Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memphis School and it's Teachers. By Gilbert Newlands, Memphis Class of 1955

I was browsing the Internet the other day and found your stories about Memphis School. It appears that I have a number of years on you, since I attended Memphis from 1948 until 1955 (Kindergarten through 6th grade) when I went to 7th grade at William Rainey Harper. I can still remember most of the teachers from those days, and wanted to share some memories with you.

Starting on the first floor, Miss Verna Deming taught Kindergarten in Rm. 105. The room across the hall (101) was also a kindergarten room. Next to that - adjacent to the stairs - was Room 103, Mrs. Jelinek's room. Mrs. Jelinek was also the gym teacher, and on days when she taught gym, she wore "bloomers." What a field day today's kids would have with that outfit! (The gym itself was in the basement -complete with ropes hanging from the ceiling. It was also the venue for bazaars, bake sales, etc.) Proceeding down the hall was the Principal's office. Miss Amanda Volk was the principal in those days. She lived with her mother on Daisy Avenue, and was a very proper maiden lady. I can still picture her as she would drive out of the school yard in her old green Chevrolet, turning left onto Henritze Avenue. Miss Deming drove a 1937 Plymouth coupe and I remember one cold day when she drove me home from school. She lived in Berea, in a farmhouse that her grandfather built. Berea was still RFD in those days.

On the second floor was my first grade classroom with Margaret Miller as the teacher. Next room down the hall was the teacher's lounge. Room 204, at the end of the hall, was Mrs. Jessie McKinstry, who died halfway through the year. She was a very sweet person, and I remember we all felt very bad when she left us. At the other end of the hall - on the southeast corner was Mrs. Wiest's room. Winifred DeWitz Wiest was the wife of our minister, the Rev. Dr. Elam Wiest. She was a friend of my mother's and belonged to one of the same "circles" at our church, so she was frequently a guest in our home. She drove an old Chrysler - not very well if I remember correctly. The Wiests lived on Spokane, just a few houses from Pearl Road. Both she and Dr. Wiest are now resting at Brooklyn Hts. Cemetery. Also on the 2nd floor was Miss Grace Cliff. Miss Cliff maintained discipline in her classroom. An amusing recollection of Grace Cliff is that sometime during the 1970's I got on a crowded #55 bus, and took the only seat available, next to an elderly lady. I kept glancing over at her, and finally asked if she was Grace Cliff. She confirmed that she was, and I introduced myself as a former student from the 1950's. She asked how I recognized her, and I told her she hadn't changed a bit. She laughed and said she didn't if know if that was a compliment or not, as she was now in her 80's, and didn't know if that meant she looked like she in her 80's back in the 50's, or if she looked like she was in her 50's now. At that time she was living in an apartment on Clifton Blvd. I kept in touch with her, and she later lived at the Eliza Jennings Home, where she died some years later.

Another teacher with whom I kept in touch was in Room 301. The formidable Ethel Baker. Nevertheless, she was one of my favorite teachers, and instilled in me a lifelong love of reading. Miss Baker was a very private person, but when I "discovered" her many, many years later, she received me very graciously and we had several subsequent conversations. She was by then retired, and lived in the house on West 85th Street where she lived with her parents, Walter and Ella, an older sister, Jennie, (who was a nurse), and her brother Lester. She later moved to the Hilroc Apartments on Hilliard Blvd. after her parents, and Jennie and Lester had died and the house became too much for her. None of the three Baker children ever married. Miss Baker drove that Checker because it provided easy entry/exit for her father, who was quite elderly by then. Incidentally, Checker manufactured cars for the public for several years; they were not just for taxi usage. Two of them, in fact, a black and a blue car, are parked in the yard at St. Herman's House of Hospitality down on Franklin Ave. They have "Historic Vehicle" plates on them, so apparently they aren't driven very much. They were very reliable vehicles. In the days when she taught at Memphis she drove a plain Ford. Miss Baker was buried from the Church of the Ascension (Episcopal) in Lakewood and is interred at Lakewood Cemetery.

Next door to Miss Baker was Florence Walczak, who lived way out in Hinckley. Mrs. Walczak taught Art and Handcrafts. She had a long drive into town each day, especially since this was in the days before the freeways. In Room 303 was Isobel Covell who was a music teacher. Miss Covell was an old maid who drove a Studebaker and lived in Lakewood with her aunt, also a maiden lady. In 304 was Mrs. Esther Leonhardt. Mrs. Leonhardt was a long-time widow, her husband having died in the 1920's at the age of 27. He had been Elmer Leonhardt, and a son of the pastor of Zion E & R Church on West 14th St. Mrs. Leonhardt was a DeWar before her marriage, and when she taught at Memphis, lived with her mother in a lovely house on Westminster Drive in Parma. She drove a Buick. She had a heart attack sometime during her years at Memphis, and sadly, suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after she retired. She was also a family friend, and on occasion, she and her mother celebrated Thanksgiving with us. Across the hall from Mrs. Leonhardt was Mrs. Sarah Stillman, another widow, who lived on the East Side. Mrs. Stillman lived with her father, whose name was Mr. Rosen. She died only a few years ago, when she was in her 90's. Mrs. Mildred Wurch was the teacher in Room 307, and she was my 4th grade homeroom teacher. (306 and 307 shared a common folding wall; in earlier days, that had been the lunch room. 306 was Miss Froelich.) I believe Mrs. Wurch's husband, Rudy, was a police officer. Many years later, I arranged to meet my widowed father and a "lady friend" of his for dinner one evening, and you can imagine my surprise when the "lady friend" turned out to be the then-widowed Mildred Wurch. Several years after that I had a very nice note from one of Mrs. Wurch's daughters thanking me for a sympathy card I sent after Mrs. Wurch had passed away.

There were a number of other classrooms and teachers, and I have fond memories of them, but will not go into any detail about them now. I almost forgot to mention though, there was also a classroom in basement, number B-1. The teacher there was the only male teacher at Memphis, George Gale. He taught 4th grade, and was just recently out of college. He lived in a rented room on West 48th St., second house from Spokane, where his landlady was a widow, Mrs. Buburt. He walked to and from school, and I remember the day we saw him drive into the school yard in his first car - a used 1947 Chevy. Also in the basement was the office for Mr. Henry Werner, the custodian, who was the father of my friend Jim Werner.
I hated to see old Memphis School torn down. It stood there for a good many years, having been built in 1919. It was originally two stories; the third floor was added a few years later. I wish I had been able to salvage a brick or some other memento of the old place. Hope you enjoy my memories of the old school...........

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Got Brick?

Hey Memphians...if you didn't get a brick from the tear-down of our elementary school...now's the chance!

I've given all but 3 of the 1918 beige-colored bricks away. So there's 3 left! I'm trying to 'thin-out' my Memphis School collection. If interested, e-mail me at: gregoryz@centurylink.net

Hopefully, you still live in the local area otherwise you'll have to cover postage as these nearly 100-year old bricks are pretty heavy. Click on any image on this blog to enlarge, once enlarged, click again to super enlarge.