HISTORY OF JTHS
THE HISTORY OF
JOLIET TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL
Lynne M. Lichtenauer
Director of Alumni Relations
Year Dedicated &
Opened April 1901
A statement made at the April 4, 1901 dedication by Board of Education member, Henry Leach: “One of the greatest and best pages in Joliet’s history is being written today, for the people are dedicating an institution that will have an influence for good and right in the world.”
Year of Name Change Fall 1964
JTHS Name / Mascot Steelmen
(Historic brand of the school mascot)
JTHS March “March of the Steelmen”
Composed by Charles S. Belsterling, Vice President of United States Steel Company
The march was dedicated to the JTHS band in
March of 1937.
JTHS School Colors Blue (Royal) and Gold
JTHS Newspaper J-Hi Journal
JTHS Yearbook The “J”
JTHS Victory Light Erected Fall 1959
The official song of Joliet Township High School was copyrighted in 1927. Student leader and drum major, Warren Wood, Class of 1927, composed the music. His ‘27 classmates, Florence Martin (Mrs. Chester W. Stilson,) Claude Robison and Allen Touzalin, penned the lyrics. It was first sung at a pep rally that initiated the 1927 basketball season. To this very day, every member within the ranks of the JTHS alumni feels the thrill of pride each time they stand to sing the following words….
Joliet High, we’re always loyal,
To thee we’ll e’re be true,
With a battle cry of “Onward,”
We will fight for Gold and Blue.
Joliet High is on to battle
We’ll conquer ev’ry foe,
We have a fighting spirit
On to vict’ry we will go!
It was the people of the Joliet area who first had the vision for this extraordinary school. Known as Joliet Township High School, local architect, Frank Shaver Allen, designed the building and envisioned the structure as a “palace of learning and culture.” It was built as a lasting monument to the progressive spirit of a wide-awake community.
The castle-like building at 201 E. Jefferson Street doesn’t look like most high schools, but more like a museum with marble floors and arch-shaped doorways. Allen designed the exterior of the school in collegiate Gothic with Joliet limestone and Bedford stone trim for the windows and doors. Marble was used for the halls, stairs, and wainscoting. Even a Swiss woodcarver was brought to America to design the doors and entrances of oak with traditional Gothic arches.
When one tours the building, the Gothic style can be seen from the brass doorknobs with JTHS spelled out in relief to the carved wooden doors. Arched designs are repeated in wood trim, entrances and the hardware on the doors, including the iron stair risers and railings. Even the hinges were shaped with a Gothic arch design, which were supplied by the Barrett Hardware Company of Joliet.
Although JTHS passed its 108th anniversary this year, it is a misconception to think that the Joliet area didn’t have a high school until 1901. Joliet’s first high school was established in 1880 when East and West side schools got together under Superintendent Colonel D.H. Darling. At that time, the school of 200 students and five faculty members was located at the northeast corner of Chicago and Webster Streets.
In 1899, the Joliet Township High School District was established with boundaries beyond the city so it could broaden its tax base. Under the direction of Dr. J. Stanley Brown, the new public high school was built. Construction began in 1900 by the Adam Groth Company, Joliet contractor, and the dedication ceremonies were held on April 4, 1901. The opening of the new high school was cause for a weeklong celebration. The high school featured the “new” electric lights as well the gaslights of the era. According to the statement of construction costs that included the grounds, building and all equipment, the grand total was $220,382.00. At the time, the building was characterized by Andrews S. Draper, President of the University of Illinois, “as the finest high school building in America.”
The first Board of Education was comprised of the officers, Honorable Judge A.O. Marshall, President, and Truman A. Mason, Secretary, and the Board Members, Honorable Judge D.F. Higgins, Henry Leach, and Henry Banzet. The first Superintendent was Brown and the first Assistant Superintendent was C.E. Spicer.
