When I graduated from North Baltimore High School, I might have been voted the least likely to stand here and sing the praises of our alma mater before you tonight… because I was pretty sure that other kids in other places were getting a better education.
When I went to visit my cousins in Findlay during my junior high years, it seemed like they had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t:
- They could choose from several foreign languages and we had Spanish (and for those of you who were in high school in the late 1970s, you can attest that barely qualified as a Spanish class.)
- My cousins even had accelerated classes and kids in Findlay were graduating with knowledge of topics such as calculus that we never even knew about at North Baltimore High School.
- That was also an era when Findlay High School had some great sports teams too. I always thought it would be fun to cheer for teams that were so competitive.
- And then to top it off , Findlay had cable television and pizza, and to me North Baltimore just didn’t seem to measure up.
I also went to church with kids from Elmwood and Van Buren and they were always bragging about their new school buildings while we were in an old outdated building.
So as a student at North Baltimore High School, I always suspected there was something bigger and better out there and when I graduated, I went out to find it as fast I could. I hurried down to the Ohio State University and quickly became immersed in the excitement of the Buckeyes and the accounting education I was receiving there. Before I knew it, I graduated from college…. and three days later, I started work at a large accounting firm. Life happened fast…. like it always does….and eventually, my husband Byron and I settled in Findlay and raised three children.
During this period, I did spend a lot of time in North Baltimore visiting my folks and Byron’s family and going to church at St. Luke’s , but I really didn’t think much about my North Baltimore High School education until my kids started taking college visits. And oh did we take college visits! I would guess that between three kids, we conservatively visited 50 schools throughout the country. All three of our kids were drawn to colleges focused on the liberal arts, which is the notion that an undergraduate education is the time to explore new things so students are exposed to a wide range of academic subjects, including sciences and the humanities.
On these visits, college admissions counselor after admissions counselor, from schools all across the country, boasted about why our kids should attend this specific college. Regardless of the college, this is the sales pitch:
- FIRST….This is the time of your child’s life when he can try new things. An artist can play a new sport. A science student can learn a new language. A musician can write for the school newspaper. This is a safe environment to take risks and often, a student will learn that he loves something that he never tried before.
- SECOND… There are adults here that will care deeply about your child. Before he graduates, your child will eat dinner at the home of a professor. The university president will know your child on a first name basis. Your child will graduate from college with a cadre of adults who are willing to serve as his references and will remain his friends or mentors for life.
It sounds great, doesn’t it?
After I heard variations of this same speech a few dozen times, I began to realize that quite possibly I had undervalued my North Baltimore High School education. Here I was, sitting on the campus of a fancy college helping my kids try to find the very thing that Byron and I had at North Baltimore High School and we hadn’t even realized how important it was.
In hindsight, I now understand that North Baltimore High School provided us so many risk-free opportunities to find the things that we loved. When I was in high school, I was on two sports teams for sports I had never even played before: volleyball and golf. Byron got to sing in the choir and participate in class plays and he never had a voice lesson. I was in the marching band and barely ever practiced my saxophone at home. I wrote articles for the school newspaper.
NOW…..Think about all of the opportunities you had at North Baltimore High School, chances to be a team captain or a class officer or be a cheerleader or march in the band. I would contend that those opportunities made you who you are today!
This is very different than the experiences our kids had at a bigger high school. Our son wanted to play hockey when he was 3 because his sister was a figure skater and he was stuck spending hours at the ice rink. We signed him up for skating lessons and he was on a travel hockey team by the time he was four and hockey was his sport. The end. Boom. There was no way he could have decided to jump onto a basketball team or a baseball team in high school since he hadn’t practiced that sport since a very young age.
Here’s another example. If you watch the TV show, Glee, you see how competitive show choirs can be. At our kids’ elementary school, students were getting cut from the fifth grade show choir because they hadn’t taken dance AND singing lessons yet. Kids, at a very young age, are locked into one or two activities at a big high school. Maybe that’s why there is so much need for them to attend a liberal arts college where they can finally explore….for the first time…. at age 18.
