The History of George Rogers Clark High School (1932-1945)
by Frank Vargo
This short history of George Rogers Clark High School is taken from the Golden Anniversary booklet published in 1982 by the Fiftieth Anniversary Committee. It will cover the years from 1932 to 1945. The other installments will tell the story of GRC up to the graduation of the Class of 1982.
In 1932, the United States was in the midst of what was known as the Great Depression. Businesses failed, banks closed, many people lost not only their savings but their homes as well. Unemployment was at 15 million and those that still had a job saw their wages slashed. Despite President Franklin Roosevelt saying, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” many Americans had little hope for the future.
The Robertsdale section of Hammond had received good news in 1929. The Hammond Board of Education had agreed to build a high school on an empty prairie site on 119th Street between Stanton and Davis Avenues. Before this time, area high school students had the option of attending Whiting High, Hammond High or Hammond Tech.
According to the anniversary booklet, George Rogers Clark came into existence on a snowy winter day in February, 1932. The students, who had attended Franklin School, carried all of their books as they walked the six blocks to their new school. Some teachers, accompanied by their principal, also walked with them. Other teachers rode in trucks driven by school workers with the furniture and other supplies.
The name of the school was chosen in a contest by the students with the hope that the school would exemplify the character of the great American Revolutionary War hero for whom it was named.
In 1932 there were 198 students in the high school, grades 9 and 10 only, with an elementary enrollment of 1,031. Being one of the few K-12 schools in the state of Indiana, Clark continued to provide an education for kindergarten through senior students until 1976 when the elementary students moved to the new Franklin School.
During the original construction, the northwest wing of the building collapsed and had to be rebuilt, delaying completion. In 1937, the school board purchased the land which was to become the athletic field. Clark home football games were being played at other schools.
In 1938, ground was broken for the northeast section of the school. This annex, which was completed in 1939, housed the auditorium, library, science and drama rooms.
Highlights – 1935 to 1945
Ninety-four students made up the first class to graduate from George Rogers Clark High School. Graduation was held in the Whiting Community Center Auditorium.
The first school yearbook, The Powder Horn, was published this year. The name was chosen by the student body.
The basketball team was successful with an 18 – 8 record. The most points they scored in a single game was 39.
The band took first place in both district and state contests.
The Debate team won the Greater Chicago Debate League’s trophy.
The teaching staff increased from the original fourteen teachers in 1932 to thirty-three in junior and senior high.
The largest girls’ organization at Clark was called the Girl Reserves. It had 90 members and was a branch of the YWCA.
GRC’s first high school safety patrol was formed. The thirty-six boys wore white belts and worked to protect pupils at intersections before and after school, as well as maintaining order in the halls at noon.
The Clark National Honor Society was organized with fourteen seniors and five juniors honored with membership.
Debate teams traveled over 1,000 miles to participate in events. So many students wanted to join the teams that “A” and “B” squads, as well as a Junior Debate Club, were formed.
In athletics, Clark had three state champions in wrestling, went 6 – 2 in football and 19 – 6 in basketball.
The Debate teams won seventy out of eighty debates and were invited to participate in the national tournament in California.
The girls started two very active clubs as part of the Girl Reserves. These were the Charm and Dramatic Group and the Social Service Group.
Latin and French Clubs were also formed.
The GRC auditorium was completed in April.
A large crowd attended the first football game on Clark’s own field, even though there were no bleachers. They cheered the Pioneers to a 20 – 0 victory over Hobart.
This quote was displayed in the main hall to remind students to give their best effort: “What kind of a school would this school be if all its students were just like me?”
Students actively took part in GRC’s weekly radio hour over WJOB.
For the first time in their athletic history, Clark beat its arch-rival Whiting in football.
Baseball was added to the athletic program as a major sport.
School dances were held in the school gym at least once a month.
With the start of World War II, a Junior Red Cross was formed. They collected scrap metal, offered classes in first-aid, home nursing and knitting.
Clark students sold defense bonds and stamps, collected scrap paper and participated in air-raid drills.
There were twenty-eight clubs to keep students busy. Extra-curricular activities included The Forum Club, the Radio Club and the Aeronautical Club.
Clark students collected 208,000 pounds of scrap. They helped the war effort by rolling bandages and making items to be sent to our soldiers.
The boys Hi-Y Club had a magazine drive to purchase the honor roll plaque in the main hall. Seventy percent of Clark’s graduates entered military service.
Faculty members also did their part. They gave a total of 6,817 volunteer hours to assist Ration Boards, bond sales, the Red Cross, and acted as “war counselors” to the students.
The basketball team won its first sectional championship and the football team brought home the Western Division title.
Service to school and community was the keynote of clubs and organizations this year. Ninety percent of the students bought a war stamp each month. Students filled “goody bags” with candy, books and small games for wounded servicemen and women.
The football team won another conference championship and the newspapers called them “one of the greatest teams in Western Division history.”
The basketball team were conference champs, won the Holiday Tourney, and were ranked number two in the state of Indiana during their nineteen game winning streak.
The Powder Horn was dedicated to the eighteen Clark graduates and one teacher who lost their lives in World War II.
The Student Council raised a total of $33,000.00 in war bond and stamp drives during the duration of World War II.
The first “Sock Hop” was held in the gym.
Once again the football team was great. They were undefeated in the Western Division, won the city championship, and were runners-up for the state title.
The next installment will look at the years 1946 – 1966.