When Lew Wallace Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) Academy, formerly known as Lew Wallace High School in Gary closes its doors for the final time as a traditional high school on Thursday, with it will go decades of memories cherished by the proud alumni of the school.
“My heart is saddened that the wealth of experiences which our generation was blessed to enjoy at Lew Wallace are only a memory frozen in time, unavailable to the current generation and generations to come,” said Kate Mowell, who attended the school from kindergarten through her graduation in 1970. “One of my earliest memories was standing on my tip toes in order to be ‘tall enough’ to take swimming lessons in the pool during the summer. I spent many hours enjoying all of the activities during ‘community recreation,’ which included making a wooden pig cutting board in the wood shop, making metal bracelets in the metal shop (both of which I still have), roller skating in the old portable gym and the many hours the pool was made available for swimming.”
Mowell, who now resides in Springfield, Ohio, says the campus itself was “beautiful.”
“Whether it was going between buildings in the pouring rain or freezing temperatures and/or snow...to the days when it was so beautiful that it made a student tempted to skip school,” she said. “Open lunch hours provided us with many opportunities to enjoy a ‘healthy lunch’...perhaps at Burger King on 47th and Broadway, or a bag of Peerless potato chips with a 12 cent Hostess lunch cake and a Royal Crown cola (hoping to get a 10 cent winner under the cork on the bottle cap) at Dan's grocery store on 45th and Harrison, or walking to the bakery on 49th and Broadway. The walk through Morningside was a pleasant break from classes any time of the year.”
Debbie Clements Thomas loved “strolling through the woods in front of the school” on her way home.
“I can count on one hand the times my mother was not in the house when I came home from school,” Thomas recalls. “She always wanted a full report of my day, class by class and she was a great audience. Often, when I had a reading assignment, I would sit on the kitchen stool and read to her while she prepared dinner. We loved Lew Wallace. My mom, my aunts and my cousins all graduated from there. We all were, and still are, proud to receive a wonderful education.”
Pam Nahod Mandich says her favorite all-time memory was Homecoming Week at the school, where Lew Wallace students would relish the chance to show their Hornet pride.
“We had so many great things going on,” she said. “Decorating floats for the parade, decorating the hallways, pep rallys, bon fires and the homecoming mums. Fun times!”
Susan Eng Price remembers the “rails" that went around the school next to all the sidewalks.
“Everyone had their favorite spot to sit, where they'd meet their friends, or finish up some homework,” she remembers.
On May 31, one week before the Gary Community School Corporation board of trustees voted 4-2 to close Lew Wallace in addition to a couple of elementary and middle schools in the corporation, some Alumni of the school took part in a tour of the campus they will always hold close to their hearts.
Richard Paskash, a 1966 Lew Wallace graduate, organized the tour - which turned out to be a final goodbye to the school even though the final decision to close it did not come until a few days later.
“The memory that will forever stand on top is the Lew Wallace tour I had recently planned for the Former LW Student Alumni group (on Facebook),” Paskash said. “The tour consisted of alumni that graduated as early as 1943 and as late as 1976, I believe. Former Principal Mr. William Vorwald and his family attended the tour, along with 65 other alumni. Principal Vorwald was my principal throughout high school and both he and his wife graduated from Wallace in 1943. We walked the halls and many fond memories came flashing thru, bringing smiles and tears.”
Diana Rudd is a Lew Wallace alumni that has been a part of the FORMER LW STUDENTS Facebook group since its inception three years ago, serving as the group administrator during much of that time.
“It's been a real touchstone for many of us,” Rudd said of the group. “I became a member within the first few days of its inception, although I have no memory of who added me. In fact, I'm not sure if I ever really knew. It was sort of like a reverse trip to Oz for me. I felt myself in a safe place where I knew people and shared common backgrounds and histories with them.. There's no place like home. I was going through a very rocky time in my life, and the group and my connection with it was a lifeboat for me a lot of times, and I know of others who felt the same.”
A date that changed the lives of every American was November 22, 1963 - the day President John F. Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade in downtown Dallas during a parade. Most Americans remember exactly where they were and how they heard the news that day. For Lew Wallace students who attended the school at the time, that was no different.
“I was sitting on the pipes waiting for classes to resume after lunch,” Fran Frandson, class of 1966, remembers. “A classmate ran by and yelled, President Kennedy has been shot! I yelled back, ‘that's not funny.’ The bell rang and I headed inside to class and found my teacher all red-eyed and crying. She told us that President Kennedy had died and that we would all be sent home. Of all the happy memories I have of Lew Wallace, this is the one memory that always comes to mind first when I think of high school.”
Paskash also remembers the day some say America lost its innocence.
“I will never forget that moment I had learned the death of our beloved president JFK,” he said. “I remember the time and place (in school) when the news was given to us.”
But the best memories of Lew Wallace High School bring a smile to everyone's eyes.
“I remember a caring and nurturing environment and a supportive community,” said Julie Komanecki. “I remember football coach Ed Herbert, who went above and beyond the call of duty to teach me to drive. “Being behind the wheel of a car totally flustered me at the time. Coach Herbert quickly realized I needed help, found out I lived in his neighborhood, and told me he was picking me up for extra practice before class time.”
JoAnn Gamble’s favorite memory is also football-related.
“I’ll never forget when I ran for ‘Football Rama Queen.’,” she said - referring to the week before a big 1969 tilt between the Hornets and Roosevelt “The parade started from ‘Walt Lounge’ on 5th Ave. to Gilroy Stadium where Roosevelt was playing Lew Wallace. My father took pictures, which showed a crowd of black and white students getting ready for the game.”
“Lew Wallace was something to aspire to in my mind,” said Kim (McQuaid) Steinert, who remembers her elder sister attending the school from kindergarten through senior year of high school before it exclusively became a high school.
“Proud, filled with tradition, and close-knit - we were a community unto ourselves. I remember my first day at Lew Wallace as a freshman, being awed to actually belong in those hallways as a student instead of a visitor,” she said. “Teachers were interested in their students, and cared that the kids learned.“
While Thursday will be the last day of traditional classes, Lew Wallace will remain a part of the Gary Community School Corporation as a middle school for seventh and eighth graders and a Freshman Academy for ninth graders, who will then transition to other schools for their sophomore year.
The final graduation ceremony at Lew Wallace will take place on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Genesis Convention Center in downtown Gary. While the sting of seeing Lew Wallace, in the traditional sense, fade away will hurt - these Alumni (and thousands more) will never lose these cherished memories.
“Hail to Lew Wallace!,” Steinert said.