Donna Burris, Howard Zuercher, John McCreary, Kitty Guthrie, Larry Drabenstott, Lucile Nesbitt, Miriam Myers, Nick Dellerba, Ray Harper, Rich Briggs, Rich Carroll, Roland Sayre, Russ Flesher, Sonje Henney Tugend, Vicki Vore
After encountering problems during the start of my senior year in the church school in which my family was involved, in the fall of 1958 I was sent to live with my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Emil Baxstrom in Wooster, Ohio and enroll for the balance of that year in the high school there. After my cloistered life in the Pillar of Fire church schools, attending a big public high school was a tremendous shock.
I remember my Aunt taking me in for registration with Principal Roland Sayre. I was attired in an outfit I had worn occasionally in my last school – striped pants and Wellington boots, and jacket and was sporting a ducktail haircut, a common hairdo among many kids in 1958. I recall Mr. Sayre glancing at me somewhat skeptically out of the corner of his eye and my Aunt’s manner with him and the office staff being – how shall I put it – somewhat embarrassed or maybe apologetic? Anyhow, I was duly enrolled and placed in the appropriate sections of my required classes.
In a couple of my classes and study halls I was somewhat concerned because most of the kids seemed a bit rough and not all that studious. Could this be because I was placed in those particular sections based upon my appearance rather than my ability? However, in some other classes I did seem properly placed. Over time I decided that my hairdo was problematic and vowed to change it. After getting a flattop I couldn’t believe the changes. The “nicer” girls seemed to take an interest in me and the better dressed and more articulate boys became much more friendly. Yet it was always the same person underneath the hair, long or short. What a difference appearance makes in high school.
There was a store, more a snack and soft drink place down the street from Wooster High, I don’t remember the direction or its name, where some of the less savory students gathered during the lunch hour. And it was during one of these forays where I remember encountering a very cute girl that was in a couple of these classes, who seemed to be interested in me. She drove a new Chevy convertible and was quite flirtatious while I had the long hair. After the flattop Donna Burris didn’t seem interested any longer. Or perhaps her interest was simply not reciprocated – after all, at that time I had little means to begin or maintain any kind of relationship with a young lady.
I had a really difficult time during my first few days at Wooster High getting used to the huge hallways and getting from one class to another in a timely fashion. Lockers and their operation were new to me as well. And gym class, for which I had to purchase the required shorts, t-shirt and jockstrap was new as well. And need it be said, to strip down to change and shower in front of classmates was a brand new experience that I had a difficult time with as well.
I will always remember my teachers that year. Mr. Nick Dellerba was a wonderful civics teacher. One theme of our survey of US government that ran throughout the course was discussion of the second Hoover Commission’s study of our national government and its recommendations for improvement. Mr. Dellerba was quite critical of some aspects of government and were I to encounter him today I would definitely classify him as a liberal, who strove to give his students a portrait of democratic constitutional government that was not above criticism and which could always get better. I wonder what Mr. Dellerba would say about our government today and what recommendations for improvement he could offer. I believe that civics was required of all students at that time at Wooster High and I certainly hope that it still requires that knowledge for all of its students. Statistics show that such courses are offered less and less in today’s high schools and are rarely required, an unfortunate circumstance indeed, in a country that still considers itself a democracy.
Miriam Myers was my trigonometry teacher. An elderly, kind and caring person she did a fine job of teaching the class. It was for this course during that senior year that I obtained a top quality slide rule, the “computer of the ’50’s”, in a fancy leather case that I could attach to my belt. So I could really put on airs as I got more used to my new school – displaying not only the short haircut but now the slide rule on my belt. I must have convinced myself that I cut quite a figure there in the halls and classrooms of Wooster High. But as I recount in my description of my first couple of years at Rutgers University, I failed a required freshman math course, even as a slide rule owner. How the mighty had fallen.
