slow-danced. Barb Carpino Williams, Jim Scheerer, Gloria Bohde Sparks, Arlene Dodane Curts, Margaret Bolen Williams and Darrell G. Zimmerman reminisce about those times.
"Different clubs were responsible for the Friday dances. They'd decorate the cafeteria," Sparks says. "We always had live music." Others reel off band names: Bob Snowball, Jimmy Stier, Jack Wilson.
"At the dances, it would be boys on one side of the cafeteria and girls on the other," Barb Williams says. The dances always ended by 11 p.m. so students could catch a city bus home.
Life for teens then centered largely around school activities: school musicals and plays; clubs with special interests, such as history, science and Latin; working on the school newspaper or yearbook; and football and basketball games, where almost everybody turned out to root for the Central Tigers.
"At football games, you mixed with kids from other schools," Curts says. "Kids didn't work back then, so they went to the games."
"Those were the best days," Barb Williams says. "Everybody got along, everybody was happy. There was no running to jobs, there were no cars, no cellphones. We walked everywhere."
Zimmerman says: "You didn't get a (driver's) license until you were 18 then. We'd play basketball in the alley at 10 at night, and we always walked downtown at night."
"It was popular to walk up and down Calhoun," Sparks adds. Even at lunchtime, Central students would spill out into the streets. Some might eat at one of the downtown lunch counters; some might window shop or just stroll to be on the scene.
"Downtown shopping - all those stores - it was great then," Sparks says. They also thought nothing of walking to North Side or South Side high schools where Central played its basketball games. For jaunts too far to walk, they had the city bus service. Popular spots were Bell's Skating Rink; Memorial Park, where the Fort Wayne Daisies played women's professional baseball; and the then-new Memorial Coliseum to see the city's professional basketball team, the Fort Wayne Pistons.
When someone did have access to a car, some of the destinations of choice were Buck Lake Ranch near Angola, Bledsoe's Beach at Lake James, Cold Springs Resort at Hamilton Lake or simply cruising around Gardner's Drive-In in downtown Fort Wayne.
"One girl would have a car and we'd get our quarters together," Margaret Williams says. "Gas was 22 to 25 cents a gallon."
"You'd go to the drive-in (movie) and put a bunch of people in your trunk," Curts says.
As for attire, it was not a T-shirt and blue-jean generation. Girls wore skirts, blouses or sweaters and saddle shoes with bobby socks. Guys wore cotton or corduroy pants with shirts or pullovers and loafers or oxfords. Athletic shoes were reserved for the basketball court.
"It was a quieter time," Curts says. "It was rare to hear of anybody taking drugs."
"We didn't even know what it was," Scheerer says.
"It was a great time to grow up," Curts says. "You didn't have the pressures you have now."
"There was no fighting - we were happy kids," Barb Williams says. The closest they came to anything resembling a fight were mass snowball fights.
"We were right across the street from Central Catholic (High School)," Curts says. "In winter, we'd have snowball fights across Clinton Street."
When it was time to focus on classes, students could choose business courses, vocational education or college prep classes, though college wasn't a common goal then. Most girls were looking at nursing, secretarial work or marriage - they recall about eight couples in their class married soon after high school. And many of the boys were into vocational trades, such as tool & die, drafting and machinist work. Central's industrial arts classes prepared them for employment in trades, industry and business.
"GE and Harvesters had apprentice courses then. That's what I was going to do until one of my teachers talked me into changing (from mechanical drawing) to architectural drawing," Zimmerman says. That led him to college instead, and he enrolled at Purdue University's Fort Wayne branch, where it cost $250 for tuition and books. He worked his way through college by helping his father, a house painter, at 25 cents an hour.
"There were plenty of jobs - Harvester, GE, Phelps Dodge," Scheerer says. "Korea just got over with in '53, but we did have the draft. I didn't want to (get a job and wait to be drafted) so I joined the Air National Guard and had a full-time job out there."
Business classes at Central trained students for stenographic work (shorthand and typing), clerical work and, in distributive education, behind-the-counter selling.
"Lincoln Life was big for the girls. It was $32.50 a week for office girls and secretarial work then," Margaret William says. "But girls were more thinking of marrying and making a home."
"Except for the very brainy girls - they went to college," Curts puts in. And some, such as Barb Williams, started higher education, got married and went back years later to finish.
