Chalk Dust Memories
SI’s old high school gym was built before USF had its own gym. Fr. Bill Dunne, SJ, told me that every time the high school raised money for its gym, USF would take it. To keep that from happening, the SI Jesuits began putting their money in coffee cans in the principal’s office. They did that for 15 years, never showing it to the college president. When they had enough for a down payment on the gym, they brought those coffee cans filled with money to the treasurer’s office.
The 1960s was the time of Coach Tringali when football was king of the school. Some teachers demanded to see our tickets to that afternoon’s football game. If we didn’t have them, they would give us extra homework. On the other hand, those football games were exciting because our team was nationally ranked. We used to march from Stanyan Street after weekly rallies with freshmen and sophomores wearing white dress shirts and juniors and seniors in their red or blue jackets. We would form a block SI in the rooting section every week and have on average a thousand kids at every game. We had to sit in the rooting section. If you didn’t, if you sat with your girlfriend instead, catcalls would bring you back to the rooting section. The Jesuits would line the section to keep order.
When I was a student, women could come up the front staircase and into the main office. They would then receive permission to enter one classroom only on the first floor where they worked on costumes. They weren’t allowed anywhere else. The locker room was reserved for only some teams, so guys changed clothes in the hallways for sports or stage crew.
We loved to play pranks on our teachers. Students stayed in the classroom, and teachers moved between periods. We had all the time in the world to plan pranks between classes. We would deliberately move the teacher’s desk so that as soon as he put books on it, it would fall off the platform, or we put tacks on his seat. Sometimes we would turn our desks to the back of the room, especially when we had a young scholastic. He would enter the room, see us facing the back wall, and then walk down the middle aisle. Just as he got to the middle, we turned our desks to surround him. We drove two poor scholastics to tears, and one had a nervous breakdown. SI could be a rough school. Fr. McFadden told teachers never to smile before Christmas for a reason. I recall one scholastic, a brilliant physicist, who couldn’t keep one study hall under control. Fr. McFadden walked by and, rather than disciplining us, told the teacher, “Can’t you keep the animals in their cages?”
As a student, we had the rigid Fr. Becker English system: a nightly paragraph, five vocabulary words, five lines of poetry memorization, a short story or chapter to read, plus outside reading on the novel of the month — primarily Catholic authors. For example, even though junior year was supposed to be American Literature, we read several of the IMAGE series books on Jesuit Saints in England resisting the Protestant Reformation. We only read one Hemingway — Old Man and the Sea — for the Christ symbols. We also read the “Catholic” interpretation of The Great Gatsby (a man who lost his soul for materialism and modernism), and we read every Graham Greene, every Evelyn Waugh and lots of Shakespeare. (He was a secret Catholic, as our senior English teacher informed us.)
The nightly paragraph writing that we did freshman and sophomore year proved a great practice. We had to memorize rules in the Brown Bible (the grammar text), use one rule and underline it in the nightly paragraph. Each paragraph was an assigned subject with an assigned format, each vocabulary word had to be used and underlined and each topic sentence had to be underlined. By junior and senior years, we had to write longer essays: the 5-paragraph essay with an assigned topic due every Friday. Some of the assigned topics included “Spirit at SI,” “Interview with the SI Dolly” (a student body president at another Catholic high school) and “Hamlet and Jesus.” Our teacher handed back each weekly essay on the next Monday or Tuesday, and our rewrites were due on Thursday. No exceptions to this: every week one essay and every week one rewrite. For every grammatical error, we had to write the rule out from the Brown Bible 10 times with the corrected sentence.
Parts of that system are now worthy of satire, but that solid curriculum helped us to learn how to write and prepared us for college writing. Unfortunately, we were limited in our experience of authors, except Shakespeare and the Greeks, and read no contemporary novels except The Power and the Glory by Greene. However, we were very well prepared for the survey of British Literature in college having read Beowulf, The Inferno, Le Morte d’Arthur and at least eight Shakespeare plays over the course of four years.
When I first started teaching at SI in 1974, the English Department had gone through a major revamping. Fr. Becker and others were still doing the old curriculum, but the young faculty were doing the Moffet system. Students only wrote when moved to write. They read no literature not written in their lifetime (meaning 1950 on). The Catcher in the Rye was part of that curriculum, but we were not allowed to read or teach it.
The faculty did not teach grammar. Students learned it by writing, by discovering their mistakes and by wanting to correct them out of their “natural curiosity.” We had senior electives such as Cowboy Literature, Science Fiction and Fantasy and Film Literature. Fr. Becker, in revolt, took his old courses and renamed them. “Mindbending” was his senior elective, because Shakespeare and the other British writers bent your mind to great thoughts; “Pretzels” was his junior course in American Literature (American thought was like a pretzel, heavily salted, going in circles).
By 1977, when SAT scores had declined, Principal McCurdy asked the department to bring back a more traditional approach in the lower division with more emphasis on grammar and writing. Upper division electives were maintained but tightened. We adopted Sir Francis Drake High School’s Writing Project (pioneered by Cap Lavin ’48), adopted minimum proficiency standards for grammar and writing, and standardized the reading list to include both modern and classic works. We instituted standard department exams, emphasized literary terms from the Oregon Curriculum series and taught grammar and writing terms from the Warriner’s Grammar series.