Another teacher I remember well was physics teacher Ray Harper. Mr. Harper seemed like a decent kind of guy who might be more comfortable considering the the work of John Deere rather than Isaac Newton, but in his quiet and effective way he taught us what we needed to know. It was in physics class that Rich Carroll and I enjoyed each other’s imitations of Mr. Harper’s unique mannerisms and voice inflection. His “l’s” were pronounced with a “w” inflection – a bit like “cowege” rather than “college” and “wewll” rather than “well”. It was in physics class that Rich and I had to choke back paroxysms of laughter at Rich Weber’s extensive and detailed pantomime of a jazz musician carefully opening his saxophone case, putting his instrument together, wetting the reed, inserting the mouthpiece and then silently gyrating and puffing up his cheeks with effort playing. Hilarious – and Rich used to do this while Mr. Harper was lecturing and explaining physics concepts.
And then there was a most kindly, sweet, bright and well dressed elderly lady who taught senior English, Lucile Nesbitt. This was a class that I enjoyed very much and in which I obtained stellar grades as well. I remember especially Miss Nesbitt’s drills on important vocabulary anticipated to be encountered on the College Boards. In retrospect, I don’t know if this vocabulary information really ever helped but I presume it did. It was in English class that I sat near Kitty Guthrie, a girl whose charm, personality, beauty and stature were truly imposing. I remember that Kitty passed me a note in class in which she wrote, “…you remind me of someone named Paul, of whom I was very fond…” Of course, that set my heart all aflutter and my spring-long crush on her began. I badly wanted to ask her to the Prom that spring but could never summon the courage. It was likely just as well, since I had neither the means nor the independence to squire a date to such an event. I would have had to suffer the ignominy of my aunt or uncle having to drive us to the prom and pick us up, so it’s just as well that it never happened. I always thought that perhaps a good looking, highly verbal and social classmate like Larry Drabenstott, had accompanied Kitty to the prom but a gracious letter from classmate Rich Briggs many years later, indicated that Larry had not been her date. Who was the lucky guy? To this day I don’t know – perhaps Kitty did not even attend.
Another teacher I remember, not because of his teaching ability or sensitivity but because of polar opposite traits, was PE teacher John McCreary, whose blunt orders like “OK – listen up now…” did not make PE classes any easier nor expectations any clearer, but merely added to the overall traumatic nature of PE at Wooster High. Mind you, I had never played many of the sports to which I received my first exposure there at WHS; my former school had much more limited offerings. However, I did my best and was grateful for the forbearance of various helpful classmates. I remember especially Howard Zuercher teaching me some of the basics of wrestling.
Speaking of Howard, I should mention my school bus trips, quite interesting since Wooster school buses picked up kids of all ages from surrounding communities and delivered them to their respective schools. Consequently, all my cousins – Sandy, who I believe was just starting high school, Ted, maybe junior high at that time, Jack in elementary school and Margie Ann, whom I think may have been just starting Kindergarten, and myself were all picked up by the same bus. Howard was another high school student who rode our bus, as was another student I remember well, Russ Flesher, who lived on a nearby farm. Russ I think did drive a car on many school days but also was on the bus quite frequently. Regarding Russ, my aunt many years later sent me a Wooster Daily Record clipping containing the awful news of Russ’s tragic death in the Viet Nam war and Rich Briggs in his informative early ’90’s letter recounted the notable highlights of Russ’s short life. What I remember most about Russ was not only his friendliness and helpfulness to me and others but his notable public speaking ability, which I must have seen and heard demonstrated in classes and perhaps also in school assemblies.
Another student I remember well for her beauty, attire, mystery and aloofness, was Vicki Vore. Vicky was quite attractive and seemed to dress more like a mature adult than a student. The mystery about her, whether true or not, had to do with her being a dancer at a club in Cleveland…or Akron…or Columbus. Of course this knowledge allowed my imagination to run wild – dancer? Club? Big city? What kind of club? What kind of dancing? I never did find out much about her. All I had was little bits of information from friends and my fruitful imagination. I don’t remember her being in any of my classes. If I had ever been able to know her, I am sure she would have turned out to be quite normal and not deserving of any of my foolish conjecture. And her lofty dance reputation was more likely centered around her involvement and leadership in that discipline and related activities right there at school.
