Home International Chesterton Middle School farewell tour draws 350; school converting to a YMCA

Chesterton Middle School farewell tour draws 350; school converting to a YMCA

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What began as Chesterton High School in 1924 and ended up as Chesterton Middle School in 2001 is no longer a school. About 350 people showed up Saturday for their last look at the school building they once attended.

The local YMCA will be the building’s next tenant, with the middle school having closed at the end of May.

As might be expected for a school that old, there were many stories to be told during its farewell tour.

Former middle school Principal Jim Ton had fond memories of Goldsborough Gym, built in 1960, four years before he graduated.

There’s a stairway to nowhere on the second floor of the gym, he said. “Some architect made a mistake.” The answer was to just put a closet door on it and lock it, Ton said. He enjoyed showing it to students.

There is also a green “V” on the inside walls of the gym. If you think it’s a Valparaiso High School vandal’s work, it’s probably a good guess. Ton said it likely was in retaliation for someone in his graduating class going to Boucher Field at the old Valparaiso High School, now Benjamin Franklin Middle School, spreading gasoline in the shape of “CHS” on the football field and setting it ablaze. The “CHS” was there for the remainder of the season.

School rivalries were strong back then, and some students got carried away.

In 2000, Ton was given just one year to convert the former high school to a middle school. “We had Bobcats, we had jackhammers, we were taking down walls,” he said.

Some of the pipes were old, dating to 1952.

Ton was the principal at Westchester Middle School during the conversion of the old high school. Bethlehem Steel’s bankruptcy meant Duneland School Corp. lost a small fortune in expected property tax revenue from the district’s largest taxpayer. Ton saw the handwriting on the wall.

So when Ton ordered desks for Westchester, he made sure to order more than he needed there. “You always have spares, don’t you?” he said.

High school students got new furniture when the new school opened.

“If the building is not good enough for high school students, why is it good enough for seventh- and eighth-graders?” Ton asked.

“This has been a very existential experience, going through here,” he said of Saturday’s farewell tour of the school.

Tina Carey, class of 1990, shows her Chesterton High School Trojan Guard marching band T-shirt during a final tour of the school on Saturday. The school closed at the end of May. (Doug Ross/for Post-Tribune)

Tina Carey graduated from high school there in 1990. Her last walk through the school last weekend was “flooded with memories, great memories, very bittersweet,” she said.

Carey brought her Trojan Guard T-shirt. She carried a flag with the marching band.

She was joined by classmates Cindy Jackson and Jennifer Flitter and expected others to show up later.

“We still get together with people we graduated with,” Carey said, seeing each other’s kids grow up and keeping tabs with what’s happening in each other’s lives.

Three generations of Carey’s family attended classes in the building – her mother attended high school there, and her daughter was in middle school.

Carey, Jackson and Flitter recalled having to pick three possible occupations for career day and taking a test to see what careers might be appropriate.

“Mine said Air Force,” Jackson said. “I love flying.” Instead of the military, Jackson became a secretary.

Flitter was told becoming a teacher or bus driver would suit her. She’s now a pharmacy tech.

Carey is a paraprofessional working with special education students.

“We smoked in the park. We were park rats,” she said.

Things have changed since the trio were in school. “If we had a problem with somebody, we would just duke it out in the restrooms,” Carey said.

Cindy Jackson, Tina Carey and Jennifer Flitter, all of whom graduated in 1990, gather for a final walkthrough of their old school on Saturday, June 1, 2024. The former Chesterton High School, which became Chesterton Middle School in 2001, is no longer serving as a school. It will next be used by the local YMCA. (Doug Ross/for Post-Tribune)
Cindy Jackson, Tina Carey and Jennifer Flitter, all of whom graduated in 1990, gather for a final walkthrough of their old school on Saturday. The former Chesterton High School, which became Chesterton Middle School in 2001, is no longer serving as a school. It will next be used by the local YMCA. (Doug Ross/for Post-Tribune)

Jody Bennett was a member of the class of 1976 but dropped out at 16 to go to work. He rattled off a list of teachers who were well-liked.

Bennett also remembers a student filling a toilet with lighter fluid and causing the toilet to explode, somewhere around 1973.

Jeremy Garland, a 2000 graduate, was a member of the last graduating class from the old Chesterton High School. His daughter was a member of the last class to finish middle school in the building.

History teacher Bob DeRuntz was special, Garland said. “He really engaged a lot of students,” Garland said.

Jennifer Frigo was also a member of the last class to graduate high school there. “It was something you’ll never forget,” she said. Frigo remembers socializing with friends in the hallways. “That was always a good time,” she said.

Jeff Crothers, class of 1971, and his wife Beth, 1972, were high school sweethearts. They’ve been married 51 years.

“Discipline is a lot different today than it was back in the day,” he said. “Corporal punishment was allowed. You could get a swat.”

“You got in trouble for chewing gum and talking in class,” he said.

Crothers and Beth were often late to class. “We were always lingering in the hallway too long,” he said.

“A lot has changed, but I liked the school spirit, all of the activities and so forth,” he said. That included sock hops – no shoes in the gym – with music from a jukebox or a garage band.

“My favorite was wood shop,” Crothers said. During his senior year, he needed only four classes to graduate. He took wood shop again, with his teacher making him foreman since he had already passed the class.

“For 30 years, I was a cabinetmaker,” Crothers said. He and Beth operated The Timber Shop in Valparaiso.

“I’m old enough that I’m going to miss that Goldsborough Gym,” he said.

“I knew this school very well,” Crothers said. “There’s lots of memories. I’ll be sad to see it go.”

Doug Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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