Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One School of Thought

When you get right down to it, what is life and what is history?  There are those who would have you believe that both are merely collections of countless details.  How those details interact and arrange themselves on a timeline is a brutally clinical perspective on existence.

If that outlook on life is too binary and void of the emotion we like to think of as humanity, you can always subscribe to Macbeth’s metaphor that “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Either of those are enough to have me running to the refrigerator door for the suicide prevention hotline.  A while back, I started to develop a passion for gathering the minutia of everyday life as a way of trying to understand what makes us who we are.  Absorb enough information of what singularly seems irrelevant, and eventually a context evolves.  Whether gibberish or a story emerges is all about our ability to connect the dots.

Certainly knowing anything personal about our teachers would have been the farthest thing from my mind when I was a student at Fairview.  I was too busy worrying about how to make it through the day without catastrophically embarrassing myself.  Then there was that whole talking-to-girls thing.

Were teachers ever children?   Where did they live?  It was like teachers’ first names.  They were just Mr., Mrs., or Miss, weren’t they?  It wasn’t like they wrote their given names on the blackboard the first day of class.

“Hi, everyone.  My name is Miss Herbst, but please, just call me Dot.”  

Oh, I don’t think so!

Now, I'm not going to try to tell you that they had families, hobbies, friends and, well, normal lives, but it does turn out after all that they did not live in some communal mind-hive on the edge of Borg-space.  As with “the enemy among us,” they lived in our very midst.  Who knew?!

Miss Folger, Theresa to her posse, lived in a large, two-story frame house on Radcliff Road, tucked into one of the corners where Salem Ave intersects Catalpa Dr.  If she chose, she could take the #5 trolley, labelled “Hillcrest” to work in our time.  She started in 1922 as a teacher earning $1500 a year. 

In the ‘40s, boys referred to her as “Sticks,” almost certainly less in a mean-spirited way, so much as a puerily immature, descriptive way.  I can say that now from my lofty perch of adulthood and propriety.

There were always stories of there being “something” between Miss Folger and Mr. Longnecker.  My favorite comes from a young lady, who shall remain nameless, in the class of 1963.  She related how, in the spring of her senior year, she got a last-minute and somewhat unexpected invitation to the prom.  As the girl was a school office assistant, Miss Folger heard Cinderella one day lamenting that she had nothing appropriate to wear to the ball.  Since they were about the same build, Miss Folger asked if the girl would like to come over to her place and see if any of her dresses might be to her liking.  While they were going through the wardrobe, Miss Folger let it slip that one outfit was special because it was Mr. Longnecker’s favorite.

To the best of my knowledge, no teacher there in the early ‘60s had more seniority than Miss Folger.  That said, we did have three teachers who in 1929 came with her and her boss, Mr. Longnecker, from the first Fairview at the corner of Catalpa Dr. and Fairview Ave. to our brand new Fairview and remained there through our time.   

Dale Nisonger started in 1924 and left the year we graduated.  What does that say?  He lived on Vancouver Dr. just south of Cornell.   In the ‘40s he picked up the sobriquet “Mighty Mouse” due to his diminutive stature, plus-size ears and penchant for wearing enormous safety goggles.  I got along quite well with Potions Master Nisonger since he let me try all sorts of things in the chemistry lab after school … things that I couldn’t get away with using my Dad’s collection of Delco-surplus chemicals in our basement at home.  It’s nice that we have the EPA and OSHA now to provide oversight for such folly.   

Our geography teacher, Roy Mayberry, hired on in 1926 for the princely sum of $2100 to oversee all the sports programs at fledging Fairview, and take fullest advantage of the new gymnasium/auditorium addition.  As athletic director he made more than any of the “academic” teachers. The more things change …    

Elmer Weins preferred to be called E.C. by his peers.  He taught history when he started in 1928 and was still at it when we were there.  He lived off North Main as it goes northwest from the Shiloh neck of the woods.  After forty years he retired to Sun City Center, Florida until his  more permanent retirement in 1972.