"I went to nurses training at Lutheran, then did other work and went back when I was 40 to get my LPN and worked at Parkview for years," Williams says.
Central even had a four-year arts curriculum that included sketching, ceramics, lettering, figures, fashion, painting and interior decorating. It was the art club students who decorated the school at Christmastime, when there was an annual Christmas program in the gym and students worked together to prepare baskets of food for needy families.
"We had the best times," Curts says of those years at Central.
"I'd go back if I could," Barb Williams says. "I'd start all over."
A glimpse at '64: Lyndon Johnson was president; three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi; Jack Ruby was convicted of murdering presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; the Vietnam War was heating up. Unemployment was 5.7 percent; a first-class stamp cost 5 cents; and life expectancy was 70.2 years. The music of Bob Dylan reflected the unrest in the '60s counterculture. "Peyton Place" premiered on ABC, and The Beatles appeared for the first time on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
School memories: At South Side High School, Karen Walker wrote for the South Side Times, belonged to literary and service clubs and was in the National Honor Society.
"That was quite an honor in those days," she says of the latter. "Looking back, I'd say we were very innocent. There were no drugs, no violence. We were very focused on academics. We had a lot of what I would call innocent-type fun. We studied a lot - South Side was known for its academics - but we went to basketball games, we cheered for our school. The games would be packed.
"And we would buzz Hall's (on Bluffton Road) on Friday nights. The schools all had different places. Elmhurst buzzed Dale's Drive-In; Central buzzed Gardner's. We'd drive around to see our friends. We had none of the complications kids seem to have now. I think the worst thing we did in school was pass notes in class or go into the hall without a pass. You had to have a hall pass."
Defining elements: "I think the class of '64 was the major class on the cusp of all the changes. In November of my senior year, Kennedy was killed. That had a major impact on everyone." But, Walker says the social changes sweeping the country didn't really hit the Midwest until her junior year of college. Those changes, along with a somewhat idyllic life growing up in Fort Wayne, were significant to her.
"I think I grew up at the very best time to have the most experiences," Walker says.
Goals: "I knew I was going to college. My parents were both college graduates - there wasn't any question that's what I was going to do." Walker majored in journalism at Indiana University, Bloomington, and worked as a reporter at The News-Sentinel from 1968 to 1980, when she decided to go to law school. She graduated from Valparaiso School of Law in 1983.
Now: Walker is staff attorney for the Allen County Office of Family and Children
A glimpse at '74: Richard Nixon was president until his resignation on Aug. 8 amid the Watergate scandal; Gerald Ford was sworn in the next day. Unemployment was 5.6 percent; a first-class stamp went from 8 cents to 10 cents; and life expectancy increased to 72 years. "M*A*S*H" and "The Waltons" were popular TV shows, and "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack was named song of the year.
School memories: Kevin Howell was active in basketball, football, track and student council at Elmhurst High School, following in his older siblings' footsteps, though they went to Central High School.
"I wanted to go to Central, too, but integration was coming in, and when Central closed, I was assigned to Elmhurst," Howell says. Although he believes his tenure there prepared him well for college, it is not a time he views fondly.
"We were the first ones to integrate in large measure. ... Some of us didn't want to be there, and some of the folks there didn't want us. Being the first ones, it was kind of raw at the time. There were some tough times. But one of the good things, I made lasting friendships. I've gone to the reunions and had a good time."
Defining elements: "The resignation of President Nixon - that was a big deal. Also apartheid in South Africa and (anti-apartheid activist) Stephen Biko. We related to him and followed that closely here." But, Howell says, his generation was not involved in civil rights marches or sit-ins.
"We saw it on TV, but we did not do that. Our older brothers and sisters did those things... They were responsible for tearing down physical (barriers). We saw things in a different light. We thought going on to school was major - taking things a step further in that direction."

Goals: "I knew I was going to college. My mother and dad raised us that way. ... I loved history and political science and wanted to go into law." Howell majored in U.S. history at Howard University in Washington, D.C., but opted not to enter law school after deciding "the negative aspects of it were not my thing."
Now: Howell assists emotionally handicapped students with their studies at Mary Raber Elementary School in Columbia City. As founder of the Black College Club, Howell works with high school students, encourages them to go to college and organizes annual trips to traditionally black colleges. He's starting a similar club for eighth-graders. Howell also is running for 80th District state representative on the Republican ticket.