On opening day, JTHS welcomed 235 students, however, the school’s population quickly grew and by 1915 there were more than 1,000 attending classes. Additions and extensions were completed in 1908 (addition of former gymnasium,) 1917 (expansion of original building,) 1922 (boy’s gymnasium expansion,) 1924 (new auditorium,) and 1931 (girls’ gymnasium.)
The new 2,100-seat auditorium was designed by the D.H. Burnham Co. of Chicago. The Diogenes quotation, “The Foundation of Every State is the Education of its Youth,”(suggested by Superintendent Dr. L.W. Smith in 1925) has left its imprint on an entire community and can still be seen today on the proscenium arch above the stage.
The high school building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982 largely due to the efforts of historians Dorothy Crombie and Mary Tracy and with the assistance of the JTHS Archives Committee.
The Doughboy is a sculpture standing at the top of the stairs at the Herkimer Street entrance to the school. This familiar JT icon was presented by Conrad M. Braun as a memorial to the 34 students and 6 faculty members who served in World War I. The statue entitled The World Soldier depicts a young doughboy in puttees.
Louis Joliet…Joliet’s namesake. In 1907, the play “David Garrick” was presented by the high school alumni association to help raise money for a bust of Louis Joliet to be placed over the Jefferson Street entrance. The cast was mainly comprised of postgraduate students who were highly successful in raising funds for the project. Today, the bust, created by Joliet sculptor, William LaFaver, can still be seen above the original entrance to the high school.
The beautiful and impressive Armistice Day program was an annual tradition to honor and pay tribute to the many members of the faculty and staff who served the country in the armed forces in time of war.
Musical theater productions are part of the rich history of the high school’s theater presentations, which includes both musicals and the dramas presented by talented students for over 108 years. As a tribute to the high school’s theatrical reputation, the JTHS Archives committee formed a partnership with the Friends of Community Public Art to create a musical theater mural. The mural can be seen across from the auditorium doors at the top of the staircase. Among the musicals depicted are South
Pacific, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, H.M.S. Pinafore, Bye Bye Birdie, and Oklahoma. Two faculty members responsible for directing most of the musicals shown in the mural are Robert Howell (retired) and Michael Zigrossi.
***THE JOLIET TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL BAND PROGRAM***
Along with academics, JT perfected a music program, which by the late 1920s was known as the best in the nation.
The JTHS Band was organized in December of 1912 at the request of Mr. H.A. Stillman, then a member of the Joliet Township High School Board of Education. In 1913, A.R. McAllister, a manual training teacher who played the cornet, was asked to organize a band. Three Joliet Rotarians, who were also members of the school board, Al Oldhaver, Herb Spencer and Art Montzheimer, purchased the musical instruments and band uniforms from Rotarian George Wiswell’s Music Store. Thus, the storied band legacy began in a manual training (industrial arts) room. Nail kegs were used for the band’s chairs, but the dreams of the group were not so humble. By January, 1914, there were 18 boys in McAllister’s band and the band made its first appearance in April at a basketball game. By 1917, it was recognized as the finest high school band in the state. In 1923, the band was invited to St. Louis as the official band of the 40th district Rotary convention.
Under McAllister’s baton, the band went on to win state championships in 1924, 1925, and 1926 followed by the national championships in 1926, 1927, and 1928.
(They competed in the National Contest in 1926 in Fostoria, Ohio; the National Contest in 1927 at Council Bluffs, Iowa; in 1928 in Joliet.)
One of the greatest honors the Joliet band had ever received was at the third National Band Contest held in its hometown May 24, 25, and 26, 1928. The city was host to over 2,000 band boys and girls representing 20 states. One of the three prominent judges was John Philip Sousa, the “March King.”
Following the grande parade, it was announced that the Joliet band was the best marching band as well as the best band in all the other competitive performances. The JTHS band had again won the national championship. Mr. Sousa, himself, presented the National Trophy to the band before a hometown crowd. And, since winning the national championship for the third consecutive time, the JTHS band acquired permanent possession of the Trophy. Later that summer, the band was personally invited by Sousa to join him in Chicago to play under his baton at the Auditorium Theater. Sousa’s most famous march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” is one of the most requested pieces to be performed by the high school band.
