Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, 1927 – 1977

by Michael Cleary

This article was written for Roosevelt’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. It appeared in the program for that event, May 20, 1977.

Once it was a prairie, then farmland, then an apple orchard, an ice skating rink, and, finally, in 1927, the site of Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School at 3436 Wilson. In the spring of that year Principal James T. Gaffney and his staff opened the doors to students from the Hibbard and Mayfair branches, and in 1927 the first graduating class of 161 students could call themselves Roosevelt alumni. The high school was built to accommodate up to 2,300 but in 1930 there were about 4,300 at the main building and another 750 at the commercial branch at Mayfair. Six portable classrooms, an eleven period day, and classes in the corridors put a strain on the new building and prompted the opening of other schools in the area. In these early years, Roosevelt’s reputation as a very strong academic school was being established. Roosevelt High School consistently was at or near the top in the number of scholarships awarded to its students. The vigor of youth encouraged with all sorts of activities, including exchanging art work with high school students in India and exchanging mechanical drawing with students in several other countries.

A few rough “Depression” years later, some students picketed in defense of their teachers who were being paid not in money but in scrip. “Brother Can Your Spare a Dime” was still popular. During the late 30’s a survey showed that first and second generation Americans made up a majority of the school’s population. These ties with other countries were strengthened a few years later when hundreds of Roosevelt alumni went to Europe or the Pacific to fight for the freedom of their country and of others. Fifty-nine of them did not return. On the home front, the Home Economics girls presented a display, “Food Fights for Freedom.” There were scrap, paper and Victory Bond drives in the school, whose principal now since 1939 was John L. O’Brien. Some of the male students studied Aeronautical Engineering, planning to do their part in the future. Some of the peacetime activities went on too, including the synchronized swimming of Roosevelt’s lovely Aquabelles.

After the war, more time and effort were devoted to extracurricular activities. In 1950 the school and community could see expertly staged “Pygmalion” and “She Stoops to Conquer” by the Drama Club; the Riding Club was organized for horse lovers. Another war (or police action) came along to occupy students and alumni, but it was impossible to ignore the 1952 city basketball champs of Coach Sam Edelcup. The middle 1950’s saw Roosevelt’s status as a powerful academic community continue under the popular new principal Dr. George Connelly. When Dr. Connelly was promoted to District Superintendent, My Eugene Beaver arrived at Roosevelt in time to enjoy the 1961 Blue Division city football champs under Coach Al Klein.

In 1963 Roosevelt was one of the first receiving schools in Chicago’s permissive transfer plan. Also new the next year was Dr. Herbert M. Zimmerman who was to lead Roosevelt through the turbulent 1960’s, years marked by anti-war demonstrations and abolition of dress codes, but marked also by solid brotherhood among the students and a more person rapport between students and teachers. The 70’s were more peaceful and characterized by economic matters. On the one hand, money problems locally and nationally were reflected in the cutting back of some programs and some teacher strikes. However, much money was sent on renovating Roosevelt, including an entirely new electrical system, new ceilings and much bright paint. In line with the increasing emphasis on career education, Roosevelt’s technical department was returning to its former glories, even offering courses in refrigeration and air-conditioning.

As Roosevelt goes past its fiftieth year, now led by Ms. Ursula Blitzner, it is still the place of opportunity, offering excellent technical and commercial courses of study as well as college preparatory honors and advanced placement programs. This year’s class has a National Merit Scholarship winner and three of the present junior class scored in the top five per cent of the test given to a million high school students across the country. Roosevelt continues its tradition in another interesting way with several faculty members who are alumni of Roosevelt: Ramona Cohn Brimm, Alfred Klein, Bellene Goldberg Kaish, Howard Levin, Phil Lifshin, Glory Bulawa Racic, and Manny Weincord. Roosevelt continues to serve a majority of first and second generation Americans too, though many now come from the Orient, the Middle East and the Western hemisphere. Roosevelt continues to also serve the varied academic and social needs of the community as it has done for fifty years. May the next fifty be as interesting and as profitable.

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