Fr. McCurdy introduced teacher evaluations, and not every teacher was happy about this. However, the exam results, the evaluations and the school-wide writing exam led to many refinements of the curriculum. These changes continued in the late 1970s with the introduction of the Bay Area Writers’ Project that started at UC Berkeley. The department began offering the Advanced Placement English test in the spring of 1978 and taught its first AP English course in 1979. Some members of the department resisted “pulling out the bright lights” from the regular classes, since mainstreaming was big at that time; however, parents and the principal wanted an AP program for seniors. We had two sections, each with 45 students. At that time, we only had one lower division honors class sophomore year and no frosh or junior honors classes. We finally did institute a junior honors class and found that the SAT scores went back up.
William Kennedy (1950)
It seems to me that in the 1960s, the students were really almost like a band of brothers. The Jesuit community was great in number and included a number of historical, famous and, of course, talented members. They accepted and respected the lay faculty although we were in the minority. I always thought there was tremendous collaboration between the Jesuit and lay teachers. I don’t think we ever saw them as the opposition. The 1970s was a time of stress for the Jesuits, with some of the priests leaving the order. Some retreats were tough in those years for the lay faculty who were, along with the Jesuits, dealing with the tough transitions brought on by Vatican II.
We managed to have a lot of fun, though. Bill Love, for instance, had a great sense of humor. One day, after Fr. Hyde said he was sick and tired of guys smoking one block from school, Bill and I got in his car along with a big camera. We drove down the street about 20 minutes before school began. We zipped down Arguello, hopped a right and saw 20 students smoking on a stoop in front of a house. As we raced by, I took seven pictures. We had those students nailed to the wall. The next several days, everyone approached Bill Love and me, begging us not to share those pictures with Fr. Hyde. They never went back there to smoke. They knew we had them. They were fortunate that they were never punished.
Charles Leach (1953)
In 1945 when I was 10, I lived close to Kezar, and my uncle, who had graduated from Poly, took me to see what he thought would be a Poly massacre of SI. SI won 13–7 for the city championship. My uncle had a temper, so I had to hold all my joy within, smiling on the way home.
SI was a big ROTC school. After freshman year, you either took Greek or ROTC. Either in my sophomore or junior year, Life magazine was going to do a big spread on SI’s ROTC program, as it was one of the largest in the country. The photographer stood on top of scaffolding to take a picture out on what is now USF’s soccer field. All the ROTC officers assembled us and had us stand at attention looking at the camera. To be funny, one row of 10 or 20 kids faced the opposite direction, away from the camera. The photographer didn’t discover this until he developed the prints. The magazine never ran the picture because of that one row. Some students were upset even though no one could have identified himself as the faces would have been so small. But we could have had national exposure.
J.B. Murphy taught me algebra in my freshman year. He was down-to-earth and sincere; he wanted you to succeed. I always respected him. I remember many teachers had to have summer jobs, and I worked side by side with Bernie at Hamms and Burgermeister. It was strange working with him as a colleague.
Frank Corwin was such a great storyteller that students would much rather listen to his stories than pay attention to the course. He told us about the Egyptian red ants that would eat a tire as it moved and about swords that would fly through the air and decapitate someone who spat by mistake in the high holy places in Egypt.
My companions made my time at SI so enjoyable. At my 50-year reunion, I realized just how proud I am to have associated with these people for so long. We now get together four times a year, and we can just be ourselves. If you happen to be well-to-do, great; if not, no big deal.
John Strain (1957)
Our class started in 1953. The school asked us to us sell tickets to raise funds to build a field house with a swimming pool, with the first prize being a trip to Hawaii. The student who sold the most tickets for his class was given a day off from school. (Jim Gallagher ’57, who later served as Sonoma County Assessor for many years, earned that distinction.) We sold tickets for four years and raised thousands and thousands of dollars, but SI never built that field house.
When Pat Malley started coaching, he told us we were going to beat Poly. When we played them the first time, they kicked our behinds. We then played Poly in the semifinals and beat them. That was the happiest day of Pat Malley’s life. He had convinced us that we could beat Poly and we believed him. The newspapers used to write about us as the stumbling, bumbling and fumbling team. But under Malley, we had a tremendous defense. Nobody scored much on us. SH had a famous fullback, Walt Arnold, who went on to play at UC Berkeley, and we held him to 6 yards rushing one game. Our fullback, Gil Dowd ’57, had a banner day and went on to star at Stanford.
After the earthquake of 1957 our class (4-D) was in the chemistry lab on the fourth floor of the old building on Stanyan Street. After all the beakers and vials stopped shaking, our teacher, a young Jesuit scholastic named Mr. Lentz told us all to sit down and be calm, and he would check out the situation. He proceeded to leave us in the lab, went down the hall, and was not seen again that day.
Denis Ragan (1951)
We had great young Jesuit scholastics and priests, including Mr. Ed McFadden, Mr. John LoSchiavo and Mr. George Dennis. Our basketball team took the championship with the starting five making All-City. We had a nice contingent of guys who commuted to school from Oakland. Think of the time those guys had to get up in the morning to catch the ferry!