According to the 1929 yearbook…In ’29, the national contest was held in Denver and the JT band decided not to participate as a favor to the other bands; however, the JT band was invited as a guest band. This was the highest honor to ever be given a high school band.
After capturing six first places at the ’29 District Solo contest in Elgin, the boys went to Urbana to compete for state honors. As usual, the band ran away with the contest, taking six first places, two seconds and one third place. At this competition, the band took the opportunity of showing Mr. McAllister their appreciation and thanks for all he has done for them. Following is the cheer from the band members:
“Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah, McAllister! Who? McAllister! Yeah!”
They were victorious taking national titles again in 1931, 1933, 1935, 1938, and 1940. The band was renowned for winning all regional contests up to 1964 at which time JT split into three campuses.
The band was the morale builder of the drafted boys as they left for service to their country in World War II and the Korean conflict. The band played at every send-off, no matter the time, the location, or the weather conditions.
In order to ease the strain confronting the band from the many requests it received for performances, McAllister, in 1936, combined the 130 musicians composing the organization and divided them into two smaller units, known as the Blue Band and the Gold Band. These were under the leadership of the senior student conductors and their assistants.
According to the 1943 yearbook…”A.R. McAllister is the man responsible for the many fine accomplishments of the band. He is recognized as one of the greatest bandmasters of his era.”
Across the nation in September of 1944, thousands mourned McAllister’s death at the age of 63. He had become nationally known among band directors as the “father of the high school band program.”
In early 1945, Alex Zimmerman, head of the high school’s music department and director of the choirs, replaced McAllister for the remainder of the year. Mr. Bruce Houseknecht was then named Director of the Band in 1945. A position he held until his retirement in 1969 following the transition from JT to JT Central. His successor was Ted Lega, who continued the winning legacy for 33 years, retiring in 2002. It is notable that in 90 years, the JT band had only three directors. Now known as the JT Central band, it is under the very able leadership of Mike Fiske and continues its winning ways.
Unforgettable events have taken place throughout the history of the band, which will live in the memory of so many forever. Included in these memories are unequalled moments such as the week long performances presented at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 1936, the 21 popular concert appearances in California in 1940, leading the Illinois section of President Eisenhower’s Inaugural Parade in 1953 as well as all the other famed occasions and the many national awards.
The Joliet Township High School Band has a record unequalled by any other school organization in the country. This can be proven by the many trophies and awards possessed by the champions. The JTHS Band will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012.
***JOLIET TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL ORCHESTRA***
Records show evidence of a student orchestra as early as 1905. The ’05 picture appears in the 1951 golden anniversary yearbook. It is also said that a high school orchestra performed at the dedication ceremonies in 1901 thereby giving the orchestra the proud distinction of being the oldest organization at JTHS. However, there is not much written documentation about this first orchestra.
It wasn’t until 1912 that Mr. Hiram A. Converse was hired to organize the first orchestra and became the first regular member of the faculty to direct the orchestra. Fifteen musicians made up the organization: eight violins, two cornets, a flute, a clarinet, drums, a piano, and a string bass player. Rehearsals were held three times per week in a variety of locations including the “old” auditorium (which is now the present band/orchestra room,) classroom 229, the school’s greenhouse or St. John’s Lutheran Church (the present Little Theater.)
Converse was not a full time director until 1925 at which time an orchestra room was equipped with an acoustically treated ceiling and lockers that are still in use.
He entered the orchestra in its first state competition in 1927 at the Illinois State Normal University and the orchestra won first place. In 1931, in Springfield, the orchestra won the state championship for the third consecutive time and was permanently awarded a very impressive silver and bronze trophy. This trophy may be seen in the trophy cases outside the school’s main office. The orchestra also won high honors in 1932, 1933, and 1934. And, by 1942, the orchestra had been national champions seven times.
