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Part 2, The High School Years (1964 - 1968) -- 07/28/03
Update July 5, 2013: Added 1968 Bowen High School June 19, 1968 Commencement Exercises Program PDF link near end of theis page.
Update September 19, 2009: Click here for a full resolution image of the above picture.
Update November 25, 2011: I joined the Bowen High School Alumni Association to receive the newsletter and remain in-touch with my other alumni.
In June 1964 I selected Chicago Vocational High School as my next educational institution. I think it was because my older brother, Charles had gone there some years before. It also may have been in part because Gerry Jandeska intended to go there. Sometime around August of that year, I changed my mind and decided to attend Bowen High School, shown above. The vast majority of my Caldwell friends were going there, so it made the decision easier to reach. I am so glad I changed my mind.
The next four years would be the most profound period of my life until I married at age 23. Some of what took place at Bowen would prepare me for my attitudes as an adult. Some teachers would set me straight on attitude during my first two years and I owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts.
Those were the years of the turbulent middle to late 1960's. A time when the younger generation stood up against authority and spoke back to them. A time when my fellow students went off to war and died. A time when the Vietnam War divided my country and left wounds that may never heal. A time when I was put to the test between friends and girls I liked. A time to find summer jobs. A time to fall too deeply into love...
The music of these years was: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Mama's and Papa's, Spanky and Our Gang, Bob Dylan, The Association, The Delphonics, The Classics IV, The Monkees, Otis Redding, James Brown, and so many more...
On my first day of school as a freshman, I met Angel Rodriguez. Angel sat next to me in Division and we became instant friends, That friendship soon became one of best friends and it has stayed that way to this very day. Angel and I were high school locker partners all four years 1964-68. This is the combination lock we used. I keep it as a memory of those years.
Another person I met at Bowen, Bill Artus, became a friend during my Junior year. After Bowen we became best friends and that friendship has stayed that way to this day.
Sonic booms were the order of the day in 1964-65. The whole building shook from them before the speed of jet flights over the city were reduced to prevent the damage from sonic booms.
I have a picture of Bowen as one of my Desktop Backgrounds for those that want to use it as their computer monitor's wallpaper.
I don't know when Goldblatt's was torn down from this corner on Commercial Avenue. It had been a landmark for many decades on the south-east side of Chicago. People used it as a reference point to other shops. But like so many other places in my life, it is no longer there; replaced by a strip mall and a parking lot.
This is the rear of Bowen showing the 1-story section of the Auto Shop. It was here in my Junior and Senior years that my best friend, Angel Rodriguez would teach me how to repair cars. It was also here that I found a teacher and a friend in Mr. Tomczak. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The large dome in the picture housed the Auditorium. The pictures further down on this page show the interior space. The school had five floors! It was a real challenge to go from the first floor to the fifth floor in the time allocated between class periods. If you were late, you got a green tardy slip. I sometimes wonder if any modern day triathlon winners got their start at Bowen...
I hated that 5th floor Study Hall. I always felt like I was in the Tower of London when in that room. I'll probably never visit the Tower of London for that very reason. I haven't seen that 5th floor since 1966 and I have no intention of worrying about it.
This space was not a parking lot when I went to school there. That was before the 1968 east-wing addition was built and instead we had mobile units filling up the space shown. It was a lot of fun in the Chicago winters to get your coat from your locker and then go outside to class. In the warmer months, the units were hot! These were conditions you learned to live with in Chicago. It's part of the temperament a person adopts from season after season of uncomfortable weather.
In the foreground of this picture, you see a mound of broken concrete. I believe this is all that remains of a War Memorial to one of my classmates, Alfred Urdiales, Jr. who died in Vietnam in February 1968. He was the first of my class to fall to the war, there would be others in the years to follow. I have visited two of their names on the Vietnam War Memorial.
I hated that war. I can't think of a more useless situation, unless I also count the Korean War. Many of friends went to Vietnam, most of the ones that returned were much different than before. Only the ones that died there haunt my memories of that sad period of American history. Why Alfred's memorial is in such shabby shape is a mystery to me. He deserved much better in life and in memory of his death.
Here is a perspective showing the 1968 addition. This used to be a full-length street that had houses on the block that is now part of the school. I didn't use this side of the school much during my four years there. I only walked around the whole building once, and that was the day before I graduated in June 1968.
