Remembering how it all began – 50 years ago
By Dave Gathman email@example.com September 16, 2012 9:16PM
Visitors check out large photos of the construction of Larkin High School which opened in 1962 during the 50th Celebration Open House at Larkin High School Saturday. September 15, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 18, 2012 6:10AM
ELGIN — An estimated 1,000 people, most of them Larkin High School alums, attended the school’s 50th anniversary open house Saturday to revisit the place where they had scored the big basket, found a new career path or fallen in love.
The visitors included five teachers, now in their 80s, who showed up for duty when Larkin first opened, two days after Labor Day in 1962: legendary football coach Ray Haley, Latin and English teacher John Duffy, history teacher Harry Barnes, business teacher Bill Farley and social studies teacher/assistant principal Lowell Antenen. They also included some 60-somethings who were among the first group of students — all sophomores and juniors at first — to attend that day.
Guy Todnem, Class of 1965, recalled being assigned to a committee to figure out, for the first time, such fundamental details of school culture as what the team would be called (the Royals), what the mascot would look like, what the school colors should be, what the school song should be, and even the name of the yearbook. In most cases, committee members made recommendations on each item, and the student body then voted for the final choices. And sometimes these brought the first new District U46 high school in a century into conflict with all those thousands and thousands of people who had attended Elgin High School through the years.
“The school board had requested that the letters on our athletic jackets be ‘EL’ for ‘Elgin Larkin.’ ” said Todnem. “But we didn’t want anything to do with Elgin High. We wanted it just to be ‘L.’ ”
But if the school almost became officially known as “Elgin Larkin,” Duffy recalled that the school board members staunchly rejected a proposal to call it “Elgin West High School” and rename the original Elgin High as “Elgin East.”
“The board members said there would always and forever be just one Elgin High School,” said Duffy, who would go on to see the other side of such school administration himself, as he spent decades on the Elgin Community College Board of Trustees. Duffy retired from District U46 in 1996, after 34 years of teaching at Larkin.
School colors, mascot
Todnem said student Stu Hill drew out what the mascot — a smiling, round-bellied king known as “The Larkin Royal” or “The King” — should look like. But retired gym teacher Bob Todd said that as the school’s ethnicity has shifted from virtually 100 percent white Anglo to 60 percent Hispanic over the years, the King had to be redesigned, partly because the original’s five-pointed crown turned out to be the symbol of a violent Elgin street gang.
Trying to come up with a yearbook name, the committee members looked at the school colors — blue and white — and asked Latin teacher Duffy what word the ancient Romans used for “blue.” That’s how the annual yearbook became “The Cerulean.”
The school began with only sophomores and juniors. Freshmen then all attended junior high schools, and the seniors of that first year were allowed to finish their schooling at Elgin High. Susan Schmitt Schlei was one of the first group who had attended Elgin High for their sophomore year, transferred to Larkin as juniors in 1962-63 and formed the first graduating class in 1964. She would go on to become a teacher in School District U46 and send her own daughter, Karen, into Larkin’s Class of 1995.
Not all connections between generations were biological. David Brown, who came to Larkin to teach biology during the school’s second year and stayed until he retired in 1996, recalled that one early student was Jean Bowen. She would help more-squeamish students with some of the grosser parts of animal dissection, he recalled. Later, Bowen would become Larkin’s assistant principal and, in effect, Brown’s boss. She also would be the founding principal of U46’s latest new high school, South Elgin High.
Standing in the school gym, two couples recalled young love and attending prom in that gym in 1970. Today Linda Przbylowski Leach (Class of 1970) and Roger Leach (1970) have been married for 41 years. So have Susan Jay-Booth (1970) and Ron Booth (1969).
“Ron and I have known each other since we were kids at Streamwood Elementary School, back when its classes were in houses because the school building wasn’t finished yet,” said Susan Jay-Booth. “But we started dating here when we were sophomores — Oct. 16, 1968. That’s the day he came over and asked me to go out on with him.”
“Roger and I started dating in Tefft Junior High, before we even came to Larkin,” Linda Leach said. Barnes followed up his opening-day stint at Larkin by joining the first teaching staff at the new Elgin High building in the 1970s. Like Duffy, he ran for elected office, serving in the Elgin City Council for years.
“It was great in 1963,” Brown recalled. “We had a small staff and a homogenous group of students, and everybody knew everybody.”
“It was kind of neat that we got to start a new school,” said Rick Jones, Class of 1965. “I lived up near Wing Park and was glad I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to Elgin High.”
Jones recalled that a few aspects of the building weren’t quite finished — which was fortunate for him in one instance. “One afternoon I was waiting for a friend on that ramp over there and started swinging my book bag around and it accidentally slammed into a switch on the wall. All of a sudden, a fire alarm was going off all over the school. But it hadn’t been connected to the fire department yet, so at least they didn’t send fire engines.”