Following 35 years of service to the Joliet Township High School Orchestra, Converse retired. A spring concert was held on March 19, 1948, which was his final public appearance as the JT director. For seven more years, he directed at St. Francis Academy. Converse passed away on October 30, 1959.
Mr. Peter Labella, Jr. was named the orchestra director in the fall of 1948. He was a graduate of the Eastman School of Music. Under Mr. Labella’s leadership, the JT orchestra received superior ratings in all contests entered during the years 1949, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1961.
In 1957, the JT orchestra was the only group of musicians to receive the Superior or Division I award at the state contest. In 1965, both the East and West campuses opened and Peter Labella assumed the directorial duties at all three campuses. Mr. Labella retired in the early 1980s.
***THE JTHS CHOIRS***
Since the opening of the school, there have been a number of vocal music groups such as the mixed chorus, senior chorus, junior chorus, sophomore chorus, freshman chorus, boy’s chorus, girls’ chorus, treble choir, a capella choir, and madrigals. Also, operettas have always been part of the extraordinary music program. Among the choir directors over the years were Isabelle Boyd, E.B. Brockett, Albert Hindle, Robert Howell, Roy Johnson, Paul Lester, Elizabeth Mosiman, Walter Rodby, and Alex Zimmerman. The choirs have consistently received high recognition bringing many honors and awards to the high school.
The original two-story music room with the balcony has been divided into classrooms. The original room is a classroom on the second floor and the choir room is directly above it on the third floor.
***THE JTHS R.O.T.C. CADET CORPS***
Organized in 1917 at the peak of World War I, the ROTC was the idea of three Joliet high school students inspired by a visit to the ROTC program at the Wendell Philips High School, Chicago. Beginning with an initial enrollment of 32 members and four officers, JT’s ROTC quickly expanded its ranks. In 1919, the school board felt it necessary to hire a full time instructor, Colonel B.J. Tillmen, who aided the progress and growth of the ROTC. Through the years, the ROTC cadets have received ratings of excellence along with many other honors rendering themselves invaluable to the school and to the community. Cadet-sponsored activities over the years have included military balls, dinner dances, Christmas fundraising campaigns for the Salvation Army and other campaigns to benefit needy families in the community.
***THE TRADITION OF IVY DAY***
Ivy Day, a traditional ceremony each year beginning with a solemn procession of all graduating seniors in caps and gowns, ended by the planting of ivy. The ivy, a symbol of growth and lofty commitment, was left by each graduating class as a memorial to its accomplishments.
***THE HI-Y CLUB***
In the spring of 1922, five Joliet Township High School students and their teacher, Victor Plummer, attended an “Older Boys Conference” in Decatur, IL. This led to the formation of the Hi-Y Club, which became the nucleus from which the present YMCA grew. Plummer and Rev. A.W. Hoffman served as leaders.
***THE TRADITION OF MISS J AND MR. J***
The “J” staff of 1959 introduced a new idea hoping it would become a tradition. The yearbook staff proposed the selection of a Mr. J and Miss J. By participating in school events and actively supporting the school in its activities, seniors with a B average or more were eligible for candidacy. The winners were announced at the junior and senior prom. The first Miss J was Carol Levering and the first Mr. J was Duane Paul. Each year, since 1959, a senior girl and a senior boy have been selected Mr. J and Miss J, as ideal seniors.
***JTHS ATHLETES MADE THEIR MARK***
Over 100 hundred years ago, football was only an inter-class activity. In 1902, the school board hired Coach Wilson S. Kline to build a JT team. But that was not the only thing he had to build. He had to build a football field as well. Coach Kline selected 25 promising boys from the school and trained them in the sport. After each training day, they worked on the field. The first game in JT’s football history was against Aurora played in Joliet. JT won 12-0.
