Back in the ’50s, kids paid about five cents for a wax paper pack of five baseball cards and a square of pink bubble gum. The gum was passable, but the cards were the most important. We carried them everywhere we went so we could trade, buy or sell at any moment. With all our deal-making, the objective was to build teams. Even damaged cards were acceptable. We flipped them – sometimes in the church balcony between services – put them in the spokes of our bikes (the motorcycle sound), wrote on them and put rubber bands around them. Today’s serious collector would scream if he saw how we treated those cards.

The cards were fun, and when we were done using them, they went in a shoe box. When we got too old to deal with the cards, they ended up in the attic where, eventually, Mom threw them out. If we had only known how valuable they would be in the years to come, we would have locked them in a strong box. Oh well, even the Major Leagues weren’t big money when I was a kid.

When I was in the latter years of grade school, I collected Major League baseball caps. Actually, I still do. Back then, caps were advertised for $1.50 in the various baseball magazines, so I saved money from yard work jobs, gave my mother the cash, and she would send a check for the caps. I collected caps from all 16 Major League teams. In those days, there were only eight teams in each league. I kept these caps for many years because I wore a different one each day so as not to wear out any one cap.

I was proud of my collection, and the only problem I had was that Susan, the tallest person in our class at 6 feet 2, would grab a treasured cap from my head and toss it into the crotch of a tree when I was walking home after school. I would then have to go home and get a clothesline pole to lift the cap from the tree.

I cured her of this habit one winter day when I grabbed her hat when she bent over and threw it onto Chicago Avenue, where a truck ran over it, both flattening it and muddying it.

It is correctly stated that necessity is the mother of invention.

OPRF teachers who
made a difference

This article will probably bring back memories for many of my high school classmates. Each of us had teachers who made a difference, but these are the ones who meant the most to me.

My freshman algebra teacher, Mrs. Synnerdahl, was tough … real tough … but she gave our class leeway on solving problems. My grandfather was a civil engineer, and whenever I had a math problem I couldn’t solve, I’d ask him for help. He would show me the short-cut engineer’s method, and Mrs. Synnerdahl told me that as long as I understood the process, I could short-cut to solve the problems.

I hit the jackpot my sophomore year. Mr. Baker taught prefixes, roots and suffixes, along with Latin grammar in the second-year course. The vocabulary study made the college entrance exam much simpler.

Mr. Doolittle, my geometry teacher, also let me short-cut on proofs. If I could do a proof correctly in five steps instead of eight or nine, he was satisfied. My English teacher, Miss Redmond, made poetry come alive, and that’s not easy to do. I believe this lady started me thinking about becoming an English teacher. Miss Shafer, my world history teacher, taught me to outline, and this gift helped me clarify and learn difficult college courses.

During my junior year, I had three excellent teachers. Mr. Sullivan, my algebra II teacher, was an expert at explaining math concepts. He had the patience of a saint because he would go over and over a problem until everyone understood it. The only thing I didn’t like was that he wouldn’t let me short-cut because, in his mind, math was an exact science, and therefore every part of a problem had to be ordered.

Miss Hope was my American history teacher, and though she wasn’t the easiest person to like, she taught me the importance of detail and succinct writing. Mrs. Baker, my Latin teacher, was the kindest teacher I ever had. She taught with a teacher’s heart, but she stressed exact Latin-English translations in regard to Caesar and Cicero. She also believed in cumulative weekly review, which I soon realized was the key to learning.

In my senior year, I had Mr. Soliday for chemistry. I didn’t like chemistry, but he taught it so well, I became a fair chemistry student. Once again I had Mrs. Baker for Latin and she guided us through Virgil’s poetry and the Trojan War. Mr. Chandler (aka “Happy”) taught trigonometry. He was very easy-going, patient and positive. He, too, let me short-cut.

Miss DeGraff, my English literature teacher was a great believer in analysis. She taught us to read for facts, the main issue, reach a conclusion based on the issue, and then defend our conclusion. She would call on a student at random, and if the student chose not to respond, he/she would have a red mark entered in her grade book. Her objective, of course, was to teach us to think and not regurgitate facts.

My classroom experiences were generally quite good because of the devoted people I had for teachers. Most likely, the majority of my classmates had positive experiences, too, even though many might have found it too difficult to admit to this fact when we were adolescents.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 68 years.

Join the discussion on social media!