TERRE HAUTE —
Her dad graduated from Gerstmeyer Technical High School. So did her brothers.
And, in her sophomore and junior years, Jane Ann Sears Totten also attended “Tech.” Until that August morning in 1971, the phrase “school song” meant Gerstmeyer’s “Here’s to the Orange and Black.”
But on that day, Jane and her classmates were summoned to the shiny Terre Haute North Vigo High School gymnasium to learn a new school song. This one followed the tune of the Northwestern University fight song, and mentioned “red, white and blue” and the “North Patriots” — quite different from the school songs of Gerstmeyer and Garfield, the two Terre Haute high schools that merged into North, beginning with that 1971-72 school year.
“That was difficult,” Totten recalled of that lesson, “because it was so foreign.”
Yet, by June 2, 1972, when Totten and 683 fellow seniors became the first graduates of Terre Haute North, they’d initiated a new tradition.
“By the end of the year, we were one school,” said Georgann Lindley Welsh, another ’72 North grad.
That transformation, described as both “tough” and “exciting,” became a legacy of the Class of 1972 for both Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo high schools. Like North, South blended two archrivals, Honey Creek and Wiley as the rocky process of consolidation created two metropolitan schools, each with nearly 2,200 students.
For many of the seniors, it was like being sophomores again. Changes arrived in bunches. New school. New lockers. New classrooms. New principal. A different mix of teachers, counselors and coaches with different philosophies. New school song. New nickname. New school colors. New clubs. New classmates. It was a lot to absorb for 17- and 18-year-olds, but they did.
“The fact that we were the first graduating class from South — and North had the same situation — we felt like we were kind of a special class,” said Twila Usrey, a ’72 South grad and one of the organizers of their upcoming 40th reunion.
Alums from both schools plan gatherings to mark the milestone. The South Class of ’72 reunion weekend is Friday and Saturday, June 22-23. The North Class of ’72 will reunite Friday, Aug. 3, and Saturday, Aug. 4. Forty years ago this month, they became the first groups of Patriots and Braves to receive diplomas. At North’s commencement, valedictorian Kim Pendergast summarized their accomplishment.
“We couldn’t be just an average class,” she in her address, quoted in a Terre Haute Tribune story, “because we had to take upon our shoulders the responsibility of uniting two great schools — Gerstmeyer and Garfield — into one magnificent school, Terre Haute North Vigo High School.”
A parallel mission was accomplished on the southside, as Wiley and Honey Creek formed South. “Putting the two schools together was difficult,” recalled Dan McGrath, who taught social studies as a member of the original South faculty and continued until his retirement in 2002. Students from different backgrounds, races and viewpoints now wore the same sports jerseys, listened to lectures together, and shared lunch hours. It took time for friction to subside, and discipline was a challenge, McGrath said, but things did get smoother.
“It stretched us,” said Guy Greenlee, a ’72 South grad, of the merger. “Towards the end of the year, we had settled into a routine, and things got easier, more comfortable.”
Fellow South alum Carl Apple saw progress, too. “‘Honey Creek is better,’ ‘Wiley is better’ — I don’t remember that at all,” Apple said. “We were just a bunch of kids that got thrown together, and we made it work.”
They adapted to a different lunchtime policy. Wiley operated with an open campus, and students got an hour to eat downtown. At North and South, the campuses were closed at lunch. “Some of those kids really detested that,” said Don Jennings, North baseball coach through the first 15 seasons.
There were logistical hurdles, too. For example, South had no practice field yet for its football team in ’71, and conducted workouts at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds. “We fought gopher holes,” said McGrath, an assistant coach that season.
The consolidation also led to new athletic opportunities, with wrestling and swimming programs. The pools serve as a structural centerpiece in the buildings at North and South, and exemplified the newness of the schools in many students’ eyes.
“Mostly, I just remember how impressed I was with the facility, itself — especially after attending Tech, where the building was falling down,” recalled Kehrt Reyher, a ’72 North grad. “Especially the swimming pool, which was visible through the glass cube on the main floor.”
Varsity sports, a boys-only outlet in Indiana at the time, helped bond the students, several alums said.
“After that first football game, it seemed like everyone came together,” said Totten. The football season finale pitted North against South at Memorial Stadium, and ended in a 15-12 victory for the Braves. In that fledgling crosstown rivalry that year, North got wins over South in five sports, and the Braves prevailed in four.
Kenny Phillips recalled he and his North cross country teammates scoring the school’s first victory in a varsity sport. Learning and competing side by side, they developed school pride. “It just took a while for people to start to gelling and getting out of those old traditions,” said Phillips, who also suited up for North’s basketball and track squads. “About the middle of the year, we started gelling. We still had our fights, because people don’t always do what they’re supposed to, but eventually we gelled.”
Some students were reunited in the inaugural year for North and South, having been classmates in junior high school. Kids who attended McLean together later split off to Tech and Garfield, and then wound up at North together. Likewise, former classmates at Sarah Scott Junior High split off to Wiley and Honey Creek, and then became South Braves.
“Getting back together with some of the friends I had made from Honey Creek, at Sarah Scott,” was an upside of the ’71-72 year, said Dave Fouts, a ’72 South grad. Fouts attended Wiley as a sophomore and junior, and like several members of both schools’ Class of 1972, he has a class ring from his previous school.
As past allegiances gave way to new for some, relationships grew. “There were former Tech-Garfield romances that blossomed,” said Reyher, “and some that later turned into marriages.”
Friendships have grown over the years, too. The long hours involved in planning reunions created friendships. Some never had the chance to know each other during their one year together in high school.
“I’ve made more friends after high school with people that I went to school with than I did while I was in high school,” said Greenlee, who is on the South reunion committee.
Since graduating, Usrey, like others, has forged friendships with South ’72 classmates from both Wiley and Honey Creek backgrounds. A cancer survivor, she’s found others who fought that same health battle. “Some of our lives have paralleled,” Usrey said. “Even though we’ve not been together, we’ve come to know we have a lot in common.”
The development of those relationships, hurdling old barriers, takes time.
“That goes with maturity,” Greenlee said. “Over the years, we came to realize that if you put a label on somebody, it’s not always a good thing.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
Classes of ’72 recall the unique blending of former archrivals into North, South
TERRE HAUTE —
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