Now, who among our teacher cadre gets prizes for the most interesting first names?  Honorable mention goes to Wonetta Bookwalter, Pierre “Skip” Barker and Willetta Peckham.  But in a unanimous first ballot decision, the winner is Cleophus “C.W.” Detrick.  By the way, you should take it as truth that his image as it appears in our yearbook is the only known photo where he is smiling.  Although widely rumored, it is unsubstantiated that he was the model for Bruiser, the  Fairview mascot.

Next of the list of pointless categories in search of a reason for being … who lived the closest to FHS and who spent a fair chunk of time making the daily commute?   
Suffice it to say there were two who couldn’t use “my car won’t start” as an excuse for not making it to work.  Peter Bard, taught math and never cared to talk much about having been slave labor for the Germans during WWII.  He and his wife, Virginia, lived on Sunnyview Ave., painfully close to any number of our classmates.  Mary Marts, our school secretary, who graduated from Fairview herself in 1949, lived in an apartment on Brentwood Dr. halfway in between Fairview Elementary and the high school.  Just because I know you’re curious, she started there in 1954 for $25 per week.  There.  Happy?

Those who must have really liked to spend time driving to work included a contingent from Miamisburg … Charlotte Eck and Geraldine Oliver.  Yeh, yeh, yeh, I know the stories, too.  And in case you’re interested,  Avery Allen made the same trip, too, but my stories about his shop classes aren’t as interesting.  Before I-75 was done, that trip had to take a while.

Scary close to where I lived on Torrington Place, essentially where Salem meets Philadelphia,  was everyone’s love-her-or-hate-her geometry teacher, Evelyn Rinehart.  Sometime in the ‘50s her family built on Burroughs Dr, just a few blocks away.  The house always stuck out as different … postwar modern in the middle of a mainly Tudor neighborhood.  The bright green paint didn’t do it any favors.  She did not retire until 1976.  Maybe teaching us just made her look older … maybe it was the white-white hair.  It’s interesting that she had an unlisted phone number.  Go figure.


Norman Feuer doesn’t fit handily into any category.  He was Jewish and I don’t recall lots of other Jewish faculty or staff in our time … interesting, given the very strong Jewish demographic in our class.  Apparently teaching was not high on the list as a career choice for Jewish folks in that generation.  What say we leave it to the cultural sociologists to explain that to us.  I have no doubt that he came to Fairview in the late ‘50s, treading water for a few years as a general science teacher, in full anticipation of Mr. Longnecker’s retirement and the need to fill the assistant principal slot when Miss Folger moved up.  After his stint as principal, following her retirement, he moved downtown to the Dayton Board of Education.  When he was our world in the ‘60s, his family lived on Florrel Crest Lane, a residential area out near where Dog Leg Road meets North Main.  That’s the kind of street name you get when you allow building contractors to name roads in areas they develop.  I suppose that means his children went to Meadowdale. 

Since, with apologies to Lesley Gore, it’s my story and I’ll write what I want to, I wrap this up with two personal favorites. 

Grace Krehbiel was a perfect mix of no-nonsense brass tacks and understanding compassion.  Somehow she managed to make ancient literature a bit less agonal.  That she had enlisted in the WAAF during WWII made her special … something which, as a veteran myself, I’ve come to appreciate even more with time.  Of all our teachers, she arguably brought the strongest skill set to the job.

Felecia Rowe was so much more than our first black teacher.  She was our exemplary role model as to how human beings should interact.  She and her husband, James, a teacher at Dunbar, lived off Gettysburg, almost in the shadow of Nettie Lee Roth … a tough area then, as now.  She started at Fairview in 1955, with Mary Marts taking her in tow, showing her the ropes, and stayed long enough to get her 25-year pin.  

So, just how was her last name pronounced, you ask.  In the south, it was “-ow” like you hurt yourself, but when they moved up north, it somehow changed to a long “o,” as in row, row, row your boat.  Needless to say, she answered to both.

So, TMI?  Just the detritus of our comings and goings … signifying nothing?

Maybe, but that’s just one school of thought.   

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