ZHS Class of 1955 - Class History

by Shirley Holdren Smith (Oct. 8, 2005)

The class of 1955 entered first grade in 1943. We remember World War II with its frightening blackouts, food and fuel rations, feed sack clothes, fathers and uncles in the military, paper drives and victory gardens at home, and finally the victory celebrations on Main Street when the war ended.

Seeds of faith were sown once a week through Religious Education class right along with Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. We sat up straight, held our pencils just right, and everyone tried to be right-handed.

As seventh graders we funneled into Hancock, Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland Jr. High Schools to prepare for the high school experience. Ninth graders in the three schools welcomed into the Class of '55 other ninth graders from Muskingum County school districts, some from only three or four-room schoolhouses.

Downtown Zanesville was then a bustling center of stores, banks, churches, theatres, activity centers, restaurants, law and medical offices. The whole nation crawled down Main Street and over the world's only Y bridge on the two-lane National Road which was later replaced by Interstate 70.

The YWCA and YMCA initiated the Class of '55 to polite society through a variety of programs, particularly noontime Kactus Korner and Y-Teens at the YWCA, and Hi-Y and Friday and Saturday night Teen Tyme at the YMCA. Both facilities boasted great cafeterias and offered sports activities as well.

With no school cafeterias, we were on our own for lunch. Some of us went home; some ate packed lunches at school or a sandwich at a nearby downtown shop. If you were at Hancock Jr. High, you hurriedly ate lunch at Kactus Korner so you could join the high school students for ping pong and especially dancing to the preprogrammed juke box. Girls at all three schools became Y-Teens and sang, "We, the younger generation, are striving now to build a better world. Peace and harmony, freedom and brotherhood - this, we have set to be our goal".

Not to be outdone, the YMCA sponsored Hi-Y for guys and Teen Tyme for all of us once we became freshman. Friday and Saturday nights at Teen Tyme were wonderfully grownup as we played cards, pool, ping pong, swam and even danced in a darkened room trying to imitate the handsome upperclassmen and their dates.

As friendships and collegiality grew, we wanted even more of the good times, so we planned hay wagon rides, wiener roasts, square dances at Armco Park, river rafting and wonderful bicycle trip picnics to Dillon Falls in order to take advantage of every possible minute to those magical weekends.

Soon, just as we had always stood on street corners to pass out literature on election days and sold candy and magazines in support of school issues, we were recruited to help raise support for a brand, spanking new high school to be built three miles from downtown on Blue Avenue.

Even though we are known as the first class to graduate from the "new high school", we can never forget those two years at Lash High in the middle of a bustling downtown which was oriented to serve the thousands of teenagers who shopped, studied, played and grew up in its familiar places.

How well we remember the memorable shopping trips to Bintz Bros., Starr, Webers, Margaretta Hat Shop, Artwill Fashions, Pennys, Naders, McHenry's Shoes, Bakers, Talley & Zulandts, the jewelry, hardware and athletic stores. Who could forget the sandwich shops? Olympia sundaes, Katsampe's cherry phosphates, the Nut Shop, and the wonderful Liberty, Weller, Imperial and Grand theatres. With quiet thick carpets, plush mohair seats, velvet curtains, carved balconies, statues and crystal chandeliers, they were the perfect setting for a first date or that first kiss.

Community leaders joined teachers to sponsor social clubs and we learned to plan and conduct benefits, plays, formals, dances, dinners and style shows. Our locally-owned newspaper mentored the student staff of the Zanesvillian, our school paper, which given a full page each week in the Zanesville Signal for High School news. The newspaper also printed full-page features on our special events like IFKA Style Shows. Regine Kimberly and Minnie Brown often wrote about our social activities in the their columns.

The entire student body attended special showings of Quo Vadis and The Silver Chalice at the request of World history teachers. We formed political parties and elected candidates for city offices for a day. We took on charity causes and participated in school and community service projects. We became inducted into school clubs and honorary societies. We were on our way to learning to be good citizens.

At a cost of 4 million dollars and featuring 500 foot hallways, 6 floors and miles of electrical conduit, the new Zanesville High School on Blue Avenue was finally ready for the class of 1955. On the assigned day, students walked from Lash to the new school on Blue Avenue and our school lives and downtown Zanesville were changed forever. Familiar places, faces and mentors were now far away and we seniors struggled to assume expected leadership roles as we made the change from a 50-year-old, city-oriented school to the tiled ceiling and shiny terrazzo floors of our new home "miles away" from downtown.