And thanks to Stanley Zook, who as a member of the 1959 yearbook staff, was able to employ his photographic talent to produce and edit many of the photographs included in the volume. He graciously took that picture of me, replete with my long hair, that rests on the final page of student pictures. But I hope that Stan was not responsible for the confusing misspelling of my middle name, which should have been not “Barstrom” but “Baxstrom”, my mother’s maiden name and of course the surname of the family with whom I lived that year.
During my time at Wooster High I don’t recall ever visiting a counselor, or even being steered in that direction by any classmates or teachers. Sometime during the early spring, however, after hearing so many other students announce their college plans and realizing I had none I panicked and proceeded to develop some of my own. I managed to take the College Boards that spring at Wooster College and applied to and was accepted at the institution close to my New Jersey family home – Rutgers University. In retrospect I wish I had explored admission and scholarship opportunities at other schools through WHS’s counseling office but simply did not, so attendance at Rutgers remained my sole university objective.
In retrospect, while life with the Baxstrom family was pleasurable, my social life in Wooster for that half-year plus of school was virtually nonexistent. Any friends I made that spring were school friends only – I never saw any of them after school or on weekends. At school I listened enviously as boys would recount their weekend escapades and discuss dates with this or that girl, or visiting a favorite lounge outside of town, presumably to imbibe. I don’t know anything about the drinking age in Ohio at that time – it would not have mattered anyhow for me – but it may have been 18 for 3.2 beer as it was in many other states. My life pretty much consisted of days at school and evenings and weekends at home reading, doing household chores or homework. During this time I did receive a valuable introduction to basic carpentry through helping my general contractor uncle on a house or two he was building in the Akron area – developing skills which I have employed all of my life.
I never had the means to get involved in any after school activities. I have marveled at the rich opportunities for extra-curricular programs – athletics, clubs or performance groups, back then at Wooster High School and envied the extensive involvement in such areas by many of my classmates. My constrained personal development at that time could have been handily enhanced were I to have taken advantage of some of the many opportunities then available to me. But my school life seemed at the time to be confined to the limits of the school day and never expanded beyond.
Looking back on my time at Wooster High School, I am ever grateful for the opportunity. It was and evidently still is a great public high school, with an enviable record of providing a solid education for all students and sending most to a variety of post – high school educational programs. I thought of Wooster High as almost a prep school, so extensive was the interest in and commitment to higher education for its students. I believe that any upstart charter school would have a difficult time seeking to co-opt some of the clientele of Wooster High, because of its commitment to providing an appropriate high quality education for every single student.
I will be attending the 60th reunion of my class at Wooster High School in September 2019. After all these years of many other scheduled reunions, many of which I presumably could have attended and did not, why this one? Good question – I have asked it myself many times. Certainly I wish I had done a better job of keeping in touch and attending an occasional reunion. But what’s special about this one certainly is that it may be the last. Some in the class of ’59 have already passed on. The rest of us are now in our late 70’s so who knows who will still be around five years or a decade hence. It’s doubtful that I will recognize anyone and that anyone will recognize me. Nevertheless, I plan to reintroduce myself to classmates and to enjoy this time with people I have not seen for sixty years but with whom I shared the brief but wonderful experience of attending Wooster High. My sincere thanks for those responsible for organizing this occasion, especially to Sonja Henney Tugend for her diligence and persistence in locating me and extending the invitation.
I guess I view that brief time at Wooster High as very formative for me and an experience that set me on a more deliberate and considered path to higher education and a career. Life in the Baxstrom home was calm and organized and we all had a role to play in maintaining that home and that too helped me grow significantly. I will always be grateful to my aunt, uncle and cousins, for making space for me and accepting me as part of their family for that year. They were all dear to me then and remain dear now.
And a final note about Kitty Guthrie who has remained faintly in my awareness and my imagination ever since that senior year at Wooster High. I have often wondered about her – where she is and what she has accomplished. Through the magic of Google, I discovered that both she and her law school professor husband, George Pring, have enjoyed long and productive careers and have recently been associated with environmental matters. For example, Kitty and her husband are co-authors of a handbook for creation of ETC’s – environmental tribunals and courts. Kudos to Kitty (and George), for devoting their talents and energies to an area so crucial to human health and survival.