On the day of his high school graduation, grandson Anthony (above, on base) had a district playoff baseball game. He got a hit and made a nice catch in rightfield, but his Wyoming Wolves lost 4-3 due in large part to a controversial play at the plate. The home plate umpire called his teammate safe only to be overruled by his second base counterpart. WTF?
Close to 300 graduates participated in commencement at the same megachurch where Miranda’s pinning ceremony had taken place. In our pew was a tithing envelope with this quote from second Corinthians: “God loves a cheerful giver.” On the big screen beforehand were photos of graduates along with, in many cases, pictures of them as kids or toddlers. They included a colorful mix of Latinos, African Americans, Asian-Americans, and Muslims, including Ayyieh Abughoush, who graduated magna cum laude. Faculty wore gowns and hoods but not caps, which struck me as very sensible. The Wyoming choir performed a moving medley of “We Shall Overcome” followed by “Lean on Me.” The class poem by Nicole Brandes stated in part:
Goodbye to purple and black face paint
We hold to the memories
And Wolfpack pride.
Valedictorian Naomi Nguyen, who hopes to be a psychiatrist and whose proud parents and grandmother were seated near us, spoke about Wyoming High School’s “Middle College” program that enabled students to earn up to 62 hours of college credit and even an Associate degree from Grand Rapids Community College. Principal Nathan Robrahn spoke movingly of a classmate who recently died. Later, tongue-in-cheek, prior to the presentation of diplomas, Robrahn asked the audience to hold their applause until all names were called, then added, "I say that every year, but please allow everyone to hear each graduates' name." Afterwards Anthony patiently posed for countless photos before going off on a bus to an all-night party in Battle Creek featuring games and a hypnotist. Delia was a chaperone.
above, Anthony with proud grandparents; below, Alissa in Istanbul
At Applebee’s Alissa, back from Istanbul, gave me a beautiful Tanzanian painting on parchment-like material showing scenes of the Serengeti game reserve and Mount Kilimanjaro. Toni got wooden serving spoons with giraffes carved on top. Next morning Phil and I split two games of Lost Cities before chowing down at our favorite Michigan diner.
According to an article in Traces by Rachel Graham Cody, IU's Bill Garrett (above) was the only African American Big Ten varsity basketball player between 1947 and 1951. A former Mr. Basketball for state champion Shelbyville, Garrett was not recruited by a single Division One university. Under threat of a lawsuit and with Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, IU’s Coach Branch McCracken allowed Garrett to be a walk-on. In 1947 blacks had to live off-campus. IU only admitted 84 black women, the exact number of off-campus beds. ROTC was compulsory for white men but closed to African Americans, supposedly because they all had flat feet. For three years Garrett led the “Hurrying Hoosiers” in scoring and rebounds. Two days after his final game a diner refused to serve him. At times Garrett wished he’d attended a black college because people at Bloomington sometimes acted like they’d done him a favor. In 1959 Garrett coached Indianapolis Crispus Attucks to a state title, the only former Mr. Basketball to do so.
At the library I found Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cannot Stop Talking.” Toni had recently seen Cain quoted in an article about exceptional children who don’t conform to the prevailing crowd. Cain laments the tendency of parents and teachers to pressure introverts into emulating those who are too often narcissistic and unthinking.
In a NWI Times Marketing column discussing the myth of overnight successes, Larry Galler used the expression, “It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway).” Used on a regular basis, the phrase could become annoying, like, “In my humble but correct opinion.” Galler’s point was that successful people need to put in both time and effort.
Over Memorial Day weekend Toni made ribs, rice, and corn-on-the-cob, and Dave grilled hot dogs and burgers to go with Cole slaw, baked beans and potato salad. The Cubs swept the Phillies, and five pitchers one-hit the Dodgers. I played board games with Tom and Dave and Pinochle with Dave and Toni. Halfway through John Irving’s sex-laced “The World According to Garp” I decided to talk to Steve’s Indiana History class about adolescents during Gary’s formative years (the word teenager was not in common usage early in the twentieth century).
After soliciting progress reports on students' oral history projects, I focused on three Emerson graduates, sports hero Johnny Kyle (above), socialite Allegra Nesbitt, and student council leader Jack Keener. When Kyle was 8, his family moved to pioneer Gary in 1907 and lived for a time in a tent. Kyle recalled chasing rabbits in a swamp where Emerson School was built. Initially Gary’s football team was composed of players from both Emerson and Froebel. Kyle’s senior year Emerson’s football team went 7-1-1 and was the unofficial state champ. In basketball, led by Kyle, Emerson finished 25-1 and lost the 1917 state championship game 34-26 to Lebanon. Kyle went on to IU, where he gained the nickname “The Wild Bison.” His senior year he drop-kicked a field goal to defeat arch-rival Purdue 3-0. In the 1920s he played pro football in Ohio while coaching without assistants a Froebel football squad containing dozens of nationalities. By then rivalries between Gary schools had reached a fever pitch.
1919 grad Allegra Nesbitt moved to Gary from Valparaiso in 1915 at the age of 15 soon after her father, Dr. Otis P. Nesbitt, became medical director of the Gary schools under Superintendent William A. Wirt. he obtained free dental care for students and provided immunization shots for diphtheria and scarlet fever. The Nesbitts dined monthly with the Wirt family once a month by candlelight with the Superintendent wearing a tuxedo to the table, Allegra recalled. Allegra was in the backseat of a car on a double date when her boyfriend suddenly kissed her. She had vowed not to be kissed until she was 16 and impulsively climbed into the front seat between the driver and his girlfriend. She recalled: “Well, Jason wasn’t a very experienced driver and turned a short corner and ran head-on into a horse-and-buggy.” Allegra was in the Declamatory Club that gave speeches in competitions and her senior year finished third in a county-wide contest. She went on to the University of Chicago and then became a teacher and guidance counselor at Lew Wallace H.S. During the Prohibition era she frequented speakeasies and the Gary Country Club, where the booze flowed freely, but claimed to be a teetotaler.
While researching the 1927 Emerson School Strike, I found 1928 Emerson grad Jack Keener in an area telephone book living in Munster. Approximately half the Emerson student body boycotted classes after 18 African-American transfer students. Several blacks had been attending Emerson without incident for years, but some parents feared the transfer was just the beginning of a plan to more fully integrate the schools. In reality, the 18 merely wanted the opportunity to take college prep courses not available at Virginia Street School. Keener, a student council leader, opposed the walkout and believed a small but vocal pressure group had stage-managed the crisis. He was friends with Emerson track star Bob Anderson and admired his college-educated black postman who could not obtain a position equal to his talents. Keener's religious convictions convinced him the strike was immoral; unfortunately school officials bowed to pressure from the segregationists.