Monday, May 08, 2023

The Class of 1923 - A Snapshot from our Last Century

There was no yearbook for this class, and the Reserve Record was still two years away from
starting, but the Class of 1923 left a nice legacy of success to the school. There were 23 graduates in the Class of 1923. Mr Homer O. Sluss was Head of School, and Harlan N. Wood of the Class of 1888, was Associate Head. There were just ten faculty members, which included a Congregational minister who taught English Bible and a teacher who was in charge of the Agriculture program which sent students to work at the 400-acre Evamere Farm. Marian Bingham was Librarian for the “splendidly equipped library” on the ground floor of the Chapel that was planned to hold 8,000 volumes. 

Most of the students in the Class of 1923 and the other early classes were from Hudson or elsewhere in Ohio, although one of the former members of this class was Ada K. Yang of Senju, Korea, whose parents lived in Hawaii. One of the young women from 1923 was Helen Spreng who had come from Lebanon in southern Ohio. She went on to Simmons College in Boston where she earned a B.S., returned to Hudson to marry Homer Benhoff of the Class of 1924, then worked as Librarian at Glenville High and John Marshall High, both in Cleveland. She then earned a master’s from Columbia by attending several summers of classes. She then worked for the Cleveland Public Library until the 1950’s. A son, Edward Benhoff, is a graduate from 1953, thirty years after his parents.

David Rockwell Hinman, Class of 1923, was the nephew of the well-regarded Judge David Ladd Rockwell, who had graduated from WRA some years before. The Judge sponsored his nephew’s attendance at the school and also paid for his trip to Europe with faculty member James C. Sloane, who taught French and Spanish. David Hinman then attended both The Ohio State University and Kent State University. He married Lois Billiter of the Class of 1924 who also earned her degree at Kent State and taught in the Akron and Streetsboro schools. The Hinmans were parents of two daughters and lived in Peninsula for many years.
Harriet Bell Lowman was a member of a distinguished Hudson family that had strong ties to WRA. She went to Wheaton College in Massachusetts, finished her degree at Lake Erie College, then earned a library degree at Western Reserve University. She later married Newell Hamilton, and died at age 60 in 1965. Her sister, Eleanor, and brother John, were also students at WRA. Their father, John S. Lowman, was Vice-President of one of the Akron rubber companies. 

Finally, there is August G. Peterka, winner of the Robinson Prize in 1923, who earned his degree at Kent State where he was President of his junior class and Captain of the KSU football team. He then went on to Columbia University in New York where he earned a master’s in physical education. He taught and coached in Minerva and Dover before becoming Head basketball coach at Kent State. Starting in 1935 he worked as Head of Recreational activities for the WPA, directing them in 20 counties of central Ohio from an office in Columbus. He contracted “rabbit fever” in 1940, and because of numerous blood transfusions, was forced to resign this position. He and his wife later moved to Euclid where he ended his professional career as a labor expert at Parker Hannifin. There may not have been any unusually successful alumni from the group that graduated a century ago, but they charted a direction for the students who came later.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Pets at Western Reserve Academy...a photo reflection

It used to be that faculty/staff pets were more visible at WRA than is the case nowadays, but I was reminded of this fact by a couple of stories in the media about how many people adopted pets as a way to ride out the pandemic. There are probably many pets still around our campus, but we don’t get to see them the way we did before they were restricted. There was a time when faculty pets were even permitted in the classroom but that ended several years ago. 

There was a time when Bert, the longtime pet of faculty member Jim Fraser, was considered a campus favorite, and when he disappeared for a day, there was a search for him by students who had come to love the furry favorite who wandered at will around our campus. He was here from 1976 until 1990 and we have several charming photos of Bert including one of him snoozing on a campus picnic bench. Russ Hansen in Biology had a pet dog named Rufus who was often in the Biology wing of Wilson Hall as is noted in the photo taken of Hansen with Rufus in 1998. 