The 1930s were a great decade as Coach Doug Mills guided the JT team to four straight championships in 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1935. The year 1941 brought the JT football squad the best season in conference play. The Blue and Gold were undefeated conference champs and placed second in the state under Coach Herm Walser. He also led the Steelmen team to second place in 1944 and 1947. The Steelmen carried on the fighting spirit and have been supported by their fans since 1902.
The JT basketball team played inter-class games until 1910 when for the first time the Blue and Gold cagers entered school competition, winning the county championship that year. The year 1916 proved to be one of the most successful seasons when JT won 20 out of 22 games winning them the North Eastern Illinois championship. JT’s teams captured honors in conference play in 1917, 1923, and 1927. As a matter of fact, in 1920, the team captured the district basketball crown and the city went wild. It is said that 5,000 spectators came to Joliet to watch JT upset Waukegan 50-14.
In 1935, JT won the district and sectional crowns, and in 1936 became Big 7 champs. They climaxed their greatest season in the history of the school in 1937 when the “Walsermen” won the Illinois Basketball Championship at Champaign. They defeated Decatur 40-20.
Whether it was on the football field, the basketball court, the tennis courts, the baseball field, the golf course, on the track, or anywhere else, when the JT boys and girls competed in sports, they made their mark and the school’s sports program was known statewide. There were wrestling standouts as one recalls the outstanding records set by JT’s men of the mat. One thing JT fans could always rely on throughout the years was the mettle with which all JT athletes competed.
Among the names secure in JT’s coaching lore are Herm Walser, Doug Mills, Don Keinlen, Roger Swank, Frank Miller, and Ken Parker. Parker, a JT graduate and a member of the University of Illinois’ basketball “Whiz Kids” of the early 40s, coached basketball, football and track at JT from the early 50s to the early 60s.
They were “The Prison City Boys” before they were Steelmen! That’s how the teams were known in the early years prior to the famed statue’s arrival in 1935. The Steelman statue stands leaning forward into the future and is dear to the hearts of many alumni. It represents the school’s spirit to all. The high school’s famous sculpture was created by Louise Lentz Woodruff (1893-1966) for the Chicago World’s Fair, “A Century of Progress,” in 1933-34. At the fair, the magnificent statue was placed in front of the Hall of Science representing “Science Advancing Mankind.” The eight bas-reliefs that accompanied the Steelman to the school represent astronomy, botany, chemistry, geology, mathematics, medicine, physics and zoology.
Woodruff was, indeed, herself a student at JTHS entering in 1906. Her dramatic statue of the The Steelman became the official mascot in 1935 when she presented the sculpture to her alma mater.
Vivian Long Ziech was a junior student in 1935 when she submitted the name in an all-school contest to name the statue. Her winning essay stated that the name should be the Steelman because “Joliet is a steel town and the JT teams play like men of steel.” The golden anniversary of the Steelman was celebrated in 1985 with a limited edition calendar. Traditionally, the school celebrates the Steelman’s birthday on October 10th each year.
In 1965, Woodruff again presented a sculpture to the school, which she titled “The Steelman.” It was a small bronze model of a steelworker holding a large dipper-like tool used in the conversion of pig iron to wrought iron. The process was called puddling. The students re-named the statue “The Puddler.”
POPULAR JTHS YELLS!!!!
From the 1942 Yearbbook…
Yea Blue, Yea Gold
Yea Joliet Let’s GO!
Our team is red hot –yeah man!
Our team is red hot –yeah man!
Our team is red hot –YEAH MAN!
Che hi, Che ha
Che ha ha ha
Rah, Rah, Rah!
Boom chica boom, boom chica boom,
Ricka chica, Ricka chicka, Ricka chica boom!
Sis boom bah, sis boom bah,
Joliet, Joliet, RAH! RAH! RAH!
Fight team fight,
Fight team fight,
Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight,
Fight team fight!