In hindsight, I think even more important than the opportunities to lead, follow, and participate that we had at North Baltimore High School are the caring adults that were always there for us. In larger school districts, there are very few teachers that a student has for more than one year so there really isn’t time to build long-lasting, trusting relationships. At North Baltimore, we often had the same teachers year after year and I believe that was a great gift.
For those of you who weren’t in high school during the 1970s, bear with me because I’m sharing my memories from that era, but I guarantee that each of you can substitute similar names and similar memories from your time in North Baltimore Schools.
Close your eyes and think about a school staff member that believed in you during your time in school. I bet there are almost too many to remember.
For me, I remember Mrs. Mong in first grade and the excitement of actually being able to first read a Dick and Jane book under her tutelage. In second grade, I had Mrs. Bockbrader, who was a jolly soul. It was almost like having Santa Claus for a teacher. She smiled and laughed the whole year.
My favorite elementary teacher was Emma Apple in fourth grade. She made us believe we could do anything. I was in her class two months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She put a paper moon near the ceiling and a path leading to the moon that was measured in pages read. I never thought reading was more exciting than when I was trying to race to the moon. She also let me serve as a safety patrol-girl which seemed like the biggest responsibility ever. I was so proud to put on that reflective vest and even more proud that she believed in me.
Soon, we were in junior high and that brought us into Jim Dennis’ English class. Much of my work today is focused on writing so barely a day passes when I can’t hear his voice in my head repeating a grammatical rule. I hated that class when I was in it, but I’m sure happy now that he laid that important grammar groundwork for me.
Does anyone remember how he would calmly walk to the door when we heard someone get a “whack” in the hallway? Without interrupting the lesson, he would say the student’s name who had received the whack and the teacher who had delivered it. He was wise enough to know that we would never refocus on sentence structure until those questions were answered.
Speaking of whacks, junior high was the time when Melody (Blake) Drewes and I learned that when Don Lang said, “The next person who says ANYTHING is going down to the office to get a whack,” he REALLY meant it. The next thing we knew, we were both were sitting in the principal’s office worried, not about the upcoming whack, but if our moms would find out. Stella and Nancy, that’s tonight’s surprise for the two of you.
I had Don Lang as a social studies teacher during a presidential election year and remember how exciting he made the most lopsided presidential election ever seem. I still carry that passion for a good presidential election cycle thanks to Don.
Once we entered high school, there were so many teachers and coaches who were consistently positive role models in our lives. Obviously, my list is in no way complete, but I wanted to share some thank you’s to some of those solid folks who were there for me:
- Gwen Mauk was my basketball coach for four years and gym teacher for 6 years. I’m not going to lie, I’m still scared of some of the 8th grade girls who could throw that dodgeball at incredible speeds when a bunch of us scrawny 7th grade girls shared a gym period with them. When I see those ladies at Krogers, I slink down another aisle for fear of a rocket dodgeball. But seriously, Gwen was a teacher who I always knew had my back.
- Fran Weith. Show of hands. How many of you are Fran’s Facebook friend? If not, why aren’t you? She’s still encouraging us and supporting our endeavors. How cool is that? Also, Fran taught me how to write my first term paper.
- Tom Gohlke taught us about literature and made us read tough, complicated books that we thought were old and boring. Little did we realize he was teaching us how to analyze and synthesize information.
- Dick Schemmer taught us about biology. Oh, in case anyone is still wondering, I know who let the fruit flies out ….
- Beryl Heminger taught us about bookkeeping which inspired me to major in accounting.
- Carol Reed made math the funniest subject ever. How is that even possible?
- And then there was Vern Bame. What didn’t we learn from Vern? I actually remember a lot of driving lessons from Vern. They were usually in the genre of “when it’s a tossup between a car and a semi truck, the law of physics will be on the side of the truck so you better look twice before you pull out.” We learned about Ohio State sports, past and present. Who knew there was so much to know about Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek and Hopalong Cassady? Mostly, we learned about the trajectory of softballs in flight. Yet somehow, in between all of that, he managed to teach us about physics and chemistry in a very down-to-earth way.
