Category Archives: Wheaton Central High School

A Message to All Teens

If I could have the quick attention of all teenagers out there.  This will only take a few seconds, I promise.  I just wanted to take a moment of your very precious time to let you know, that your parents are not idiots.  I know, I know, the sheer fact that these words are coming from an adult mean nothing.  What can I possibly know about being a teen in today’s world?  Things are different today!

So let’s start there.  Yes, things are different today.  They are better.  Cars are safer, technology has put information at your finger tips, there are a gazillion television stations, schools let you re-take tests if you do poorly, and society as a whole is much more tolerant of different races and sexual orientations.  Those are just a few things I could come up with off the top of my head.  Given time I am sure I could come up with a whole lot more.  But all that aside, let’s look at the basic flaw in the whole “things are different today” argument.  How the hell do you know that?  Were you around when I was a teenager?  Do you think you invented the whole concept of the anguished teen whose parents just can’t understand them?  Rebel Without a Cause came out in 1955.  Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, and Ralph Macchio were The Outsiders in 1983, based on the 1965 S.E. Hinton novel that is still taught  and relevant in many high schools today.  Just like you, your parents dealt with cliques, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, school work, and parents.  And they rolled their eyes at their parents just like you are doing right now while reading this.  So really, what is so different?

This is usually where the more astute teen will bring up Columbine.  It is sort of the Holy Grail of the “things are different today” philosophy.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of what happened there in 1999, but it is certainly not the starting point of school shootings or tragedy.  One of the more infamous school shootings happened in 1979, the year I started high school, when 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on a San Diego elementary school playground, killing two and injuring nine.  When finally captured, Brenda’s only explanation was that she didn’t like Mondays, and that the shootings livened up her day.  Bob Geldof later used the incident as inspiration for the Boomtown Rats song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

Closer to home in Winnetka, Illinois, there was also the strange case of the former babysitter Laurie Dann, who entered a second grade classroom in 1988 with three hand guns, killing two and injuring nine before she took her own life in a police stand off.  Prior to that event, in 1974, a 14 year-old student entered Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago with two guns, killing the principal and injuring three others before a teacher managed to disarm the child.

Then there was an incident that affected my own school, Wheaton Central High School.  It happened in 1985, two years after I had graduated, but my younger sister was attending the school at that time.  It didn’t happen inside the school, but it does give light to the sort of teenaged problems that existed then, that are really no different from what kids are dealing with today.  It involved a young couple named Larry Brock and Amy Boyle.  Larry was 16, and Amy was 15, and Amy’s family was preparing to move out east to where her father had been transferred for work.  Rather than face separation, the young couple decided to run away and get married.  Their trip would take them to Colorado, and they ended up bring along with them an unexpected guest, 15 year-old Patrick Beach.  In a remote camp sight in the mountains of Southern Colorado, for reasons that only Pat Beach could possible understand, Larry and Amy were both shot to death with a .22 caliber hunting rifle.

Pat Beach pled guilty to the two murders and was sentenced to twenty years, but as part of a plea agreement he was sent to a state mental hospital where he was to stay indefinitely, until a judge could be convinced he was no longer a danger to himself or to others.  Dr. John Macdonald of the Forensic Psychiatry Department at the University of Colorado, testified at the time that Beach showed no remorse for what he had done, and that he admitted that he would do it again if given the chance.  Dr. Macdonald told the court about a socially isolated young man with a high IQ of 134, but a low self-esteem.  He talked about a child whose parents were divorced, and who had conflicts with his mother and step father.  There were problems with neighborhood bullies, and a conflicted sexual obsession with Amy Boyle.  There was also an intense involvement with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, but Dr. Macdonald downplayed the games importance in the actual killings, saying it was just another adverse factor in what was an overall unhealthy childhood.

So what really has changed so much over the past twenty-five years.  Replace Dungeons & Dragons with any number of on-line interactive video games, and take the bully out of the neighborhood and put him in cyber space, but other than that the basics are still the same.  The thing you young adults don’t seem to get is that your parents are not the enemy.  They are tough on you because they want you to succeed.  They get mad when homework is not done, because they know how important an education is to your future.  They get upset when you take things that don’t belong to you, because they want you to learn respect for others, and for yourself.  When your parents had children, they took on the responsibility of raising and guiding you to adulthood.  Raising you is their job, and most parents take that job very seriously.  It shouldn’t take a tragedy to convince you that your parents are there for you, and that they love you.

If you really took the time, and put yourself in your parents position, would you honestly do anything different?  If your child lied to you, would you just let it go, or would you let them know that you are not dumb and that you realized they just lied to you?  If you asked them to do something and then got home and they didn’t do it, would you be fine with that?  If they trashed the house or apartment that you worked so hard to afford for them, would that be ok with you?