Our sports teams rose quickly to the occasion. The football team and baseball team had winning seasons. Our legendary basketball team, under coaches Ashbaugh and Slack, went all the way to the State Championship. The first Zanesville State Championship since 1929 and not repeated until 40 years later in 1995. It was an awesome journey to Cincinnati but even more awesome when we returned and it seemed all of Zanesville and Muskingum County turned out to honor our basketball champs. Heralded in the big city newspapers as a 'Cinderella' team, we remember that Crist, Humm, Slack, Gause, Palmer and Toler taught all of us to serve with all your heart , to persevere in the face of impossible odds and to never give up.

We were proud of the diversity of talents of our classmates. Henry Lee was elected class president, Irene Politis, an energenic cheerleader, was vice president and Sue Rittberger (McCullough) and Harry Bronkar were elected secretary and treasurer. Cornelia Bridges (Ferguson) was Homecoming Queen and later chosen as Miss Zanesville. Mary Fish (White) and Irene Politis made lovely senior attendants.

Graduation approached all too quickly. Our class play was performed in the lobby and hallway because construction on the auditorium was not finished. A flurry of end-of-year events were planned by all the clubs.

Then it was time for the long awaited Prom. Wearing bouffant strapless ball gowns floating over crinoline underskirts, we were escorted by dates in white sport coats, cummerbunds and black tuxedo slacks as we danced to the wonderful sounds of an authentic big band. Our music and songs were beautiful and, for the most part, helped us express our cherished thoughts, feelings and ideals. The music of the 50's will live in our hearts forever.

Graduation day and Convocation ceremonies for the first class to graduate from the new High School were held in the beautiful new auditorium. At last, diplomas in hand, we were High School Graduates.

Our classes had been adequate to prepare us for work, a trade or college. For various reasons there are teachers we will never forget. Some we will always love and respect for personal reasons known and understood only by each of us. Each teacher was influential in helping us become the person we are today.

Born during the depression and impressed with the fragility and preciousness of life during WWII, Class of 1955 learned early the lessons of hard work, faith, service to others and sacrifice. Since graduation we have served in local, state and federal government. We have worked to improve education, nursing, engineering, pharmacy, mortuary science, the military, building trades and the ministry. Our mark has been made in education, industry, business and journalism. Whoever we are, whatever we have done, we have done it well and contributed to a higher level of excellence. That is just who we are.

We are rightfully proud of the appreciation shown by our hometown to one of our classmates who recently retired after 45 years of dedicated service and perseverance to build a better community. Jack Fenton's election to three terms as mayor of Zanesville epitomized the character of the Class of '55 as he pursued growth and prosperity through peace and harmony, honesty and hard work. Jack is a good and faithful servant and never gave up on any project he knew would benefit people. He is loved, respected and honored by the public.

So much has transpired since graduation. We have lived good and productive lives. Yet, on this 50th anniversary of our graduation our national security - our way of life - is threatened as never before. We would do well to recall that our class rose out of the nation's greatest depression and deadliest war to see freedom and rebuilding of nations across the globe. We were educated and called to serve our country's new challenges in a period of peace and growth. We rose to those challenges and served well wherever we were called.

It hasn't always been easy. As we share and learn more about one another, we find so many personal tragedies, trials and tribulations. However, like our basketball team, we did not let seemingly insurmountable problems stop us. Faithful and mindful of who we are, we persevered through paralysis, financial setbacks, afflicted children, tragic loss of loved ones, handicaps, and even the threat of death itself. We can be so proud of one another because we have continued to give our best in the face of adversity and ....we never give up.

Scattered across the country and around the world, bonds of friendship have brought us together every five years since 1955. Not for just a dinner - but for an entire weekend of events at Burr Oak, Salt Fork or hometown Zanesville.

The 2005 Reunion, our 50th, will find us enjoying a golf outing, tailgate party, the ZHS homecoming football game, a city bus tour, dinner, dance and sharing fond memories until the wee hours of the morning. Finally hugs and goodbyes following brunch and our worship service featuring our own reunion choir.

And it's not over. Camaraderie continues. Whenever class members are back in town, they can join the ZHS Lunch Bunch that meets the second Tuesday of each month. We share lots of laughs, caring, and fellowship as we recapture that carefree euphoria of being seventeen again! May it ever be so, for we are the ZHS Class of '55, the class that laughs, loves, prays and stays together!

Shirley Holdren Smith