Barbara Aurand is going back to school. So is Judy Alcott.
They hope many graduates and attendees of the former Central High School in Fort Wayne will join them.
On July 18, Aurand, Alcott and graduates and friends will participate in the “Back to School Day” sponsored by Fort Wayne Central High School Alumni Association. Located on the campus of the former high school, which now serves as Anthis Career Center, the event is part of the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival's Senior Day.
“Back to School Day is a giving-back-to and free event for any and all Central attendees,” says Aurand, Class of 1958. “This will be our fourth event ... held in Room 7 of the Anthis Career Center — inside, away from the heat.”
“It's a time to catch up with classmates, reminisce, relax and just remember the good ole days,” adds Alcott, a 1962 grad. “Food and beverages are provided at no cost.”
While visitors enjoy tours of the building, relive happy memories in the Tiger's Den — the association's memorabilia room in Anthis and renew acquaintances, antique autos will be pulling into the parking lot.
“We try to secure older cars from the 1950's and before,” Aurand says, “(but) we have had some newer small sports cars.”
Fort Wayne's first
Central High School opened in 1864, the city's first public high school among numerous private and parochial schools.
Dubbed Fort Wayne Public High School and Manual Training Center, according to Aurand, the alumni association's librarian, the school was on West Wayne Street, approximately where Plymouth Congregational Church is located today.
“The first graduating class in 1865 included four female graduates,” Aurand says. “In 1902, Charles Weatherhogg designed the Barr Street building. It was ready in 1904 and was named Public High School as inscribed above the Barr Street Entrance.”
Weatherhogg, a noted architect who also designed the Blackstone Building, the Masonic Temple, and the Catholic Cemetery's 1918 mausoleum, employed a neo-classical style — a reflection of ancient Greek and Roman architectural concepts — in his design of the structure.
By 1920, the school was overcrowded, necessitating construction of additional public high schools.
“In 1922, (we) became Central High School,” says Aurand. South Side High School opened that year, followed by North Side High School in 1927.
By the 1960s, however, a population shift to the suburbs, dramatically declining enrollment and calls for desegregation led to the decision to close Central High School and begin busing to achieve racial balance. The district also was considering using the building as a technical/vocational school, and it later established as Anthis Career Center.
In the spring of 1971, books and uniforms were packed away, and lockers were cleaned out for the last time at Central High School. The lights dimmed, the halls quieted and the doors closed.
In the fall, half of the teachers and students reported to Wayne High School, and the rest to Northrop. It was the end of an era.
Keeping the memories alive
In 2003, the Fort Wayne Central High School Alumni Association was established to preserve and protect the school's heritage.
“The association strives to maintain the memory of Central's legacy and traditions,” explains Alcott. “Each year, we honor five Central alumni with awards for outstanding achievements. At least six scholarships are awarded every year to Central descendants.”
The 500-member group meets monthly with an October annual meeting to present awards and elect officers. Records are maintained, cataloguing inventory, finances and membership; veterans plaques are restored and updated; trophies, pictures, and athletic items are accepted and inventoried.
“Our collection includes approximately 1,200 recorded items,” says Aurand. “Items cannot and will not be sold or traded. Once the item is recorded, it remains in the CHS Alumni collection.”
In 2010, a Special Projects Fund was established, and Anthis Career Center construction students were hired to build more cabinets.
“... Additional display cases for our significant memorabilia, including sports awards, yearbooks, photographs ... ,” Alcott says.
It also includes a section for the school mascot uniform, Benjie the Tiger, adds Aurand. “Each section represents 10 years of memorabilia.”
The organization also sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, license plates, note cards and calendars with Central logos.
“These are available for purchase in the Tiger's Den or events such as our annual meeting, Back to School Day, and some class reunions,” says Alcott.
“Central has such a rich history and tradition,” she says. “it's not unusual to find more than one family generation has walked its halls. My mother was a 1937 grad.”
“Central High School was a wonderful school,” Aurand notes. “We were one big happy family of students wanting to learn and thrive. I treasure my years at CHS. They were a great foundation for many to come.”