Then there was Boo, the little Pekingese dog who was with Librarian Judy Fitch Waring at the library over in the Chapel. He was known to library users and everyone on campus. Nancy Harris’s falcon probably was a rare bird indeed as this photo of Nancy from 1965 attests. Nancy was married to English master William “Bucky” Harris. Mrs. Natalie Harper, the Secretary to Headmaster John W. Hallowell and the typing teacher, is shown with her daughter and two collie dogs outside their house in 1957. And speaking of the Hallowell family, they also had goats as pets, as evidenced in a photo of Elizabeth Hallowell. 


Nancy Harris's falcon

Natalie Harper's collies

The Hallowell Family's goats

Who can forget BJ, Marie Fiedler’s longtime pet dog who would spend the day with her in the Chemistry classroom, then join her on the practice field where Marie coached field hockey? BJ used to have a special “treat” drawer in the old library when it was in Wilson Hall and came to collect in the late afternoon. And what about all those exotic pets that were kept in the biology lab by teacher Tien Wei Yang ’41? He was on the faculty 1952-1966 and had many pets that were known to students such as a gila monster, an armadillo, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake, a kangaroo rat, turtles and other species that were part of regular lab work. For a time, Tien Wei Yang maintained the Natural History Museum in Seymour Hall. 


Tien Wei Yang's armadillo

Finally, we have a photo of a very large and friendly St. Bernard dog that we know belonged to a faculty member probably in the early 1960’s. He is seen on the baseball field. We wonder if anyone can identify the dog and its owner. 

Do you know who I belonged to?

Most recently, WRA teamed up with current students, faculty and staff, to produce High School Pet Project, a movie featuring a joyful rendition of our beloved family members. We are committed to spreading happiness!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Vince Luce, Henry Zielasko & the Cupola at Seymour Hall

The recent death of Vincent Luce in Mantua at nearly 90 years of age, recalled the great project of restoring the cupola to the roof of Seymour Hall. This idea originated in 1984, and at first Headmaster Henry E. “Skip” Flanagan, Jr. explored having the cupola duplicated by a company in Kentucky. Trustee T. Dixon Long '51 mentioned in a letter to Skip that he was concerned about historical accuracy. 

The cupola atop Seymour Hall originated with the building in 1913, but benefactor James W. Ellsworth wanted it to replicate the cupola designed by Lemuel Porter (1775-1829), the master builder who had constructed the three earliest buildings on our campus. Ellsworth had demolished Middle College in 1912 in order to replace it with the much larger Seymour Hall. He wanted the same kind of cupola for his new building that graced the old Middle College. The cupola was built, placed atop the building, but in 1964 it came down, the victim of deterioration. Some twenty years later, the idea for a cupola came up again and an alumni donor was found who agreed to fund it. 

At this point, Headmaster Flanagan decided to look at his own campus crew who had the expertise to manage such a project. Henry Zielasko, a member of the crew who held a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Iowa, agreed to design the cupola based on the existing photos of the old building. He teamed up with Vincent Luce, the school’s best carpenter, and together they worked for more than a year on the cupola that would once again grace the roof of Seymour Hall. 


Vincent Luce as the cupola is moved
into place before hoisting in 1988

Vincent Luce, pictured around his
retirement in 1997


Zielasko worked out the design in decimals, and Vince Luce stated, “I converted his numbers. I knew it would work.” For more than seven months Luce (called “a talented professional” in one news story) worked exclusively on the 21-foot high cupola which was ready to be hoisted atop the roof of Seymour in early June, 1988. Vincent Luce, the craftsman with some 35 years of experience, told the Hudson paper “This cupola is made of the best grade of poplar and redwood…with the exception of two parts, the entire cupola was built right here on campus”. On the day of the raising of the cupola, crew member and designer Henry Zielasko was up in the attic of Seymour Hall, afraid that the roof might not hold the 6,921 pound cupola. 

“I didn’t know whether that old building was really going to support the cupola, and if it collapsed, I wanted to go down with it. I couldn’t have faced my friends.” 

Henry Zielasko, around 1986. Henry
designed the cupola.

Such was the devotion of both Henry Zielasko and Vincent Luce to this school, and the cupola on Seymour Hall is a tribute to their workmanship and ingenuity. May they both rest in peace.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The First Putz...and other Pranks

There is some question about which would be the first putz on this campus, but our student, Gustavus A. Kavan, 1890, is the first to report on these pranks. Kavan (1865-1959) was a poor boy when he came here as a student in the 1880s, but went on to a distinguished career as a New England attorney and left a scholarship at this school.