I know all your eyes are rolling again, but you may want to stop for a few seconds and think about these things.  Because twenty some years ago I was right where you are now.  A smart ass teen who knew better than either of my parents, and there was nothing anyone could say to convince me otherwise.  What I didn’t know at that time was that it was not them who didn’t understand life, but it was me.  And it took having children of my own to show me just how wrong I had been all those years.

In closing, I am going to leave you with a little bit of wisdom that was passed on to me from my own father many years ago.

Before you can be a smart ass, you first have to be smart.  Otherwise you are just an ass.

Sentimental Journey

I will be the first to admit that I sometimes have a bit of a sentimental streak.  I think it has been pretty obvious with some of the things I write.  But I sometimes forget that not everyone wants to take that trip down memory lane with me.  In particular, I am speaking about Maureen and the kids. 

After not feeling well Friday night and Saturday, I decided that I needed to get out of the house.  The weather was a little overcast, but not too cold for a Sunday morning near the end of February. My walk down to the end of the driveway to retrieve the Sunday paper made the desire to go for a walk even stronger.  Once I got back to the kitchen, and after Maureen scolded me for going outside in just my shorts while sick, I announced to the gang that I felt like taking a trip to downtown Wheaton to pick up some popcorn.  I was pretty much met by three blank stares.

When I was 14 years old, I got my very first inside job at a little tiny store called The Popcorn Store.  I already had a pretty good resume for a freshman, I had two different paper routes, the local paper, The Daily Journal, was delivered after school, and in the morning there was the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times.   But this was to be my first “real” job, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was small store.  It was basically an alley that someone put a roof over, adding a front and back door.  Located ironically at 111 1/4 Front Street in downtown Wheaton, the only thing the store  sold was the popcorn and various penny candies.  The store was so small that there was only room for one person to move through it at a time, and my job was to make the popcorn, keep the candy shelf stocked and count up and collect money for the items being sold.

The popcorn was made in an old iron kettle that had to be cranked by hand, and this combined with the bin that held the popped corn took up enough space that even my small frame at the time had to turn sideways to get by.  The candy shelves were against the wall just in front of the popcorn station, and they included the basic Tootsie Roll, Jolly Rancher, and my favorite, the jelly fruit slices.  As you walked in the store, small white bags are available to fill with your desired candy, and the popcorn is served in similar white bags of various sized.

As I gathered up Alex and Molly to get ready for our journey, it was somewhat evident they were less than thrilled that I chose today for this trip.  Alex was mostly concerned that we might not make it back on time for the gold metal hockey game between the American team and the Canadians.  But the promise of some candy and popcorn seemed to be enough to get them out the door.  Our trip north up Naperville Road took us right past the empty shell that was Wheaton Central High School, and had I remembered to recharge my camera, I would have stopped to take a picture of the kids out in front of it. 

Downtown Wheaton was surprisingly busy for a Sunday afternoon, so we ended up circling around and parking on Wesley Street over near the old Cock Robin restaurant.  That sight is now a deli, but the old sign with the bird in the top hat still overlooks that corner.  At one time in my youth, the Cock Robin franchise was almost as well-known as Dairy Queen, and their signature square shaped ice cream cones were a tasty treat on a warm summer day.  As of a few years ago, there was still one remaining Cock Robin in Brookfield, but I am not sure if it is still in operation.  If it is still open, I may just have to drag the kids out there for a greasy double cheeseburger and strawberry ice cream soda.  That was my favorite treat whenever I stopped by.  Alex wanted to know if we could stop there after we got the popcorn.  When I reminded him that we wanted to get back home before the hockey game, he decided that ice cream would be a good reason to miss the start of the game.

Our walk down to Front Street brought us right past The Wheaton Theater.  I had read a number of articles about how there were attempts to restore the theater back to its original condition.  I have to admit it looked quite run down.  Many years ago, as the big mega theaters were being built, the theater had been divided into several screening rooms.  This was the fate of many of these suburban downtown movie houses, as single screen theaters just couldn’t keep up with the more advanced movie venues like the Ogden 6. 

As we walked I quickly became aware that there were a lot more restaurants in the downtown area than I had ever remembered, and this seemed to be the cause of the increased number of cars trying to find parking.  Many of the old stores have now been converted to various types of eating establishments, and it seems that Downtown Wheaton is now a popular after church brunch spot.  If I had known that, I might have started our journey earlier, and included a stop at one of them.  But maybe another time.  Won’t the kids be thrilled.

So when we finally arrived at The Popcorn Store it looked exactly the same, and the smell of the fresh popcorn was evident even outside.  As we entered the shop, it also looked exactly as I remembered.  I showed the kids the little white bags and told them to pick out a few treats.  There was another dad with three little girls also picking out candy items, so we had to wait our turn.  My treat of choice was some Bit-O-Honey, Sixlets, and those jelly fruit slices.  The candies were no longer a penny or two each, but most were still five or ten cents, with a few larger candy items on the top shelf.  The old kettle was popping fresh corn as we were there, and the young man standing next to it looked to be about 15 or 16 years old.  We handed him our bags, and he quickly counted them up writing a total on a sheet of paper next to him.  And since there is no cash register, he needed to check a tax chart taped to the wall.  This was also noted down on the paper.  Nothing had changed.  This was also the way I kept track of the daily sales over thirty years ago. 

