Stafford: City schools launch search for yearbooks full of secrets

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Teacher with ‘bent for history’ spearheads project.

High school yearbooks are filled with secrets.

And retired Springfield teacher Elena Ackerson became privy to one when Springfield surgeon Dr. Richard Nedelman was honored in the 2019 Class of the Springfield City School District’s Alumni of Distinction.

As part of the drill, Nedelman returned to school for a day, and Ackerson sat in on a conversation he had with two high school students considering futures in medicine.

To help bridge the age gap between honored alumnus and students, Ackerson fished out the North High School Polaris for Nedelman’s graduating year (1978) and found him in the group picture of that year’s students of the week.

The good doctor soon was making a confession.

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He actually hadn’t been a student of the week, he told them. But because he thought he should have been, when he heard the announcement of a yearbook photo of the honorees, he showed up.

Whatever else the two students thought of his story, it clearly established one fact that I confirmed with Nedelman: At one time, he really had been a high school senior.

Having been one myself six years earlier — and having had to pay a $50 school library fee before I could pry my diploma from the grasping hands of the Livonia, Michigan Public Schools (for which both of my parents had taught) — I here and now applaud his actions.

Stories like this are one reason I urge you to help Ackerson in locating 15 years of Polaris and Wildcat yearbooks for safe keeping in the Media Center at Springfield High School.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

To fill in the collection that goes back to 1911, Wildcats are needed for the years 1954, ’62, ’64, ’84, ’85, ’89 and ’95. The school has no copies of the ’85 edition. Polarises are needed for the Classes of 1960, ’85-87, ’92, ’96-7 and 2000-01. The school lacks any copies for the Classes of 1960, ’86, ’96 and 2000.

You can drop off yearbooks at the Superintendent’s Office, 1500 W. Jefferson St., or the main office of Springfield High School, 701 E. Home Rd.

On the way home, you can then feel good about solidifying the historical record of the Springfield schools and smile at the thought of old grads hunched over a yearbook with smiles on their faces about the whacko things they and their friends did.

Ackerson also has been busy assembling material for a District History Gallery now open in the hallway off the Clifton Street entrance to the John Legend Theater. Most know it’s in the building once home to South and Springfield high schools.

With all the athletic memorabilia already displayed at the current high school, her goal has been to bring together other bits and pieces of school history. Along the way, she got a huge boost from Dottie Stevens of the South High Class of 1971.

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Ackerson says the longtime district staffer “knows where all the bodies are hidden” in the City Schools.

And the largest body of material on display in the District History Gallery mostly came from the district Service Center next to the current high school. It includes photos of several principals, among them Early Tiffany, for whom a gym is named; Charles Fox, ,the commander-in-chief of Springfield High School, then South from 1938-66; and Rick Butler, a South High School grad who returned to lead the school.

There also are portraits of the late Ohio Gov. James Rhodes, member of the SHS Class of 1930, and a revered English teacher, the late Robert Rolfes.

Portraits of the formally dressed Springfield High classes of 1916, ’18 and ’22 on one wall contrast with the decidedly less formal group shots of members of the South High classes of 1989-2003.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Secured with the help of wall anchors and Gorilla Glue are a number of heavy metal plaques that pay tribute to various groups, none of them heavy metal.

One honors the last graduating class of South (1960), urging its members to “be loyal to each other and to Springfield High.”

Another recognizes the students and faculty of South “who under the leadership of Principal John B. Wright, never lost a day of school during the years of renovation, 1977-80.”

A third remembers the teen mother project, its in-school child care facility at South, and acknowledges the devotion of Clark Vaughn “without whom this project would not have been completed.” It’s dated Nov. 25, 1987.

Ackerson says the displays have much more material from South than North because so much material was lost when North was torn down to make room for the current high school.

And why has the graduate of New London (Connecticut) High School — home of the Whalers — been so dedicated to the project.

“I’ve always had a bent for history,” she said.

Plus, her devotion to the Springfield Schools shone through in 32 years of teaching and her decision to step up as a “virtual kindergarten teacher” during the past year.

(In addition to what salary she received, Ackerson’s compensation included learning the names of all her students’ dogs and baby sitters and being reminded of “how cute kindergarteners are.”)

Because all this makes Ackerson seem too good to be true, I’m thinking about a trip to New London for a look through her high school yearbooks with hopes of finding out whether her post-high school plans included a teaching degree from a Holiday Inn Express.

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