RIP Woodruff High School 1937-2010

Woodruff High School is dead.  Its execution was ordered by District 150 board members David Gorenz, Laura Petelle, Debbie Wolfmeyer and Linda Butler. As a physician, Gorenz lost “the patient;” Petelle, the attorney, pulled the plug; Wolfmeyer, a school secretary, filed the official death notice; and Reverend Butler, former WPEO radio employee, gave the last rites.
The closing of Woodruff is a community disaster affecting not only more than 1,000 students and their faculty, but the entire north side of the city from Hamilton to Harvard Avenue. District 150 has failed again, signaling the continued deterioration of education leadership in Peoria.
REACTION
Former District 150 superintendent Harry Whitaker has adamantly stated the district will not save money by closing Woodruff. Whitaker discussed the issue with Petelle and said later, “She didn’t appear to be interested in my thoughts.” To be blunt, Whitaker knows more about District 150 and education than Petelle, Gorenz, Butler and Wolfmeyer put together. As mentioned previously, alleged cost-savings have already been lost with the financial commitment to support 225 charter school students and the growing expense to retro fit Central High School for Woodruff students.
I grew up on Peoria’s north side, which, by the way, was never known as the north valley any more than the south side is known as the south valley. My brother first attended Greeley, now closed as a grade school while my sisters and I attended Kingman, also now closed. Longfellow, another north side school, is history as Irving will become. Thanks to this school board, the north side of Peoria has lost virtually every one of its neighborhood anchors. I’ve heard more than one realtor talk about steering prospective residents to Dunlap, Washington and Morton due to District 150’s reputation. Closing schools, modern schools like Woodruff, sure doesn’t help market Peoria.
SOLUTION
Since voters have done a poor job selecting competent and qualified District 150 board members, Mayor Jim Ardis might have the best solution to the city’s educational problems. He’s suggested changing the electoral process to mayoral appointments. It’s a worthy idea to at least consider rather than immediately have a knee jerk reaction like that of Jim Stowell.
WOODRUFF SPORTS
HEROES
The local media did a good job in devoting time and space to the death of Woodruff High School. It was good, yes, but not great. The Journal Star’s one page spread in the sports section fell fall short of giving accurate praise. There were a lot of missing names and much time was spent on relatively recent athletes. Missing were names like Arnold “Fritz” Boich, All State basketball, who went on to play for the University of Nebraska; John Burnham, basketball and baseball, who signed with Baltimore; Don Alford, the Rager brothers, Don and Chuck; four sport athlete Royce Elliott who’s appeared as a comedian at numerous Major League and NASCAR banquets; lineman Leo Davis, former NFL player; Ken  Sutter, football at the University of Illinois; Leo Lukehart, Bob Purdue, Stan Honegger were some other great athletes. They did mention Zack Monroe, spelling his name Zach. Nice touch. However, the biggest goof was ignoring the greatest Woodruff coach ever, perhaps in Peoria, Tommy Correll. With due respect for Virgil Boucher, a football coach, Correll, coached football, basketball, baseball and, yes, track, for first Averyville and Kingman high schools before moving to Woodruff when it opened in 1937. He coached both basketball and baseball for Woodruff and even football before Boucher. Correll was a four sport athlete at Bradley University and won not one but two weight class boxing championships.
Correll, in my opinion, was snubbed by PJS reporter Greg Stewart. By the way, the field alongside the school should have been more appropriately named
Tommy Correll Field. And the Correll name means more than Tommy. Brother Charles was “Andy” on the popular “Amos and Andy” radio show for years and another brother, “Red,” worked for District 150. Tom’s wife, Grace, was an accomplished artist who did art work for Fannie May candies. Correll merited top billing, not Boucher.
Former Woodruff coach Jim Runkle said it best when he said, closing Woodruff “was a wrong decision based on bad information. Time will prove me right. The decision by the school board was a dagger in the backs of the north side neighborhoods.” Reportedly, outgoing board member Gorenz told Runkle, “Get over it.”
WIDMER OPOSES
BEL-WOOD
Peoria County board member Merle Widmer is a nay-sayer. He was strongly opposed to the Riverplex that continues to be one of the more successful riverfront ventures. He’s fired off more than one salvo against Bel-Wood Nursing Home. But, he isn’t the first. I remember when Gary Stella also questioned the financial wisdom of the county and its taxpayers subsidizing the nursing facility.  Widmer’s argument, though based on some erroneous statements, deserves serious discussion by county officials.
I chaired the Health Services Committee that has legislative oversight for Bel-Wood during some turbulent times. I served on the City/County Health Board and spent 25 years in the health field. I chaired the first referendum committee seeking approval for a tax increase. It passed by a 2-1 margin. I remember when Bel-Wood, under the leadership of Chuck Boyer, made a healthy profit. It was a time when around 70% of the residents were private pay. Things are different today. Medicare and Medicaid residents make up the vast majority of the daily census. Their reimbursement rates are way below private pay and payments are months behind schedule. Not counting taxpayer monies, Bel-Wood loses money every year and will continue to do so in the future. Interestingly, with the state in the financial toilet, no one has asked how much the state owes Bel-Wood. Rest assured, it’s big bucks.
Meanwhile, the board has approved plans for a new building. People may remember the first estimated cost was $28 million. Not a shovel has been turned and now we hear quotes of $54 million. Like a lot of new construction, when finished, the cost will be higher. Medical care costs are sky-rocketing. Can taxpayers afford to support Bel-Wood?
STRAIGHT COMMENTS
Congratulations to WMBD-TV for its extensive coverage of the tornado that hit central Illinois. Channel 31 provided the first photos and videos of the damage from Elmwood and stayed with the weather news as late as 11:30 p.m. WEEK switched to its normal programming as early as 10:00 p.m. with news followed by Saturday Night Live.
I nailed it with my exclusive news that Judge Jim Shadid was going to be selected for a federal judgeship and he was.
A tip of the hat to Christine Morris for her excellent letter appearing in the Journal Star that was critical of District 150 board member Laura Petelle for essentially laughing in the faces of Woodruff graduates on graduation night. Petelle, who voted to close the school, showed up as the students received the last diplomas.
It was painful to listen to Rush Limbaugh return to the air and talk about his 3rd or 4th wedding for over a half-hour. I wish him much happiness and hope he’s not striving to match Larry King’s record seven marriages.
Woodruff graduate, Norm Kelly, author of eight books on Peoria, has another on the market, titled, “GENESIS: The Park Murders.” The book sells for $15.00 and can be ordered by calling 692-6387. A portion of the book’s profits will go to the Crittenton Center.
A tip of the hat to Channel 31’s Bob Larson. He received the Broadcast Pioneer Award probably because he came to Peoria from Morris, Illinois, in a covered wagon.
White House reporter Helen Thomas is gone. Known for her sarcastic and confrontational questions for Presidents, usually Republicans, Thomas revealed her dislike for Jews with some stupid remarks. Good riddance to her. Having been to Dachau’s concentration camp, I have no sympathy for those who voice such hatred comments.
Do I have this right? The media and the White House attack the BP executive for attending a yacht race while the oil spill continues but it’s okay for President Obama to play golf and take in a baseball game.
THANK YOU
My wife and I celebrated 50 years of marriage May 22 and the news appeared in the Journal Star resulting in a warm and gracious out-pouring of congratulatory cards and letters. We were humbled by the response. Nancy and I thank everyone for their kindness.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
HAPPY JULY 4TH!