Happy Birthday Woodruff High

Woodruff High School was closed in 2010 by a slim 4-3 vote of the District 150 school board. All of those board members who foolishly destroyed the high school are gone, but not the Woodruff Alumni Association. Alumni have announced that the high school will be fondly remembered with an 80th birthday celebration 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9 at the North Perry school. Some alumni wanted to start at 1 a.m., but were ruled out of order by their nursing home supervisors. Just kidding. Anyone and everyone who attended the northside school is invited to join in the Open House celebration beginning with a short program at 1 p.m. in the Commons. Mayor Jim Ardis has issued a proclamation for the event. There’ll be entertainment, memorabilia displays and tours. Most importantly, Woodruff graduates will be able to socialize with some classmates they haven’t seen in years. No reservations are required and there’s no charge. Yours truly will MC the short program, and I’ve promised no Royce Elliott jokes. But I’ve broken that promise before.

According to local historian and Woodruff graduate, Bob Sulaski, Woodruff is the second oldest city high school. It began in 1891 as Averyville High School. The two-room wooden structure was located at 3002 North Adams near the village hall. As Averyville grew, so did the need for a larger school. A new building opened in 1903 at the corner of North Madison and Sloan as Kingman High School. With a bitter fight among Averyville residents, the village was annexed by Peoria in 1928 and Kingman became a part of the Peoria school district. My Dad had a barber shop in the 2900 block of North Adams. Remnants of that shop remain today as an annex to the tavern at Adams and Fairholm. I remember Dad telling me about the heated arguments people had in Averyville about annexation. Dad said he supported annexation and as a result, lost a number of customers who were opposed. I asked him why he didn’t stay out of the debate.
He said, “Both sides would then be angry, and I wouldn’t have any customers. I had to take sides and I did.”

The city of Peoria continued to grow as did the area once known as Averyville creating a need for an even larger high school. Kingman had been a K-12 school, but when the school district opened a new high school building at 1800 North Perry, Kingman was designated as K-8. The new high school was named after E.N. Woodruff, who had served multiple terms as mayor. In August of 1937, 1,039 students entered the building. By the way, when it was closed in 2010, Woodruff had almost the same number of students. They held a two-day dedication celebration in October of 1937. More than 3,000 dignitaries from Peoria and Illinois attended the event.

It’s dangerous to do, but some of the notable graduates included singer/composer Dan Fogelberg, New York Yankee World Series pitcher Zack Monroe, comedian Royce Elliott, former District 150 superintendent Harry Whitaker (who was totally opposed to the closing of Woodruff), former University of Illinois School of Medicine at Peoria Dean Dr. Don Rager and his brother, Chuck, who became Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Caterpillar. Tami Lane went on to win an Oscar for her work in Hollywood as an artistic make-up artist. I apologize for failing to name others who are so deserving of recognition, especially those Woodruff students who died while serving in the military. God bless them. I hope to see everyone at the 80th birthday party.

Most people who know me and/or listen to our morning show, ”Breakfast with Roger and Friends” on FM 90.7, are aware of my affection for the late comedian Jonathan Winters. We had a wonderful and close relationship for close to 10 years, though we had never met person-to person. Phone calls lasting an hour to 90 minutes were common. When his wife Eileen was close to death, he called to share his thoughts and did it again hours later after she died. You don’t forget such moments and I haven’t. So when I answered the phone recently to hear the voice of his daughter Lucinda, I was excited especially when she told me a book had been published about her father’s life. The paperback is titled, “Jonathan Winters: My Life: ‘In Search of a Playground,’” and is available from Amazon for $17.95. She sent me a copy. Jonathan left over 1,000 pages he had written about his life from birth to just about his death. Close friend Peter S. Ferrara blended his thoughts and words with many of Jonathan’s to create a wonderful and descriptive account that’s funny, insightful, and, yes, at times, sad. Jonathan had to fight a number of ”demons” in his life to become one of the funniest entertainers ever. And he was always clean; a reputation of which he was quite proud. I’m proud to say I loved Jonathan like a father and miss our telephone conversations. You’ll enjoy the book and the life of Jonathan Winters.

“Always leave ‘em laughing! I buy that, but once you’re off the stage, make sure you get your check.” —Jonathan Winters

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