Recalling my first day at OPRF in '53

Opinion: Columns

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By John Stanger


On the first day of high school in September 1953, I walked south on Oak Park Avenue to Ontario Street with my grandfather, who was heading to work. When we got to the corner of Oak Park and Ontario, my grandfather wished me good luck, and I walked east while he continued south.

My homeroom was in the basement of the school, and I was able to find the room with little trouble. My homeroom teacher was Mr. May, and the room I was assigned to was used for science.

While I was in homeroom, I was assigned a locker in which I would place the books I had obtained two days before school started. I shared the locker with a guy named Joe. Even though I memorized the locker combination, I wrote the numbers on a piece of paper, which I kept in my wallet just in case I had a memory lapse. Joe did the same.

My classes for the first semester were: Algebra 1, Latin, English, General Business and Physical Education.

Mrs. Ackerman was my algebra teacher. She was a very tall, austere woman, and I believed she would be quite strict. My belief proved to be correct.

My Latin teacher was Miss Muir. She told us that most of us would do poorly because our background in grammar was deficient. This class was a real challenge.

Miss Linden was my English teacher. She told us how much we would enjoy The Yearling and Stories from the Old Testament. She also said that grammar and the memorizing of poetry would not be difficult.

Miss Babcock was my General Business teacher. She told us what we would be studying, and I realized I had already experienced writing checks, banking money, and using the telephone in the proper manner, just to mention a few items.

When I entered the field house, I was overwhelmed by its size.

Mr. Noth was my gym teacher, and he treated us like Marine recruits. He told us we would play touch football during the first grading period and that we had better have spotless uniforms each Monday or face the consequences. I never saw a dirty uniform on Mondays.

I did OK, grade-wise, during the semester, but I wasn't pleased with my final grades.

I received an A in algebra, a B in English, a B in physical education, and a C in both Latin and General Business.

The C in General Business was my fault because I felt the course was too elementary, so I didn't put much time into studying it. The C in Latin was also my fault. I didn't study the vocabulary, declensions, and conjugations with much zeal.

My family never discussed grades with me because they believed that success or failure rested upon my shoulders. I imagine they would have done something if I had ever received a D or an F, but that never happened.

I buckled down for the next three and a half years, and I received only three more C grades: Freshman Science and both semesters of Chemistry.*

I learned to never take a teacher or a class lightly, and this is a rule I followed through all of the ensuing years of my formal education.

*I took four years of Latin, four years of math, three years of history, three years of science, some electives and four years of English. My family would have objected strongly if I had "dogged it."

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 77 years.

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Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 11th, 2017 9:10 AM

I was a Sophomore at Riverside Brookfield HS and we had friends at OPRF. I remember having a crush on Linda Phelps who would have been in your class. So many great memories, perhaps the years have removed the rough edges.

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