We finished our walk, and on the way home I pointed out a few other old spots.  The store front that used to be our local record store, The Flip Side, my old Jr. High school which is now Edison Middle School, and a quick run through my old neighborhood on Casa Solana Drive.  I didn’t bore them with all the details, but when Alex mentioned to Maureen that this was not our first trip of this sort, she just laughed and told them next week we are going to her old stomping grounds.  This seemed like a much better deal to him, because he knows there is an Al’s Beef Stand near where Maureen grew up.

I guess italian beef trumps popcorn, but this will not be my last trip to The Popcorn Store.  I’m hoping in the warmer weather we can then add that ice cream into our trip.  The Plush Horse was right down on the next block, and although it has a new name, I am pretty sure I can con my kids back down my memory lane in exchange for a couple scoops of chocolate or New York Cherry.


So, as I was looking around this wonderful world known as the internet, I stumbled across some sad news.  They are tearing down my old high school.

On the grand scale of things, this does not rank up there with earthquakes or the continued failings of our current economy, so it is easy to understand why the news took so long to come to my attention.  The truth is, my high school has actually been closed for almost 18 years now, it was converted to a middle school for the 1992/93 school year.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  Let me start at the beginning.

In the late summer of 1979, having just turned 14 and weighing maybe 80 pounds soaking wet, I entered the halls of Wheaton Central High School for the very first time.  Our school mascot was a tiger, so much of the interior decorating of the school was done in orange and black.  It was located on Roosevelt Road, just south of Wheaton’s downtown district between Main Street and Naperville Road.  Since I lived way on the south side of Wheaton, I was bussed to school, being dropped off in the large circular drive appropriately named Tiger Trail which also served as the teachers parking lot.  Although the entrance may seems somewhat bland as compared to some of the big mega high schools that have been built since that time, it was a welcoming sight to the students and had remained pretty much the same as when it was originally built in 1925.  The original Wheaton High School opened in 1876, but when there was need for a bigger space, the new school was built just over the train tracks and less than a mile away from the original, and it was renamed Wheaton Community High School.  The site of the original building still houses an elementary school, but any hint of the original structure is long gone.  As the city continued to grow, a second high school was built on the north side of town, and in 1964 the name was once again changed, this time to Wheaton Central High School.

As the school district continued to grow, expanding to include the Warrenville area, a third high school was built in 1973 and was named Wheaton-Warrenville High School, but by the early eighties, the enrollment at Wheaton-Warrenville had dropped drastically, and there was a need for additional space for lower level student, so the decision was made to convert the high school to a middle school for the 1983/84 school year and to bus the high school students to Wheaton Central and Wheaton North.  This proved to be only a temporary solution, and just nine years later in 1992, Wheaton Central was converted to Hubble Middle School, and the former south side high school was expanded and re-opened as Wheaton Warrenville South.

Although the new Wheaton Warrenville South retained the black and orange colors and tiger mascot, along with the same administration and faculty, this move shut the door on my high school before I even reached my ten year reunion.  And now that a new Hubble Middle School has been built and started operating this year, the former Wheaton Central High School is no more than an empty shell.  All that is contained inside the walls now are the memories of almost 85 years.  So many friendships and hardships, final exams and study halls, Homecoming dances and Proms.  It was in the orange locker area just outside the luchroom where I first heard the news that Ronald Reagan had been shot, and in the main gym where we all celebrated our schools unlikely fourth place finish in the state basketball tournament.  It was the wrestling room hidden up behind the boy’s locker room where Al Sears tackled my tiny sophomore frame, dislocating and splitting open my big toe in a gush of blood.  And it was the hallway outside the small auditorium where a cheerleader named Jackie broke my heart for the very first time.

A high school should be filled with memories, and although I have no desire to return to those days, I can’t help but feel a little bit of those memories are going to be torn down with the school.  There is still some time left for the old alma mater, development plans are not expected to be finished for the 22-acres until 2011.  But what ever the eventual out come, I would hope the city of Wheaton would at least save something from the school.  Convert the original building into an office space, or at least save the old wall at the entrance of Tiger Trail.  I know that in the long run, buildings do crumble and we need to move on, but to tear down our past and not look back is also wrong.  The history of the school has been moved to the south side of town, but for the thousands of us that saw these halls as our temporary home for at least four years, the memories can not be so easily displaced.  I did not attend Wheaton Warrenville South.  They can borrow our colors and our tiger, but my school will always be the same.  In June of 1983, I stood in that gym one last time, and I listened as Eric Berg told us what endless possibilities awaited us.  We had done our time, and the future was ours.  We were graduates of Wheaton Central High School.