William Kennedy (1950)
One of our history tests was administered by our ROTC sergeant. Before he came in, someone wrote out a cheat sheet on the blackboard all in Greek. When the sergeant started to erase the board, we told him he couldn’t because our Greek test was next. He didn’t have a clue what was going on. We all did well … too well. The priests knew we had cheated but didn’t know how. They asked the sergeant how he could let an entire class cheat. As I recall, we all had to retake the test.
Later that year, the day before Christmas vacation in 1949, I found myself in Fr. “Skipper” Largan’s religion class. Someone brought to class one of the very first portable radios, about half the size of a toaster. Shortly after the opening bell, the strains of Christmas carols filled the room. Father was somewhat deaf but heard the music. He just could not identify the origin. He was aided in this by our pointing to the public address system. He closed his book and told us that as long as the office was going to pipe in music, we might as well enjoy it. Unfortunately, a commercial broke in.
At the second commercial, Father got up and left the room, and someone placed the radio on a windowsill. The class then quieted, and we looked very busy. Father returned, said nothing, just opened his book and resumed class with perfect aplomb. The very next class, Fr. Pierre Jacobs, SJ, picked off the culprit immediately as he walked into chemistry. But that is another story.
Val Molkenbuhr (1943)
I really had a strong desire, even as a student at St. Cecilia’s, to go to SI. I knew I would know a lot of fellows there, and they helped me when I ran for student body president. One day, after I had made an announcement regarding class pictures, Fr. King said, “Mr. Molkenbuhr, pitchers are what you put water in. Pictures are portraits.”
I played football for one year under coach Red Vaccaro. He was a driver. Boy, you had better be pushing all the time. One time he went out on the field, and he saw a guy laying on the ground. He gave him a kick and told him, “You’re not hurt. Get up.” He got up! Alex Schwarz took over coaching the next year in 1942. He was an all-coast end for USF, first string all conference there. He sure inspired us. He was clean cut and a real gentleman.
My classmates and I talked about what service we were going to enlist in after we finished school. The four years at SI were the best I had. Even though I had to transfer three times on Muni to go there, it was worth it. My mentor was a scholastic, Cornelius “Con” McCarthy. He encouraged me to run for president of the student body, telling me, “Val, you can do it.” SI had other really fine Jesuits, holy men, such as Fr. Cody.
I took ROTC from Sgt. Storti, and that helped me when I joined the Marines. He was a short guy who gave us instructions in weapons and drilling. I was a battalion commander, and my good friend Jack Schimelpfenig ’43 was in charge of the whole ROTC unit.
Claude Boyd (1945)
We used to have ROTC every Wednesday where we marched in a parade in uniform, which included a white shirt and black tie. One day, we were told we weren't going to have a parade but physical exercise instead. They said, “Everybody, take off your coat.” Here is this vast sea of white shirts, with the exception of one guy. He had taken a white shirt, cut out the collar portion that was visible, and wore it with tie under his uniform coat. When he took off his coat, he exposed a t-shirt with large blue and white stripes. He stood out like a sore thumb.
One day, I was thrown out of class for spelling a word right. Fr. Joseph Dondero, SJ, taught sophomore English. He asked the class how to spell “acknowledgment.” He went around the class, and when several students spelled it correctly, he said, “That's not right.” I quietly borrowed a dictionary from the guy next to me, raised my hand and told him respectfully that the word had been spelled correctly. He threw me out of class and sent me to the principal’s office. I told Fr. James King, SJ, that I was thrown out of class for spelling a word right. I didn't want that class to go through life not knowing how to spell that word.
John Goodwin (1949)
No one had an automobile in those days. We all had rationing stamps during the war and people used to trade gas for sugar and meat. We took streetcar 31 to school, which went by Turk and Stanyan. The motorman drove the streetcar and the conductor stood in back and collected fares. If the streetcar trolley came off, the conductor got off, put it back on the wire, got in and rang two bells. One time, in front of SI, someone pulled the trolley off, and the conductor got out. As soon as he hit the wire, someone rang two dings, and the driver went off, leaving the conductor behind.
Richard Raffetto (1944)
Mr. Carlin was my favorite teacher. In his first year teaching at SI as a scholastic, we used to like to fool around with him. We named him Nilrac — that’s Carlin spelled backwards — and everywhere we went, we wrote “Nilrac was here” on the blackboard. He took it in good humor.
Fr. Raymond Buckley, who taught chemistry and physics, stood about 5 feet tall. We respected him because he was really tough. My mother was active in the school in those days, and she had an ulcer as did Fr. Buckley. They would speak to each other about home remedies. After class one day he asked me, “How’s your mother’s stomach today?” I responded, “That’s pretty personal, Father!”
In those days, we had corporal punishment. If any trouble occurred between students or between a teacher and a student, the ROTC sergeant would say, “I’ll see you in the armory at 3 p.m., and we’ll settle it with gloves on.” Whatever disputes we had, we used our fists. Most of the time, the teachers won, but once in awhile, one of the big Irish football players would win.
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