It’s impossible to thank every teacher individually, but I hope you know that each of you made a big difference in our lives. You were those trusting caring adults that each kid needs to succeed. Thank you to each and every one of you. How about a round of applause for all of the teachers here tonight??
Growing up in North Baltimore blessed us with another important gift that I initially overlooked. In my current role at a community foundation, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to invest in programs that build strong youth. Research shows that there are 40 developmental assets that contribute to the healthy development of youth into strong adults. OK, Don’t panic, I’m not going to read all 40! There are two developmental assets that we were rich in during our childhood in North Baltimore even if we didn’t appreciate it at the time. I know they helped us become who we are today.
The FIRST external developmental asset is “other non-parental adults model positive behavior and encourage children to do well.” I just mentioned the teachers who supported us, but there were other school staff members who always encouraged us too. I still remember Bob Mong, the bus driver, saying each day when I got off the bus in fifth grade, “Make sure you learn something new today.” There were also school secretaries who were so kind to us. The best thing about going to the dentist was the chance to chat with Cay (Smith) Andrews in the school office when we signed out. I also remember the smiling faces of the lunch ladies even as we were openly complaining about the food they were serving that day.
We were surrounded by positive adults throughout the town as well. Whether it was the ladies at the library, Sunday School teachers, old guys at the golf course, Dr. Roberts, the ladies at Weith’s, Bill McMahan at the Food Center, Gene Swartz at the SOHIO station, they knew our names and took the time to see how we were doing and encouraged us to succeed.
NOW….Think about those people that were part of your life and were always cheering for your successes. Heck, think about those people that are still encouraging us. Bonnie Knaggs was my softball coach one summer about 43 years ago and a year ago she gave me the opportunity to write articles for the North Baltimore News. As another example, Clair Blackall taught my husband, Byron, calculus over Christmas break in college. That’s the kind of commitment and lifelong support that North Baltimore provides that you don’t find elsewhere.
The SECOND external asset is “neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young peoples’ behaviors.” OK, who in this room can’t remember doing something bad in North Baltimore High School and your parents knowing about it when you walked in the front door? Seriously? I don’t know how they communicated but it seemed like it was faster than the internet. I remember one day when I took my lunch money and ate at the B and N…… OK, I ate at the B and N almost every day…. but this particular day I got busted. That evening, when Dad came home from work, he said, “Did you really eat a Hostess yellow cupcake and a can of Mountain Dew for lunch?” Seriously guys, how did they find this stuff out?
So, this is just another example of something that seemed annoying about growing up in North Baltimore, but really was a blessing in disguise and helped us turn into better adults.
There’s something special about every small town. That character is why people love their towns. It’s why they live there. It is the heart and soul of a community. It might have taken me 53 years to figure it out, but I know now, what makes North Baltimore so unique. It really just comes down to people who support each other ….day in and day out.
For a long time, I suspected the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. I know now that I grew up in the greenest pasture and I am thankful for that gift. I’m proud of my personal evolution from least likely to most likely to speak at a North Baltimore High School Alumni Banquet.
Now it’s our job to pass that gift on to future generations, to celebrate what makes North Baltimore so unique, to be the heart and soul of this community. If you live here, continue to do what I suspect you do every day: support and encourage local kids and take a minute to thank those folks who encouraged you when you were a child here.
If you don’t live in North Baltimore, take a little North Baltimore spirit and share it on your world.
Finally, stay connected with your childhood friends. I know….it’s complicated. Our lives are busy and people have scattered….. but thanks to social media and Google, there are ample opportunities to find and connect with them. They are your first ….best friends. Find them. Share your old memories. Together, we represent the heart and soul of North Baltimore. Let’s keep it strong for generations to come.