In the Fall of 1966 I used to pick up a friend of mine in my 1967 red VW down by the door that is now a hallway. Her name was Sharon Kazmierczak and she was a good friend to me. Sharon's family lived near 84th Street and Manistee. I first met her in July 1966 and visited her home frequently in the years up to 1972. Her mother was a very friendly woman and always looked out for her kids. Sadly, Sharon's mom was murdered in 1974 during a store robbery. I had no way to contact Sharon at the time. I miss her friendship over the years and the fault for this is all mine.
This is the space that a large number of motorcycle drivers, including myself, parked our cycles during our Junior and Senior years. Imagine the full length from the garage driveway to the corner street, filled with motorcycles. It was a sign of rebellion and we all played our parts well. When the Vice-Principal, Mr. Goldberg called Bob Springer and me into his office about parking there, Bob told him it was public parking and that was the end of the discussion. I always admired Bob for his veracity. He taught me to stand up for myself and I never forgot those lessons. Had I been a weaker-willed individual during my various tense moments in life, I probably would have failed more often. I owe Bob Springer for awakening the inner resolve I maintain to this day to standup for myself.
Other than the front exit, this is the door I primarily used at Bowen. This is the place where people would meet before or after school (weather permitting). This door leads to one of the inner stairways that was closest to my locker; a locker I shared with Angel Rodriguez for four years. I still have the combination lock! That door also was close to the lunchroom and the hall that lead to the Auditorium.
During my Freshman year, I would meet Linda Krucena at this door and walk her home. I met Linda at preschool in 1953 and we had stayed friends even while we were apart. I dated Linda one time, but found she was much too independent for me. She wanted no strings and I consider her a good example of a person who knows their own mind!
There used to be windows where the the indented bricks are now. On the right-hand side of the door was the boys washroom. Guys who smoked would open those windows on the inside and stand by them to smoke. It was against the law for them to do this, but remember, this was the 1960's, a time when rules were meant to be broken.
This picture shows the front western corner of the school on the same side as the previous picture illustrates. The classroom on the first floor corner is the place where I was strongly disciplined on my first full day of school as a Freshman. Mr. Vandas, was the teacher and with his bellowing voice, he nailed me to the wall for being a few seconds late to his English class. You didn't break Mr. Vandas' rules regardless of what was happening in the 1960's. You did as you were told!
I hated English class during my first two years at Bowen. I just didn't get all that literature stuff. My first year I earned a 'D' and didn't do much better the second year. In fact, Ms. Karpen failed me with a Red 'F' during the third marking period because I smarted-off once too often in her class. The final straw came one day when I had made a smart remark in class that caused everyone to laugh; everyone but Ms. Karpen. She then said, "Mr. Larson, you think that's funny but you'll never get too far in life with zeros in front of your name!" I replied, "Oh yeah! What about James Bond 007?" The whole room erupted in laughter. Except for Ms. Karpen. I think she decided that day she was going to get through to me or bust.
When the third marking period came for grades, Ms. Karpen quietly called me up to her desk and pointed out the Red 'F' in my Grade Book. Then she said in a quiet, stern tone, "Mr. Larson, if you manage to keep your mouth shut for the rest of the year, you might, just might pass this course with a 'D'!"
Point taken, Ms. Karpen. I look back on the final grade of 'D' with the understanding that she was trying to help me see the light. I did see the light and found I could apply myself better in all classes. I never had a chance to thank her for her persistence. I hadn't yet fully understood what she had done for me at the time. It was a few years before I reflected on that time and saw the value of what she had done to influence me.
Another lesson I learned later in life is to thank people as soon as possible when they help you. Don't wait, don't hesitate, don't feel foolish. Just get out there and thank them. That way you don't have any regrets later. I found regrets are hard to pay-off. In the last two years or so I have written letters to people concerning matters that were decades old in resolving. It's never too late to make course corrections.
Across the street from Bowen is Bessemer Park. This was the place for Physical Education classes and to generally just goof-off at.
This is the handball court that has withstood the ages in Bessemer Park. I played that sport there many times during my first two years at Bowen. Then it seems, the interest in that sport diminished as the decade wore on. I was happy to see a young girl playing on the other side of it the day I took this picture. This wall represents my youth at Bowen and my desire to remain steadfast in my beliefs. I hope it stays there for another hundred years.
