A Tribute to a Teacher: Bernard J. Vesely
By Alexander Kompier
(reprinted from a the Autumn 1990 newsletter of the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society)
I can still see him parking his car on Oliver Street and walking into the north door of the Senior High Building. He was as handsome as any movie star -- tall, slender and impeccably dressed. During the fall and winter he would be wearing a Chesterfield topcoat and a derby. and. very likely, pearl gray spats. In his early Reflector pictures one could see a young man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a waxed mustache.
When he entered the print shop, he would remove the jacket of a three-piece suit. revealing a vest that. in a few minutes, would have its pockets filled with rulers, tweezers, pens and pencils. His attention to his dress was reflected in his work: anything he put his signature to had to be as flawless as possible, in spite of the fact that his students were not the academically oriented students, who could not manage a print shop class in their schedules. Nevertheless, Mr. Bernard J. Vesely had remarkable success with his students. and he always had their respect. Mr. Vesely was proud that his department not only offered his students the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of printing but, also, such related work as making layouts, cutting stock, cutting linoleum blocks, book-binding and English usage.
Mr. Vesely was born in Salinas. Kansas, was a graduate of the Stout Institute of Chicago, and came to Whiting High School in 1921. By 1920 plans had been made to add printing to the industrial department in Whiting, and when Mr. Vesely joined the faculty, a new print shop was installed to print posters. bills. forms and the school paper. Although The Tattler first appeared in October 1916, in a magazine format, the first issue of The Tattler as a semi-monthly, two-column issue of two pages, was printed on October 14, 1921. By 1922 a printing press had been added to the print shop, along with other equipment that was made by Mr. Vesely and the boys in the wood shop. But by 1926 a larger press and more type cases had been added, doubling the capacity of the department.
By 1928 Mr. Vesely and his students were not only publishing a semi-monthly paper but had twice undertaken the printing of the senior Reflector. Moreover, until 1931 it was the custom to publish the high school annual in alternate years only, but now, under the direction of Mr. Vesely, the department had been so organized that the annual could be printed yearly. The 1930 Reflector surpassed all the others by sporting a padded cover. The 1931 and 1932 Reflectors were also printed in Mr. Vesely's department and, as a token of appreciation, the senior class of 1932 dedicated its yearbook to him. It might be interesting to note that the first senior annual at Whiting was printed in 1913.
Prior to 1932 The Tattler was a high school paper of two columns, but now the name was changed to Tattler, and it had six pages of three columns, plus a page of each issue set aside for the Junior High and the grade school. By now Mr. Vesely was involved with over a hundred students who had a definite responsibility in the completion of each issue of the paper.
In spite of the Great Depression, the senior class of 1933 was determined that its name should not go down as the class that did not have a Reflector. Again, Mr. Vesely was given much of the credit for the publication of the year book by not only contributing many of his artistic woodcuts but, also, by directing the actual publication of the book.
By 1934 there were two staffs working together to make the paper a huge success; however, the publication of the paper had to be suspended in March so that the Reflector could be edited and printed by Mr. Vesely and his classes. Mr. Borden Purcell was the faculty advisor for the annual. In 1935 the Reflector was printed by the Delaney Printing Company in Hammond. This was the first of many changes that would affect the print shop.
In 1936 a Camera Club was organized. Mr. Vesely, the sponsor, set up and supervised a dark room and taught the fundamentals of photography, film developing and enlarging.
The 1946 Reflector contained the following tribute "to Mr.Vesely: ''If anything needs fixing, our hard-working print shop chief can do it. If anything needs doing, he can do it."
Another interesting change that occurred in 1945 was the appointment of Miss Ane Marie Petersen as the faculty advisor for the Reflector. Miss Petersen was a 1924 graduate of Whiting and had worked with Mr. Vesely as one of the editors of the yearbook in her senior year, and now in 1945 she again was working with Mr. Vesely. In 1958 Miss Petersen became the advisor for both the Reflector and the Tattler. But Mr. Vesely was no longer involved with the yearbook. He was in charge of the print shop, and although he was printing the school paper on the ''Little Giant." a versatile and speedy printing press, the Tattler was now the only handset paper in the Calumet Region.
More and more changes were taking place in the printing industry: handset type was being replaced by the Verityper and the headliner, and the ''Little Giant'' would be replaced by the offset press. However, Mr. Vesely would not experience these changes because he passed away on 21 June 1963.
Room 14 is silent now. As we try the door, we find it is locked. Not a sound is heard. As we pass by the presses inside, so active only last year, they ''remain silent and still, just as the man who once watched over them with loving and skillful eyes for 42 years," a final tribute to Mr. B.J. Vesely, an educator, artist and gentleman, that appeared in the 1964 Reflector.
By 1966 the cycle had been completed: Mr. Vesely had been replaced by Mr. James Campbell, and Miss Ane Marie Petersen, who had been working with Mr. Vesely since 1924, had been succeeded by Mr. Alexander Kompier. The ''Little Giant'' lay idle in the print shop, along with the cases of type and other printing paraphernalia that never would be used again. All of it was obsolete. The ''new'' print shop contained an offset press. a Verityper. headliner, and scissors and glue. An era had ended. Was it a coincidence that B. J. Vesely passed away just as these changes were being made? Who knows. Nevertheless, even though the art of printing, as Mr. Vesely knew it, is obsolete today, a man like Mr. Vesely, a teacher, artist and gentleman, will never become obsolete.
(After writing the beautiful tribute above, Alex submitted the following information)
The huge oilcan, painted green and white and bearing the name of the ''Oilers." that stood on the roof of the concession stand at the Raymond P. Gallivan football field, was fashioned by Mr. Vesely.
The oilcan served as the trademark of the Whiting Oilers and as a tribute to a wonderful teacher. Unfortunately, it also served as a target for students of rival schools and the vandals in general.
Finally, when the oilcan was removed from the concession stand and left on the railroad tracks, the school administration voted not to replace it.