Long lineage of literacy

Rogers graduates remember schools, educators

Posted: February 8, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Photo courtesy Rogers Historical Museum The first Rogers Public High School was designed by noted Rogers architect, A.O. Clarke, and built in 1911. Today this site is occupied by the Rogers Public Schools Administration Building.

I recently was invited to do a program for Lingle Middle School about the history of Rogers' high schools. There is lots of history available, but to get some perspective and insight into the real workings of the school, I once again appealed to members of a Rogers website on Facebook for their memories. I was astounded to receive hundreds of experiences from the alumnae of the first high school on Walnut between Fifth and Sixth streets.

From the beginning, Rogers has been blessed with wonderful schools and teachers, and that is one of the main reasons that our town is so exceptional today. Rogers' first school was established in 1884, just three years after the town was founded. The Rogers Academy was built on the site now occupied by Frank Tillery Elementary School. It was a private religious school and offered education for grades one through 12. It was the only school in Rogers that offered grades nine through 12 for 27 years. Rogers Academy trained many of our early educators who later taught in Rogers' public schools.

Rogers' first public school was built in 1888 on the present site of the Rogers Public Schools Administration building on the corner of Walnut and Fifth streets. This school offered education only for grades one through eight.

In 1911, Rogers' first public school was torn down, and the first public high school was built on the same site. This school offered for the first time amazing new innovations like indoor toilet rooms, sanitary drinking fountains, steam heat and classrooms with lots of windows for light. The school graduated 49 classes, with the last high school graduation in 1960. The school served as Rogers Junior High until 1964. The historic school was demolished in 1968.

An interesting feature about this school was the sloped floor in the study hall, like a theater, down toward the teacher's desk. The design was intended to give the teacher a better view of each student's face. Rowdy students took advantage of the opportunity. Several students remembered experiences with the sloped floor on the Facebook site:

Ted Givers: "The study hall was designed that the floor was slanted from the back downward to the teacher's desk. It was a pretty good slope. We would roll empty Coke bottles down to the desk. It drove the teacher crazy until we got caught."

John R Randy Atchison: "I remember study hall and Mrs. Duty. The floor was wood and sloped down to Mrs. Duty's desk. We would release marbles at the top -- what a noise they made!"

Also, during the early years, all of the graduates' names were engraved in the sidewalks around the school until all of the sidewalks were covered with names. Then every individual graduate's picture was posted on the walls in the halls of the school.

Betty R. Watkins: "The sidewalks had all graduating students from 1916 to sometime in the late '20s but quit then because it wasn't such a good idea."

Sandra Boyd: "I always liked to walk the sidewalks around the high school, usually on my way back from town. I would find the names of family and parents of friends."

In 1929, a large addition was added to the school that included a large auditorium/gymnasium on the first floor and classrooms on the second floor. The cost of this big addition was $40,000.

The high school was equipped with fire escape chutes from the top floor to the ground. These tubes resembled water slides on the back of the school with one on each end. Karen Russell Burks posted a story from The Rogers Daily News, Oct. 1, 1929. Here are excerpts from that story:

Students Escape By Narrow Margin On Fire Escape

The new fire escape was tried by all members of the high school student body Tuesday for practice. Two members of the faculty were placed at the end of the slide to catch the students, but they came so fast the teachers managed only to wave good-bye to them as they landed somewhere between Fourth and Fifth streets. The students landed on their backsides and were slightly battered and injured. Fire drills using the chutes were discontinued, and the principal assured everyone that in the future they would be used for emergencies only.

Even today, many former students have memories of the famous chutes:

Casey Ward: "I'm told they only ever had two fire drills using them, and people were hurt with cuts, bruises and bumped noggins."

Jim Lingle: "There was one on the east and west ends going from the second floor to the ground. We used to climb up them and slide back down. The one on the west wasn't very slick so we quit using it. I'm not sure how it would have fared during a fire. As I remember, they were padlocked on the inside. I don't know who volunteered to brave the flames and get the key or bolt cutters."

Chris Horvath Neal: "One teacher put a bucket of water down the old fire escape because kids climbed up the escape during lunch."

Ted Givers: "Back in the day, Birch Kirksey, superintendent of schools, kept an eye out on those slides. He better not see you exiting one. His office was on the back side of the first floor where he had a birds-eye view of the exit from his office."

It seems that the worst offenses by students during the days of the old high school were chewing gum, talking in class or sneaking a slide down the fire escape chute. The penalty for these "crimes" could be a paddling for both boys and girls.

Karen E. Russell Burks: "Mom told me that Mr. Kirksey had a wooden paddle and if a guy got sent to the office, he would have the guy stick his head down the fire escape tube and whack him with the paddle until he went down the tube. Don't know if that is truth or legend."

Mike Smith, Class of 1962: "I got paddled for telling then-Principal Sutton, that chewing gum was the only thing holding the building together."

Kathy Hollaway Setser: "How did she (Mrs. Simpkins) always know what was happening in the classroom when she was standing at the blackboard with her back to us? She was the only teacher who ever gave me a whipping. It was one of those times that she saw us chewing gum. It didn't hurt, but it sure was humiliating."

So, who were some of the outstanding teachers during this period that shaped so many of Rogers' future leaders? Casey Ward did a lot of research on the old high school:

"So many great teachers -- all three of the Reagan sisters taught there -- Agnes only three years. They did all agree as students their favorite teacher was Helen Crumpler, who came to Rogers in 1928 and taught till she retired in 1941. Mrs. Baldwin taught English and history in the 1920s and her husband Charles was the superintendent for a time. Mr. A.W. Beavers was the first principal in 1911. He left for a time and returned to finish his career as a math teacher at RHS in 1960. Mrs. Pauline Price was the art teacher and cheer coach. She retired in 1960. But the most amazing was Leith Worthington; she mainly taught English but was also cheer coach and organized the first girls' basketball team. By 1948, Ms. Worthington was the vice principal at RHS -- unheard of at the time. She taught in Rogers from 1928-1960."

Betty R. Watkins: "Mrs. Worthington was the most amazing teacher in the high school. She taught English lit and was always senior sponsor."

Betsey Robinson-Harold: "I absolutely adored Mrs. Worthington."

Lena Adams Marchant: "Does anyone remember Mrs. Avery? She taught English, and I just loved her. She was an awesome teacher and was one of my most inspiring teachers."

Vicki Lassiter: "I had Mrs. Avery for eighth and ninth grade English. She was the best teacher that I had my entire school years. I learned more from her than all the rest combined."

Steve VanHook: "Count me in as one of those who came to love Mrs. (Bessie Mae) Avery, who I had in ninth grade. I really LEARNED grammar through her endless sentence diagramming assignments. Partly because of her, I went on to earn a living as a writer and editor."

Strad Will: "My mom (Mitzi Will) was the secretary at the old high school until it closed. I guess a lot of folks liked her (I loved her). She was one of the few non-teachers that got a yearbook dedicated to her."

These are just a few of the fond memories and stories about Rogers' first public senior high school. The school and its outstanding educators were invaluable in shaping Rogers' citizens for half a century.

Photo courtesy Rogers Historical Museum The old high school served as Rogers Junior High from 1960 to 1964. This picture is from 1964, the last year i...

NAN Our Town on 02/08/2018