Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017

Bridgeville High School History, Part Five
September 28, 2017

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society continued its research into the history of Bridgeville High School at its September "Second Tuesday" workshop. This time we were able to cover four graduating classes – 1935, 1936, 1937, and 1938.

The facilitator began the session by reminding the audience of conditions in the middle and late 1930s. The Depression had dragged on and actually got worse following Franklin Roosevelt's re-election in 1936. Severe weather events were big news. The Dust Bowl Heat Wave brought 109 degree temperatures to Chicago. The worst hurricane ever recorded (185 miles per hour winds) hit the Florida Keys. It is interesting to read about these events and compare them with the hysteria people have today about severe weathe.

Fibber McGee and Molly were the latest rage on the radio. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert starred in the Academy Award winning movie, "It Happened One Night". Fred Astaire had the number one record of the year – "Cheek to Cheek". Here in Bridgeville we all were poor (over half the families with incomes below the Poverty Level); nonetheless those of us who were growing up atin the 1930s have happy memories of the those years.

The 1934 football team split even in eight games, but did manage to shut out South Fayette 20 to 0. The soccer team was good enough to beat Carnegie Tech 2 to 0, but eventually lost the WPIAl championship to South Fayette. The basketball team advanced to the WPIAL playoffs before an early elimination. The high school also fielded teams in wrestling and baseball.

In those days the Pittsburgh papers regularly ran features on outstanding high school students. In 1935 Louise Papanek ("a splendid student") and William Cronemeyer ("always on the Honor Roll") were among the young people thusly honored. The Junior Play that year, "Mr. Pim Passes By", starred Miss Papanek and Audley McFarland.

The Class of 1935 was sixty eight strong. It included two Oelschlagers (Betty and Loraine) and two VanGorders (Evalyn and James) and numerous other names familiar to the audience – Elmer Colussy, John Maioli, and Alice Weise, among others.

That Fall the football team salvaged another disappointing season by beating South Fayette 24 to 0. The team photograph featured a very young coach Neil Brown, sporting a brand new diploma from Grove City. The facilitator enlarged part of the photograph and challenged the audience to identify someone in it. Sure enough, my brother Joe, immediately announced, "That's Jack Wight". And indeed it was the same Jack Wight who coached the ill-fated 1946 team before going on to an extremely effective career as an administrator in the high school.

Led by Siegal Thurman the Eldorado Dramatic Society of the High School presented a Christmas play, "The Gift of the Magi". We have no record of whether it was based on the biblical version or on O. Henry's well-known ironic short story.

The basketball team, known in those days as "the Redshirts", were again good enough to make the WPIAL playoffs and to be eliminated in their first game. A promising underclassman named "Tay" (Clair) Malarkey had managed to break into the starting lineup early in the season.

Sixty six seniors graduated in 1936, including two neighbors who would die in World War II – Samuel Allender and Wayne Carson. Victoria Berton, who became our school nurse and then went off to serve in the War, was in this class, as was Agnes Shadish, who eventually became a very effective elementary school teacher at Washington School. Other familiar names included Edward David, Origin (Gus) Ferree, and Mike Toney.

Two more BHS students were featured in the Pittsburgh paper that year – Angelo Pennetti ("remarkable executive ability") and Andrew Van Gorder ( "one of the Student Council's most active members).

Coach Brown's team went one and seven in the Fall of '36, including an embarrassing 33 to 7 loss to South Fayette. The basketball team upset Peters Township in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs before being eliminated. In addition to Malarkey, Johnny Randolph and Frank Weise sparked the winners.

The graduating class of 1937 had sixty eight members. Jimmy Patton, whose intellectual curiosity and remarkable attention to detail has provided us with much of the local history that we possess today, was a proud member of this class.

A win over Montour and a tie with Cecil were the only bright spots of the 1937 football season. The High School did field a cross country team that Fall. In the Spring the BHS golf team, composed of students who had learned the game caddying at St. Clair Country Club, captured the WPIAL championship.

The BHS students honored in the Pittsburgh paper in 1938 were Gloria Lutz ("a charm all her own") and Dorothy Clarke (President of the National Honor Society). Miss Lutz is fondly remembered by all of us who were her students at BHS a decade later.

Betty Crawford had the title role in the Junior Play "The Patsy", the cast of which included Clyde Carson, Glen Colton, and Bob Weise.

There were fifty eight seniors in the Class of 1938. We know a little bit more about them than the other classes of that era thanks to Dana Spriggs. His parents, Leonard Spriggs and Eva Mouret, were members of the class. Like most Depression Era classes the 1938 group could not afford a glossy Yearbook. They settled on an informative hand typed and duplicated document.

Leonard Spriggs was Editor of this Yearbook. At one of the Reunions of the Class of 1938 he and his wife produced facsimile copies of it and presented them to all of their classmates. Dana, thoughtfully, has provided copies to the Historical Society, providing us with a valuable resource.

In 1938 (not yet Dr.) Harold Colton was Supervising Principal and Mr. Fowler the Principal. Joseph Ferree taught Latin and Mathematics. John Graham taught Biology and Physical Education. In addition to coaching, Neil Brown taught Commercial courses. Alma Weise had begun her career teaching Music.

William Cronemeyer was the Class President; William McCool, June Thomas, Elmer Phillips, and Mary Moore, the other Class Officers. Despite the lack of photographs the Yearbook did a good job of reporting on all the class members, utilizing a Who's Who section, a Prophecy section, a two line poem, and a Donors section.

The portion devoted to activities and organizations was particularly interesting. Although women did not compete formally in athletics, the Girls Athletic Association provided the opportunity for them to participate in sports internally as well as with similar organizations at other schools. One of the members of the audience, Nancy Stanson Buszinski, brought a set of ribbons her mother, Mildred Meyers, had won in athletic competition. She was pleased to see her mother mentioned in this Yearbook as a member of the GAA basketball team.

Another member of that basketball team was Sanntina Filippi. Her son, John Shipe, was also in the audience. He had brought autograph books that his mother kept while she was in school; they were passed around for perusal by the audience, as were Class rings from 1934 and 1936 which Larry Godwin brought in.

Another interesting organization was the Minor Sports Club. Mr. Graham was its sponsor; Joe Rizak its president. It is not clear what its function was. The Band consisted of forty pieces in 1938 and entertained at football games. All of us associated with the Historical Society were pleased to see Lena Carrozza listed as one of the members of the National Honor Society. Based on the impact she had on our Society we are sure she was a major factor in that organization.

We obviously are indebted to several generations of the Spriggs family for providing this document. It certainly gives us considerable insight into life at Bridgeville High School in the late 1930s.

The next "Second Tuesday" workshop will be held at 7:00 pm on October 10, 2017, at the History Center. In response to a special request the BHS History series will be interrupted so we can discuss the James Franks murder close to its 102nd anniversary.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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