When school opened in the fall of 1930 I was a married man with a small daughter and I realized there would be no more chasing around to see that the world was like for a long time and I had better decide whether I wanted to continue with teaching or get back into engineering. I enjoyed working with young people, except for the few who were disciplinary problems and the long vacations in the summer would allow me to pursue other interests as well as travel. I was the only mechanical drawing teacher so I was pretty much my own boss and could develop my courses and teach the way I thought best. If I went back to G.E. or some other big company I would have to be a subordinate for a long time. If I continued in the teaching profession, however, I would have to go back to school and get the necessary credits to qualify for a teaching certificate. I still had only a temporary certificate allowing me to teach for one year at a time.
Calvin Koehn, the printing teacher, was in the same situation I was. He had been a journeyman printer and hadn't considered teaching until the new high school in the Heights opened in 1922 and the school board was unable to locate a printing teacher. Cal took the job but was told that he would have to start working in a teacher's college to get his credentials. Cal had a car and we made arrangements to drive to Kalamazoo, a good sized town about 90 miles south of Muskegon where Western State Teachers College was located. We rented a room together not far from the campus and drove to Kalamazoo late every Sunday afternoon, returning to the Heights after our last class on Friday to spend the weekend with our families. Cal had been married for several years but had no children. He and his wife, Nell, later adopted a girl after it became evident they would have no children of their own.
Cal was a very easy fellow to get along with. He was as tall as I but was much heavier, close to 200 pounds. He had been in the army air corps during World War I and had the job of ferrying new planes from the factory to one of the air fields in Texas.
It so happened that our landlord in Kalamazoo was a viola player and the librarian for the Kalamazoo Symphony. I was playing cello almost exclusively by this time but I had never had any lessons except for the one that Elsa Hollister's father had given me to show me the proper hand positions. I asked my landlord about getting a cello teacher from the symphony to give me a cello lesson once a week. He got the first cellist, a very accomplished musician, who showed me all of the important tricks of playing the instrument. I hadn't known I was so ignorant of the technique. Knowing the librarian of the Kalamazoo Symphony was a help to me later when the depression hit and the Muskegon Symphony was having trouble raising enough money to buy new music. I called my former landlord and arranged to borrow music from the Kalamazoo Symphony.
One of the required courses for the acquisition of a life teaching certificate was practice teaching. For teachers planning to teach in the grade schools or academic subjects in high school there was no problem but the teacher of the course, an old maid, didn't know just what to do with me. She finally decided she would come to the Heights after the fall term started and observe what I was doing and give me a grade, or rather marked my record "passed," 4 hours credit. I was using the individual lesson sheets I had worked out for each class and did very little lecturing in front of the group. Each student worked at his own problem and at his own speed while I stood by to answer questions and give advice. I also had to take a course in principles of teaching and one in educational psychology.
C. F. Bolt, the high school principal, and L. L. Tyler, the superintendent of the Muskegon Heights school system, both had their offices in the high school building, small rooms near the front entrance separated by a glass partition. Mr. Tyler was known throughout western Michigan as an excellent speaker and was much in demand by school groups, churches, service clubs and other organizations needing a speaker to address a meeting. Etzel Wilhoit and I had sometimes accompanied him when the meeting was nearby to furnish the music. One of the members of the school board, a lawyer, used these outside speaking engagements as an excuse to force him out of office, claiming that he was neglecting his work. Most of the faculty sided with Mr. Tyler and he stuck it out for another year then resigned and took a position as professor in a teacher's college. The lawyer got the man he wanted for superintendent, W. R. Booker. Plans had already been drawn for a junior high and grade school to be built on an empty lot at Sherman and Peck streets owned by the school board. Mr. Booker was soon installed in new offices in this building with a school board meeting room next to him.
I lost my pal, Etzel Wilhoit, when he took a position in Massachusetts that he obtained thru a teacher's placement agency. He was engaged to marry a girl in the Heights and came back to see her the next year but they broke the engagement and I later learned he had married a girl in the east. I never heard from him after that.
Etzel's place as director of high school music was taken by Ralph Macintire, a big, heavy-set man who had very little knowledge of string instruments; he was a band man but he was also good at developing singing groups. Ralph and his wife, Doris, moved into the apartment Yvette and I had vacated on the second floor of the Nielson's on Sanford Street where we often spent an evening with them. They were newly married and had no children. One evening I asked Ralph if there wasn't a band instrument around that no one was using that I could learn to play. He said the school owned a mellophone that he hadn't found a player for and I could take it home and practice on it if I wished. But if I took it he would like me to play with the band at football games and when they paraded. The mellophone is a very easy instrument to learn. It looks like a French horn and its chief function in a marching band is to furnish the after beats, the "pa" of the "umpa," the bases playing the "um." In concert music it can take the place of the French horn if none are available but in playing marches and waltzes the continual after beats, often on only a half-dozen different notes, can get pretty monotonous. As a consequence mellophones are often known in band circles as "peck horns" and the poorest musicians are usually assigned to playing them. It does, however, require a good sense of rhythm. Beginning music students have some difficulty at first avoiding playing on the beat with the bases rather than on the after beat, or between beats. It took me only a couple of weeks to develop the "lip" necessary for playing the instrument and I was given a band cape (black with orange lining - the Heights school colors), bought a pair of white pants and became the only faculty member of the Heights band until Macintire was able to develop a player who could take my place, a matter of a year or so. That was my first experience playing in a band. That was also the first band the Heights had had.
All teachers in the Muskegon Heights school system were expected to become members of the Michigan Teachers Association, dues being deducted from your salary. Most of the money raised in this way was to pay the expenses of two teacher's conventions, one in October in Grand Rapids and a county convention in Muskegon in the spring. Nationally known speakers were obtained for the general meetings on the first and last days of the convention, the rest of the time being given to small groups. You were expected to attend a group meeting in your own field but about half of the women teachers went shopping. Grand Rapids was the largest town in western Michigan and had some good department stores. Instead of going to a mechanical drawing meeting I often went to the music meeting where, besides a speaker and business meeting, there was always a number or two by a good musical group.
During my first two or three years of teaching I made the trip to Grand Rapids and back on the electric interurban, as did most of the other teachers. By 1926 and 27, however, some of the older teachers had acquired cars and I was usually invited to ride with one of them. The roads were still gravel and passed thru the business districts of all the small towns along the way. Some of the younger teachers liked to rent a hotel room and stay overnight to see a show but the people I rode with preferred to start for home after the afternoon meeting and we would get to the Heights about dark. Even after I had my own car some years later I preferred to miss the evening meeting and get back home. When Congress voted the funds to build the Interstate Highway System, after the second World War, the old electric interurban railways were doomed to extinction. The tracks between Muskegon and Grand Rapids were torn up and a 4-lane paved highway built using the interurban right of way. Electric street cars and interurbans did not pollute the atmosphere the way modern buses do; in that way they were superior. They were unable to move, however, if they lost contact with the overhead trolley wire or the third rail which took its place in the country.
Last modified on 27 November 2017 @ 19:31