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High school memories: From typing class to football

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June 24, 2014 | 01:14 PM
This column is another “slice of life” of one aspect of Lake Geneva’s history almost a half century ago.

I think that it is important to prepare these “slices of life” for the edification of current residents and future generations who might have some interest in Lake Geneva’s history.

As I was doing research on Lake Geneva’s history in the 19th century, I very much regretted that almost no first-hand accounts of what life was like then have survived except for James Simmons’ brilliant recollections that form the basis of his superb Annals of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 1835-1897.

Indeed, one can today stand in front of the “new” high school component of the Central-Denison School complex and wonder what it was like when it was the city’s high school a half century ago.

Unfortunately, the “old” Lake Geneva High School just to the east of the “new” high school no longer exists.

The “new” Lake Geneva High School, constructed by the local firm of Reinert and Malsch, opened its doors in 1929. It served faithfully as Lake Geneva’s High School until 1958 when Badger High School opened.

A few of the teachers in the “new” high school still survive, including Clyde Boutelle who lives in Beloit, and Doug Gerber, who lives in Lake Geneva. Both had been star football players when they attended LG High.

The last principal of Lake Geneva High, who was also the first principal of Badger High School, Karl Reinke, lives on Clover Street in Lake Geneva.

Over the past few years, several other teachers at LGHS have passed away, including Duane Morris, Byron Bell and Bob Petranek.

I should state “up front” where my perspective on Lake Geneva High School is coming from. Put quite simply, I loved Lake Geneva High School.

My parents, uncle, and aunt had all graduated from LGHS, but only my father had attended the “new” high School. LGHS was only three blocks from my house and I walked to and from the high school every morning and afternoon and also walked home for lunch at noon and returned to school at 1 p.m. for the afternoon classes. I was also a member of the LGHS football and baseball teams and still have the “letters” that I won.

The LGHS principal in 1956-1957 was Theodore Kitze and the superintendent of schools was Vernon Pollock. The best course that I took at LGHS was World History taught by Clyde Boutelle.

As I walk, in my mind’s eye, the halls of LGHS, I see my teachers and fellow students pass by.

There’s my typing teacher, Mrs. Mavis Kline. With two fingers I could “hunt and peck” very quickly during the first quarter of the typing class. I was one of the very few males in the class. I received an “A.”

But by the second and third quarters, the girls in the class caught up to and greatly surpassed me. By the fourth quarter, they were typing 90 words per minute and I was still “hunting and pecking.” I received a “D” and never learned to touch type.

My general science class, taught by David Benedict, was excellent. He was a very good teacher, and I greatly enjoyed the class.

I managed to survive my algebra class, taught by Eugene Joyce, who had been an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. I liked my English course, taught by Mr. Blakeley, but struggled with declensions, subjunctives, conjugations and other grammatical mysteries.

My music class, “boys chorus,” was taught by Mrs. Esther Soderberg, who also directed the choir of the First Congregational Church, of which I was a member. My only problem was that I was tone deaf and couldn’t carry a tune.

My gym class was taught by the redoubtable Walter Jonas, who was also my football coach in 1956 and 1957 and my father’s football coach during the 1930’s.

Mr. Jonas was a very tough teacher. In order to pass the gym class, we had to be able to do 15 “chin-ups,” which I was barely able to do, and climb up a rope to the top of the gym, which I did not learn to do until the final examination.

As a member of the LGHS football team, I was the third-string quarterback on the “B” squad (Junior Varsity) in 1956, but I did manage to throw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Bobby DeGraff in a game against Wilmot. Coach Morris cut me from the basketball team because I had forgotten to wear an athletic supporter at its first practice.

I was the starting first baseman on the “B” squad baseball team. During a practice, I was leading off second base when the pitcher, Mike Hackett, whirled and threw to the shortstop, Richie Kahn, trying to pick me off base.

The throw was high. Richie had to jump up for it. Just as my hand touched the bag, Richie’s cleats ripped a gash in my left hand. I was taken to Dr. Charles Brady’s office, where he sewed up my hand with 39 stitches. I still have an “L”-shaped scar on the back of my left hand.

My sophomore year, 1957-1958, was infinitely better.

I was the only sophomore in the all-seniors world history course taught by Clyde Boutelle. My biology class was well taught by Duane Morris.

I loved dissecting a frog. My geometry class was taught by Mrs. “Ma” Helding, who lived in Rochester. Mrs. Helding required students to do an enormous amount of “extra credit” work, which I never did and was graded accordingly.

My Speech class was taught by Robert Wiese, who had been in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed his class. My classes in “Junior Business” and World Geography were taught by Roger McCaffrey. Gym class was again taught by Walter Jonas.

But it was on the gridiron in my sophomore year is where I excelled.

Doug Gerber was the new football coach. Beginning with the first game, I was the starting middle linebacker on the Varsity and was made the defensive captain.

I had a great season until the penultimate game against Elkhorn when I was kneed in the back on a kickoff, got a contused kidney and was taken to Lakeland Hospital where I was hospitalized for a week.

Because of my contused kidney, Coach Morris refused to let me play on the basketball team. I was again the starting first baseman on the “B” squad baseball team.

During the years 1956-1958, classes were held in both the “new” high school and the “old” high school, which were connected by a long hallway.

The most notable feature of the “new” high school was its auditorium and gym. The auditorium, with its balcony, faced north toward the gym, where gym classes were held, basketball games were played, and assemblies, the annual Christmas program, concert band performances, plays and lectures were held.

It was a unique, useful arrangement.

Memories come flooding back, far too many to recount here. A few will suffice.

The school’s secretary was Evelyn Pahl. Mrs. Ruth Gerber had a great deal of trouble controlling a rambunctious group of male students in her study hall on the second floor of the old school.

The musicals “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma” were directed by Robert Wiese. Dick Burnett scored 42 points in a basketball game, establishing a school record.

I recall staring out the window at Madison Street in Mrs. Kline’s typing class, wishing that the bell would ring, releasing the students for lunch. I saw Carole Parsons receiving her high school diploma in an iron lung (she had polio).

The final two years, 1956-1958, of Lake Geneva High School could not foretell the sterility of the next two years to come in the brand new Badger High School being built at the southern outskirts of the city.

Quinn has just published a book of poetry called “Midwinter Muse” and other poems. It can be purchased at Global Exchange (Broad and Geneva Streets) and at the Breadloaf Bookstore in the former Baptist Church.

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