We have a school,
We have a yell,
We have a team,
That fights like --- yea Joliet!
Blue and Gold
JTHS we’re all for you
With your colors blue and gold
Do your best and we’re sure to win
Let our colors never fold
Hold that line for Joliet High
For our aim is victory
Show your fighting spirit
While we all cheer it
For honor of old J High
JOLIET TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES
NAMED AMONG THE “100 ATHLETES OF THE CENTURY”
IN THE CENTENNIAL YEAR OF 2001
CLASS ATHLETE ACHIEVEMENT:
’49 Charles Baldon All-State Football / 5th in state in 440
’48 Walt Beich All-State Football 1ST team
’32 Augie Belzner State Champion / pole vault
’45 Stan Bjekich All-State Football 1st team
’52 Labron Boykin All-State Football
’57 Charlie Brown Basketball / Cross Country / Track
Basketball at Bradley University and Creighton
UPI All American 1st team
’42 Ian Crabb State Champion swimmer / 100-yd. Backstroke
’48 Earl D’Amico Undefeated State Champion Wrestler
’49 Ted Faynik (Wild Bill State Champion Wrestler / Professional
’62 Lou Gale All-State Football / Baseball
’44 Bernie Gerl Professional baseball / Catcher for the St. Louis
’36 Vic Getson All-State Basketball
’08 Merritt Giffin State Champion in discus and 880 / U.S.
Olympic Silver Medalist Shot Put / London 1908
’16 Earl Gilfallin State Champion /120 High Hurdles / 800 Relay
’57 Ken Glasgow H.S. stand out Baseball pitcher / Basketball
’48 Don Govoni Undefeated State Champion Wrestler / two-time
NCAA All American Wrestler / Hall of Fame /
’42 Ralph Gruben All-State Football
’16 Russell Hargreaves State Champion 50-yd. Dash / 800 relay
’04 Harry Hohisel World Champion Wrestler both Amateur and
’55 Dan Imrie Multiple sport athlete, sixth in state for mile /
second in state Cross Country
’57 Mike McBride Baseball H.S. All-American / Basketball
Athlete of the Year
’16 Bill Jacobs State Champion 440-yd. Dash / 800 relay
’40 Lois Janeke-Gregory Championship bowler / golf and softball athlete
’34 Don Jones State Champion Tennis singles / All-State
’56 Jerry Keigher H. S. Baseball / Basketball standout
’36 Bill Lenich All-State Football
’37 Ben Macuk All-State Basketball
’45 Eugene “Goo” Martin All-State Football
’57 Mike McBride Baseball / Basketball / High School Baseball
’06 Dwight McNally State Champion 440 yd. Dash
’39 George Munroe Multiple athlete / Basketball / Tennis / college
basketball at Dartmouth, professional basketball with the St. Louis Bombers and Boston Celtics
’25 Borgia Orlovich State Champion 440 yd. Dash
’47 Virginia Tezak Papesh All-American / Girls’ Professional Baseball
League / Played for the “Racine Belles / Listed in baseball’s Hall of Fame Cooperstown, NY / depicted in movie “League of Their Own”
’49 Jim Rawley All-State Football
’29 Ernest “Pug” Rentner All-State / All-Conference in Basketball and
Football / 12 letters for shot put, discus, high
jump, basketball / All-American halfback
at Northwestern University
’44 Dave Shapiro State Champion Wrestler / NCAA Champion
heavyweight wrestler at University of Illinois
’54 Bob Sims Football All-State / All-Conference / Honorable Mention All-American Halfback
’64 Dale Spier Baseball / Basketball / Minor league player
with N.Y. Yankees and San Francisco Giants
’54 Mickey Spiezio Professional bowler / state bowling champion
3 national PBA titles / two Olympic Gold Medals
one Bronze Medal / Member Illinois Bowling
Hall of Fame/ ABC World Champion
’59 Eddie Spiezio Major League third baseman with San Diego
Padres, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox / Owns two World Series rings
’38 Mary Jane Sporar Bowling columnist for over 50 years / inducted
into four bowling halls of fame / earned over 70 titles in swimming and diving from the YMCA and AAU
’32 Bob Stephen State Champion in shot put / All-State Football
’64 Bill Sudakis H.S. two-time All-Conference baseball / H.S.
