News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 15, 2014

Being true to their school: Grads dedicate sign to Fontanet High School

TERRE HAUTE — Their school is now gone, but for Beantowners, the pride and memories remain.

On Thursday afternoon, former Fontanet High School students and staff gathered where the school once stood to dedicate a wooden sign installed by the Educational Heritage Association of Vigo County.

The sign stated simply: “Former site —  Fontanet High School — 1914-1961.” (Elementary grades remained open through 1972.)

Sandy Billing, of the Heritage Association, spoke during the program. She presented the sign to “all you wonderful people and all [of the high school’s] former students, teachers, principals, coaches, parents, staff — everybody who was affected by Fontanet High School.”

In an interview, Billing said, “This school meant so much to so many people for such a long time. When it closed, it was rather heart-breaking,” she said. “There is a lot of family legacies and history built up behind these old schools.”

A small plaque will be installed later.

About three dozen people attended, including former students and teachers at both the elementary and high school level. The site now consists of a grassy field and a gravel parking area.

Thomas J. Rogers taught math and coached at Fontanet from 1952 to 1958. “I loved that old school,” he said. Classes were smaller, maybe three or four in an advanced math class or 13 in an algebra class.

He later taught at Terre Haute North Vigo High School for 15 years. “I’ve been retired so long I’m an antique,” he quipped.

He taught “in what I consider the golden age of education. Then, kids showed up with respect and manners. Nowadays, they don’t do that,” Rogers said.

If he had problems with students at Fontanet, he didn’t send them to a dean’s office. “You took care of it right then on the spot. … You paddled them,” he said.

Also attending the event was Marietta (Herb) Cooper, who graduated in 1958. She lived less than a half mile away and walked to and from school every day. “It was all my cousins, my neighbors. Living in Fontanet, you played up here every day, even in summer. It was one of the main parts of your life,” she said.

She remembers the prom and all her teachers. “We were just a real tight group,” she said.  “We all cared about each other.” She’s now involved with the Fontanet Action Community Team, which seeks to revitalize and encourage growth in the small town.

Delores Long Scarbrough, 84, graduated from Fontanet in 1947. She lived 11⁄2 miles away but remembers “we walked to the ball games and we walked back home from the ball games and just had good times.”

She regularly meets with girlfriends from her graduating class and they go out to dinner together.

Joe Cooper spent 10 years at Fontanet (elementary and high school) but had to go to Gerstmeyer his last two years of high school because of consolidation. Fontanet high school students were split between Gerstmeyer and Garfield high schools in Terre Haute.

He, too, has fond memories of Fontanet. “It was like a family,” he said. He participated in basketball and track — and Rogers was his coach.

Joe Cooper is president of the Fontanet Alumni Association, which has an annual whole-school reunion for former elementary and high school students. The next one is June 14 at Holloway Grove, home of the town’s famous bean dinner.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com

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