The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 3, 2013

Oakwood High had interesting start


A number of people toured the museum last year who were attending their high school class reunions. Those celebrating 50 years and more reminisced about the good, and not-so-good, old days they had experienced as they made their journey through life. Several mentioned how fortunate they were to have someone keep a record, or locate class members for a reunion after so many years had passed.

The Oakwood High School class of 1957 was fortunate to have a person like that. Tom Perry was elected class president when he was a sophomore. He did such a fine job, he was elected again for the junior and senior class years. Tom always greeted everyone with a smile and was the type of leader students respected. I suppose if the class would have stayed at Oakwood High the next 50 years, it would have continued to elect Tom, but in the spring, Tom and the class of 1957 moved on.

Several graduates attended college, a few went into nurses’ training, and others found various forms of employment. Universal military training was the law of the land then, so most of the male graduates served in some capacity in the armed forces. The nation did away with required military service in 1973.

Oakwood Township High School had an interesting beginning. Some residents of the village the township was named for worked to have a referendum passed to create a high school district in the eastern half of the township, with the school to be constructed in their village. Three hundred people voted on the proposition in May 1915, and it was defeated 198 to 102. In early June, another proposition was voted on to create a township-wide high school district. Four hundred seven people voted and it passed 215 to 192. George Goodrich, who served on an early high school board, informed his son Ralph there were a few “bloody noses” over the contested elections.

The slim positive margin allowed Dr. Oscar W. Michael, who led the effort to create a township-wide high school district, to oversee the construction of a fine school in the center of the township. The doctor served as the school district’s first president in 1915 and continued in that office for 38 years. His calm, steady leadership dissipated some of the bitterness that existed after the two elections. He was among the first to realize the day of the small school district was coming to an end.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, 50 years slipped away for the class of 1957, and here came a letter from Tom Perry, listing the names and addresses of most of the surviving members of the class. Tom presided over a successful reunion of members who had made the transition from teenage graduates to senior citizens.

Five more years passed, and Tom sent an updated list for a 55th reunion of the class of 1957. When asked if there would be another one in five years, he noted if he was “still kicking” he would do his part, and I’m sure he will.

A couple of questions came up after the reunions. The cannon that Dr. Michael obtained and placed in front of the school disappeared at some time during the 1950s, and where it went seems to be a mystery. People also have asked about the purpose of the concrete dam on Stony Creek, at the edge of the school campus. If anyone has information on the artillery piece or dam, please submit it.

Don’t forget to thank the individuals who put forth the time and effort to make school and other reunions a success; they are golden.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.