He began writing letters around 1937 to Franklyn "Jiggs" Reardon, the English teacher who was long-time mentor for the Reserve Record. Kaven was employed by the school (he was a scholarship boy) and among his jobs was clearing snow in the winter, carrying up the "coal hods", setting the fires in the potbelly stoves in the classrooms, and other menial tasks. He was older than most of the students at WRA but a good observer and a willing participant in the "pranks" (he uses that word) that helped the students get through the school year. 

Athenaeum, photo from 1896-97
Taken by George Saywell, Class of 1897

Kaven notes that one of the students fooled him by storing a horse in Kaven's room at the Athenaeum, so that when he returned to his room, he opened the door to the back end of the horse (who was a school-owned animal). This was probably around 1887 or '88. Kaven also writes about how he "climbed the belfry of the Chapel" one fall night in 1887 around 2 a.m. He was "armed with a large and unwieldy monkey wrench" and removed the hand of the tower clock. Kaven stored the clock hand in his trunk, and was never found out. Thirty years later he returned the clock hand to none other than James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925), the school benefactor, who wrote him a cordial letter of thanks. 

Forty years after this moonlight putz, Kaven sent a letter to Mr. Reardon and this story appeared in the Reserve Record. But Kaven reports yet other pranks from the late 1880's. One involves going out into the country with a group of students and bringing back pumpkins that were placed against the door of "the Slaughter House" (79 Hudson Street) where most of the students had their meals. One of Kaven's buddies wrote on one, "this is Kaven's pumpkin". But the best of Kaven's reported pranks is the match heads strewn over the floor of the lecture hall in the Athenaeum (it was the main classroom building from 1843 to 1903). The matches all exploded when the students came in for class. It's a wonder that this putz did not burn down the entire building. 

There are many putzes reported on in the book Without Reserve, edited by Jim Gramentine '52. Don Collister '43 asserts in his article (p.12) that the definition of "putz" is something that occurred often in the mid-1940's usually to relieve "academic tedium."

Terrence D. Garrigan '46

Terry Garrigan '46 writes about "liberating" a captive gallon of strawberry ice cream in the kitchen of Ellsworth Hall. That and about ten other putzes are lovingly described by other graduates in this book. 

Jeff Green '66 defined a putz as "a highly imaginative prank that required special forces-like execution to avoid discovery and capture." What about the railroad locomotive taken from its tracks, or the weather balloon pressed into a faculty member's new VW Beetle? Or the putz pictured in one of the yearbooks: two VW cars inside Seymour Hall? This was in 1968 and the cars belonged to Bill Moos, the art teacher, and Rollie Waite, the math teacher and assistant Head of School.

VW Beetles inserted inside Seymour Hall, 1968

Rollin Waite, Faculty Master

Monday, February 15, 2021

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan on WRA Campus

It is too bad that nobody took a photo of Helen Keller and her teacher, "miracle worker" Anne Sullivan, when they were staying on our campus in the summer of 1925 for a conference about the blind. A story appeared in the Reserve Record which documents this unusual happening. 

In this video made by Hudson Community Television (HCTV) in 2015, the full story of Helen Keller's visit to our campus, the student-led campus tours, and the excellent meals in Cutler (now Ellsworth) Hall, is told with several edited photos, including one of Helen Keller's books still in the John D. Ong Library. 

It should be mentioned that the play, "The Miracle Worker" was performed on campus in 2008 and was widely acclaimed for its wonderful performances, especially by neighbor George Velbeck's golden retriever who played young Helen Keller's pet.

MHH: Helen Keller visited Hudson, 1925 from Hudson Community Television on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Beloved actor performs at Western Reserve Academy in the 1950s

Hal Holbrook recently passed away at the age of 95, having been an actor for decades on the stage, the screen where he gave notable performances, and on television where he was a regular on sitcom programs. He is best remembered for his performance in the one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight! where he became the 19th century novelist and stage lecturer Mark Twain. He brought that award-winning program to numerous colleges and universities over the years as well as to a television audience. Few are around who would recall that some 71 years ago, he and his first wife, Ruby, an actress, came to the campus of Western Reserve Academy and presented four dramatic scenes, most notably, Mark Twain and the Interviewer, which was based on an actual happening in 1901 and which became the catalyst for Hal Holbrook investigating the life of Mark Twain and becoming him on the stage.