A glimpse at '84: Ronald Reagan was president; he withdrew U.S. Marines from Beirut international peacekeeping mission; the Soviet Union withdrew from summer Olympic Games in the United States. Democrats put Geraldine Ferraro on their national ticket as Walter Mondale's running mate. Reagan and George Bush were re-elected. Unemployment was 7.5 percent; first-class postage cost 20 cents; and life expectancy was 74.7 years. "The Cosby Show" debuted on television, joining favorites such as "Hill Street Blues" and "Cheers." Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was named record of the year.
School memories: Lisa Gongwer Isenbarger was salutatorian of the senior class at Carroll High School; played piano for the show choir all four years; played flute in the concert band; belonged to the National Honor Society; and was news editor of the school newspaper her junior and senior years.
"Thinking about school again made me realize how quickly 20 years have gone by," Isenbarger says. "That was the last time I got to do a lot of those things. I considered journalism as a career but didn't pursue it, and the musical activities, I haven't done since."
Defining elements: "This was really more when I graduated from college in 1988. I found out how much of a male-dominated field accounting was. There were a lot of female accountants at lower levels but not at the executive level. Even when I was promoted to senior manager in 1995, ... I had no female mentors."
Goals: "I was always career-oriented and very competitive. Whatever I tried, I wanted to be best." She majored in accounting at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, graduating and passing her CPA exam in 1988. She spent 12 years with a large accounting firm.
Now: Isenbarger and two other CPAs founded Haines, Isenbarger & Skiba, LLC, five years ago.
"I enjoyed the big firm, but I have two small children and wanted more flexibility. Here, we work a flexible schedule to take care of children, go to grad school, take care of parents." Isenbarger says asking for that sort of flexibility when she started in the field would have been viewed negatively by her employer.
"Accounting is still pretty male-dominated and the work can be pretty demanding from an hourly standpoint. There are very busy times - it's the nature of public accounting. But outside of those times, we try to be flexible - to balance work and life."
A glimpse at '94: Bill Clinton was president; Nelson Mandela was elected president in South Africa's first interracial national election; O.J. Simpson was arrested in the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Unemployment was 6.1 percent; cost of a first-class stamp was 29 cents; and life expectancy was up to 75.7 years. "ER" and "Friends" debuted on television, and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was record of the year.
School memories: Janette Luu was valedictorian of Snider High School's senior class and her classmates labeled her "Most Likely to be the First Woman President."
"I was a nerd - in the good sense," Luu says. "I was a hard worker in high school - I wanted to be well-rounded." Speech Team, Latin Club, Math League, Future Problem Solving Team - Luu did it all and even went to speech nationals her senior year.
"Speech I was very passionate about, and I was very much a leader. ... It was very important to me to develop my skills at that time."
An American-born daughter of Vietnamese parents who came to the United States in 1975, Luu also was involved in television at Snider, co-anchoring the weekly Panther's Pause during her senior year.
Defining elements: "I was so focused on school; I don't think I took in much else. But I do remember that O.J. was in all the news."
Television coverage of Simpson and Al Cowlings in a slow-d chase scene on Los Angeles freeways - said to have drawn 95 million viewers - foreshadowed TV's big
role in that case, but not Luu's career decision.
Goals: "I knew I was interested in TV, but I had grown up thinking I'd become a doctor," Luu says. So she became a pre-med student, majoring in biology and Latin, at the University of Michigan. But when she came home after graduation in 1998, Luu realized she didn't want a medical career.
"I was able to get my foot in the door at (Channel) 21 and was hired as a production assistant."
Next came weekend assignment editor, reporting and then weekend anchor in January 2003.
Now: Still co-anchoring the weekend news at WPTA-TV, Luu recently has stepped out to make a larger imprint on her home community. Along with Matt Stuart, she co-founded two events - Pop Filter, a multimedia happening in January, and, just this month, City Prototype, a new look at downtown Fort Wayne's potential.
Their efforts were designed "to offer new ideas," Luu says. And, "to address the brain-drain issue."
"For me, I was just tired of complaints about Fort Wayne and decided I needed to do something about it.
"I believe it helps empower other people to realize you can do something."