HAMMOND — For George Rogers Clark Middle/High School students and alumni, it’s time to say goodbye.
As the message on a souvenir T-shirt stated: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Clark, along with Gavit and Hammond high schools, is closing after this school year. Clark’s administration organized walk-through tours Saturday and May 8 and 22.
Saturday’s tours were expected to draw 130 people, with nearly 200 scheduled for May 8 and another 150 registered so far for May 22.
Decades after graduation, memories of Clark remain.
“Those were good, old days,” said Laszlo Hegedus, of Hammond, class of 1987. “We had great teachers back then.”
“It was a good school. Still is,” added Steven Mitchell, of Hammond, class of ’88.
Debbie Weidig, of Hammond, class of ’93, recalled going to a gas station across the street or to the lake for lunch.
Clark’s history goes back to 1932, when the Robertsdale section of Hammond became home for a high school on an empty prairie site on 119th Street between Stanton and Davis avenues. Previously, area high school students could attend Whiting High, Hammond High or Hammond Tech.
According to an anniversary booklet, George Rogers Clark came into existence on a snowy winter day in February 1932. Students, who had attended old Franklin School, carried their books as they walked six blocks to their new school.
Students chose the name George Rogers Clark in a contest with the hope that the school would exemplify the character of the American Revolution hero.
That first year saw 198 students in the high school, grades 9 and 10 only, with an elementary enrollment of 1,031. One of the few K-12 schools in the state of Indiana, Clark continued to educate those grades until 1976, when elementary students moved to the new Franklin School.
World War II saw Clark form a Junior Red Cross and collect 208,000 pounds of scrap. Eighteen Clark graduates and one teacher were killed in the war. Three more Clark alums were killed in the Korean War.
Among those finding familiar names on the Roll of Honor for Clark war veterans was Matthew Kaplan, class of ’73. His father, Seymour, a 1940s Clark grad, served in WWII, as did many of Kaplan’s uncles.
“When I look at these names, I probably knew many of their sons and daughters,” said Kaplan, a Chicagoan and three-year photographer for the Clark yearbook, Powderhorn.
Clark, Kaplan said, “means everything to me. There are pieces of my past still here after all these years. I only lived four blocks away. It’ll cause an ache when it’s gone.”
For the class of '64, alum Kathy (Dubich) Durochik, of Wheaton, Illinois, came with her husband, Gary, whose mother, Anne Plutko, graduated from Clark in 1934.
Durochik had served as school newspaper editor and secretary of the student council, “so I was very involved and have really good memories.”
Durochik attended elementary school at nearby St. John the Baptist. During a regular activity period, Clark officials allowed her to go to the Catholic parish for religious instruction, then return to the public school.
Looking at the pool that had formerly been a small gym, Kevin Danielson, class of '88, recalled his deaf brother David, '85, swimming for the Pioneers.
“Every day you wanted to come,” Kevin Danielson, a Hammond resident, said. “It was fun and teachers kept it interesting.”
Robert Peters, '87, recalled being corrected by his English teacher, Dolores McCampbell, for the lyrics to a Rolling Stones tune. The teacher, who taught Peters’ mother more than three decades earlier, reminded the boy that “I can’t get no satisfaction” should be “any satisfaction.”
Among Clark’s more noteworthy graduates is Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Co.
Clark currently has 1,250 students in grades 6-12. This fall, Clark’s middle school students will attend Eggers for grades 7-8, with high school students bound for the new Hammond Central.
Hobart resident Colette Lewandowski came with classmates from the '74 class. She was a member of the first interscholastic volleyball team at Clark. Her coach was Carol Core and the team played three games that initial season.
“It was a great experience,” Lewandowski said, “because girls that had played against each other in grade school were playing now as a team.”
Vicky Kitchell, officer manager at Clark, who has been scheduling these tours, commented, "There is a lot of interest, and I have people (saying), 'Wait a minute, I have to call you back because I have to see if my sister, girlfriend, mother, if they're available and when they can come.' So the community is extremely interested in being able to come in and walk the building.”
Those wishing to attend the walk-through should call Kitchell at 219-659-3522 ext. 1101 to schedule a tour.
Clark’s final graduation ceremony will take place June 9 at the Wolf Lake Pavilion.
“This place will live on in our memories,” Peters said.
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