Hal Holbrook and his (then) wife Ruby were at Western Reserve Academy in early March 1950 and must have performed over in Ellsworth Hall. The article and photo in the Reserve Record for March 9, 1950, states that they will present four scenes from any of the following. A long list of possible scenes includes one by Mark Twain, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Elizabeth & Essex, many more. The article states that the couple met in Newfoundland during World War II when Hal joined a dramatic group up there. After the war, the couple were married in 1945 and attended Denison University in Ohio where they developed the program they decided to take on tour to academic campuses.

The Reserve Record for April 6, 1950, gives a thorough and glowing account of the performance by Hal and Ruby Holbrook. Their "Theatre of Great Personalities" included a scene from The Courtship of Miles Standish, then a scene from Moliere's "The School for Wives", then a scene from Maxwell Anderson's "Elizabeth and Essex", and lastly, Mark Twain and "An Encounter with an Interviewer". The Holbrooks returned in March 1951, for a scene with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and a reprise of the popular Mark Twain interview that was seen the previous year. This is documented in the Reserve Record for March 6, 1951.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Pie In The Face Suggests Doggerel Verse & More

Both Edwin B. Brooks ’32 and Rodham W. Kenner ’32 were seniors and at the top of their class in the fall of 1931 when the pie-in-the-face incident occurred at Cutler Hall (now Ellsworth Hall). Both were from Akron and each had a father who was an executive at a rubber company. Brooks and Kenner remained good friends the rest of their lives.

The pie-throwing incident, witnessed by faculty master Chandler Jones and Headmaster Joel B. Hayden, resulted in the suspension of both boys for a few days. Ed Brooks’ father, who was not given to much levity, wrote the following verse about the incident which Ed said he found astonishing that his father would add this comical note to his misdeed.

Chandler Jones, Faculty Master
Joel B. Hayden, Headmaster
Faculty & Staff Handbook, 1932-1933


Fall, 1931

Said Simple Kenner bet a tenner

I can throw a pie.

Said Simple Eddie when you’re ready

Throw it first at I.

So Simple Kenner bet his tenner

And threw his pie on high.

Simple Eddie wasn’t ready

And caught it in the eye.

Said Master Jones now shiver my bones

That surely gets my nanny

Said honest Joel upon my soul

I think we’d better can he.

Now students all within this hall

Pay heed unto my chatter.

A piece of pie must never fly

So keep it on your platter.

Edwin B. Brooks
Both Ed Brooks and Rid Kenner graduated with the class of 1932. Brooks went on to Dartmouth College, and to serve as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1936-1940, and as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Navy Reserve, 1943-1946. He was later CEO of Columbian Carbon, and CEO of Cities Service, after which he retired to Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. He and his wife Ruth were on their way to Paris in July, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 out of New York exploded and was lost over the waters of Long Island Sound. A memorial service attended by WRA Headmaster Skip Flanagan was held at the Edgartown Whaling Church later that month. Ed Brooks was 81. The trip was to celebrate Ruth’s 80th birthday in Paris.

Rod Kenner spent a year in Germany, 1932-1933 before enrolling at Yale
Rodham W. Kenner
University, where he earned a B.A. and went on to Washington University in St. Louis to earn a law degree. While studying in Germany, he became the only WRA alumnus to witness in person Adolf Hitler at a giant rally in the fall of 1932. Kenner was a Lieutenant in the U. S. Army Air Force during World War II and served with the CIA in this country and abroad from 1946 until 1973. Kenner did not offer much detail about his work for the CIA but we know he was stationed in Dusseldorf, Germany in the mid-1950’s. He died in December, 1995 at age 81. When asked what was his “most vivid memory of WRA”, he replied, “Threw pie in Brooks’ face on bet. Won bet. Did time”. So the incident at Cutler Hall was not forgotten.