This is an inside picture of the Auditorium. I hadn't seen it since 1968. The current Principal, Mr. Lopez, granted me permission to take these inside pictures and I appreciate that permission. This is a view from the hallway doors towards the stage.
This was generally the place for Study Hall and my Senior Division Class. Study Hall was one of the worst places to spend time during a school day. You couldn't talk, you could just read, often for double-periods. My friend, Angel Rodriguez once set me up in 1966 for a huge practical joke just a few rows ahead in this picture. It took me until 1977 to pay him back! ;-)
This is also the place when in 1968, Mr. Pusitari, lectured we students from Auto Shop and told us we were bums and anarchists. Remember that thing about rejecting authority? He found out that day, we couldn't care less about his thoughts. The exchange was quite vocal for a while. As he walked away, we all started whistling the theme from, A Bridge Over the River Kwai. The next day, he and Mr. Tomczak had it out in the Vice-Principal's office. In the end, Mr. Tomczak told him to never come to the Auto Shop again. It was the only time I ever saw a Bowen teacher stand up for the students for speaking out against another teacher. Mr. Tomczak was and remains forever one of my best teachers and inspired me to be a better mentor and teacher in the decades that followed.
In the last three years of at Bowen, I was in the Concert Choir. I performed many times on the stage shown above. It was a great experience to be led by Mr. Hurn and later by Mr. Ruffin. It was always a packed house when the Band and the Concert Choir gave performances. My best friend, Larry Dalke sat next to me in Choir and we used to have fun drowning out the Sopranos with our Baritone voices (they weren't a TV show then). Mr. Ruffin was a great influence on me because he demanded respect as a teacher. Unfortunately, he was murdered in November 1979 and is one more person I never thanked sufficiently for his teachings.
Below is the program cover and inside pages from one of the concerts from April 1967.
This is the view from the front of the stage. That's Mr. Lopez holding the doors open for me; another first for me at Bowen. See the arch in the second floor? I'll tell you a little know secret about that section of Study Hall. I mentioned earlier, that talking in the Study Hall was not allowed during class. But, if you sat upstairs right next to the wall, you could utilize its parabolic shape to whisper to the person on the other wall on the same row! I was never caught doing that because no one suspects a person facing the wall to be talking! It was a scientific miracle that someone had figured this situation out. One of the remarkable features of this design was that each row could carry on its own conversation! It was like having an 8-track sound system at the students' disposal. I didn't tell Mr. Lopez about this secret, I still have a thing about authority it seems. ;-)
It is impossible to tell the story of all four years at Bowen. I made lifetime friends there. I went to football games and participated in Homecoming Parades. I liked some people and they later disappointed me. I probably disappointed some people as well. If you are one of them, I apologize.
I fell in love with someone during my Senior year at Bowen. I don't think a person ever forgets their first love. It's a great time on the upward climb. Everything seems to be so right and time flies by, it seems. Then one day the slippery slope of eventual breakup starts. It's not too good to face your worst weaknesses and being Heart-Broken.
Bowen had it all for me, the highs, the lows. I visited every room during the highs. I walked around the school only once during the low point. I have friends that still care for me, as I care for them. I miss people from Bowen I will never see again. The teachers at Bowen helped make me who I am. It was a top Ten Chicago High School in 1968. It was sad to see it in decline during my visit. Some school board members want to tear it down. So many of the places in my past have been torn down, I hope this one stands a few years longer. At least long enough for other Bowen Alumni to visit the place and think about what it meant to them to graduate from there.
Before I leave this general topic, I wanted to point out the former location of Andy's Tastee-Freez that stood on the corner of 79th Street and Marquette Ave. The late Andy Jambrik was a great man and friend to me. Larry Dalke introduced me to Andy back in the late Spring of 1967 while we were Juniors. Andy hired me at that time and I worked for him until I went to college in 1968. In the later years of his life, I often brought my family over to visit him at his next store in Dolton. During the Christmas holidays between 1989 and 1992, I always stopped by his house to catch up on things. It was sad news in 1994 to hear that Andy had passed away that March. Larry and I talk about him and the influence he had over us whenever we chat on the phone.
But, I've got the pictures I wanted, they will stir my heart and memories from time-to-time, when I need my 1960's fix.
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