Alum of Valpo tech school reminisce on 'Marines for electronics'

2013-08-24T18:30:00Z 2013-08-25T15:07:05Z Alum of Valpo tech school reminisce on 'Marines for electronics'Vanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Mirrors line a wall on the top floor of One Center Street. The windows, draped in yards of white fabric, are new. But the wooden floor, with planks pulled up here and there, is a sign of continued change going on from basement to ceiling in the three-story brick building.

Walt Breitinger, a managing member of the building, has big visions.

The top level, already the site of dances and gatherings, could be used as a performing arts space and double as a banquet area with a kitchen and an outdoor patio where people can sip wine.

But the people milling around the halls on Saturday don't remember it as a budding arts center. They remember it as their alma mater.

Valparaiso Technical Institute alumni reunited to share stories and memories about the now-defunct school that sits at 1150 Lincolnway. It specialized in radio engineering, television, broadcasting and electronics.

A small group gathered around one of their former instructors, Eugene Wiggins, who graduated from the institute in 1947 before returning to teach measurements and communications.

He was one of the best, they said, as Wiggins humbly shook his head.

"He could present ideas in a way that was sometimes unique," said Bryant Mitol, an alumnus who is also a partner with One Center Street LLC.

Teachers there spoke from hands-on, life experience instead of something they picked up in a text book, said Lowell Katz, an alum who now lives in Cleveland.

Students were immersed in electronics, often spending their non-classroom time working on projects and sharing ideas. They had a reputation for being a bit crazy about their studies, Katz said.

"It was like going into the Marines for electronics," he said.

Most of the academic buildings have been torn down, but a local group is committed to keeping One Center Street operating.

The main floor is leased to businesses that do professional photography, videography and social media. Breitinger said at least 10 companies applied for each open space on the main floor. He selected people who were interested in the building's history and wanted to be a part of its continued resurrection.

The building housed a cut glass factory and the Chautauqua Desk Factory before becoming the technical institute.

Alumni including Porter resident Gene Mellenthin, whose uncle J.B. Hershman founded the school, are helping collect artifacts from the school for what could be a museum portion of the building.

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