‘Fantastic transformation’ keeps building alive

'Fantastic transformation' keeps building alive by Bob Karolevitz You'll have to excuse me for getting personal this week, but I toured my old high school building in Yankton recently – and, believe me, it brought back a flood of memories.

Instead of tearing the schoolhouse down, Gary and Casey Blom have converted it into senior apartments for independent and assisted living, a fantastic transformation which has given new life to the aging structure.

I wallowed in nostalgia as I strolled from room to room where once � more than six decades ago � I studied algebra, English literature, American history, Latin, typing and lots of other stuff to prepare a teen-ager for the future in the late 1930s.

All the teachers are gone now, but I can still picture them in my mind's eye: Rachel Fundingsland, Helen Burgess, Bessie Burgi, Jorgine Hansen, Archie Bedner, Clarence Wells and many more.

Almost religiously I paused in the remodeled room where Verna Emanuel � rest her soul � exposed us to something called journalism. She also taught us how to write concisely but with a flair.

Little did I know that I would one day return to that academic setting where my career � such as it is � was begun. I can remember writing a column called "Bobbin' Around" for the school newspaper � and, thousands of words later, I'm still doing it, though the title has obviously changed.

All the lady teachers were unmarried then. Why they couldn't have a husband and still teach, I'll never know. That was the rule, though, and I don't think we challenged it.

I couldn't find Bob Toczek's chemistry lab where the late Bill Tschetter and I could have burned down the school as we mixed all sorts of substances together just to see what they would do.

We might have stumbled onto LSD or amphetamines at the time, but we wouldn't have known what to do with them.

I lingered at what was the principal's office, almost expecting Ralph Nicol to emerge. We called him "Shockhead" � but not to his face. In later research I learned that he was a pretty good football player in his collegiate days, which would have changed our youthful impressions of him.

The stairs to the third floor were still there, and somehow the students on crutches always made it to class. Husky guys carried them up to the study hall when there was no such thing as a Disabled Americans Act. Or elevators, for that matter.

As I visited old haunts, I recalled how I tutored one of our athletes so he'd be scholastically eligible for an upcoming game; made occasional buying trips for penny candy to the Western School Supply store (still standing as a family residence); played clarinet in the Little Brown Jug trio; and danced to records in the gym as participants in high school mixers.

In my reminiscences I couldn't help but recall how Miss Burgi always checked our dance programs to see that we weren't spending too much time with just one girl. Today it would be infringing on individual rights.

The study hall is gone now, converted to uses more adaptable to older folks. I even noticed that there was a flowing fountain on the gym floor where Gumshoe, Porky, Doodle and I used to bounce basketballs.

Oh, there was much, much more which came bubbling back to me as I strolled those hallowed halls. I could probably write a book about that happy trek backwards in time; but, suffice to say, Gary and Casey should get a medal for preserving the past � and making my old school a vibrant part of the future.

© 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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