basketball standout / Major League third
baseman and catcher with Los Angeles Dodgers, N.Y. Mets, Texas Rangers, N.Y. Yankees,
Cleveland Indians and the California Angels /
Professional bowler in the off seasons
’48 Roger Swank All-State 440-yard dash & 880-yard relay /
Three Big Ten titles in the mile relay U of I /
played football University of Illinois
’64 Billy Boy Thompson Boxer / Amateur Heavyweight champion
capturing both CYO & State crowns ’66 through ’72 /In 1970, voted #1 heavyweight amateur in United States / Football at JJC playing defensive end & made All-conference team
’53 Ike Trice State Heavyweight Wrestling Champion / Track
All-Conference in Football
’45 Jim Valek All-State Football / University of Illinois
Football Coach / American Football League Coach
’56 Larry Waddell Baseball / Basketball / ’56 Athlete of the Year
’63 Jim Walser All-State Football
’40 Frank Wardley All-State Football / Basketball
’33 Jay Wardley All-State Basketball / Football
’63 Bill Wehrspann H.S. Triple sport standout in baseball /
basketball / football / Big Ten football University of Wisconsin
’64 John Williams All-State Football / State Champion
’64 Charlie “Choo Choo” All-State Football / All-American High School
Winters Football / University of Nebraska Football
In addition to the above athletes, over 400 JTHS athletes were named to the roster of “2001 Distinguished Athletes of the Century.”
TO THE JOLIET AREA SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Class of 2003 – induction June 12, 2003
When it comes to Joliet area sports, Don Ladas is the authority. Since 1950, Ladas has been a media fixture on the scene, first as a sportswriter for the Herald News from 1950-54, and over the past 50 years as a sportscaster for WJOL Radio. From high school and college baseball, basketball, and football to wrestling, bowling, boxing, golf, billiards, and archery, Ladas has broadcast well over 5,000 games and events during that time. He is enshrined in seven halls of fame, most notably the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, Illinois Sportscasters, Joliet Junior College, State of Illinois Bowling and Will County Bowling. He also has been recognized as “Man of the Year” by several area organizations.
- Ernest “Pug” Rentner – JT ‘29
The first four-year letter winner at JT in each of three sports (football, basketball and track), Rentner became one of the most feared backs of his time at Northwestern University in the days when college athletes only had three seasons of eligibility. He was known as a “triple threat halfback” who led his team to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1930 and 1931. One of the top vote getters along with Otto Graham to NU’s all-time football team and a College Football Hall of Fame recipient, Rentner went on to play professionally for four seasons with the Boston Redskins and Chicago Bears.
One might be able to describe Spiezio’s 24-year baseball career as magical. No matter what level of ball he played from Little League to Pony League, and from college to the Major Leagues, Spiezio and his teams found success as evidenced by their seven World Series berths. In ’64, when he was a first year major leaguer and member of the St. Louis Cardinals there was the title matchup with the New York Yankees followed in 1967 with a St. Louis championship against Boston. In 1968, Spiezio and the Cardinals were back in the Series but were denied a second straight title by Detroit. In his nine-year major league career, the third baseman also played for the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox.
Class of 2004 –induction June 17, 2004
The first athlete to bring international acclaim to the Joliet area, Merritt Giffin did so with his performance in the discus throw at the 1908 Olympics in London. His throw of 133-6 ¾ earned him the Silver Medal for the United States. The showing for Giffin closed out a dominating senior season for the JT football captain, who earlier that year claimed his third straight state high school title in the event, while placing fourth in both the 880-yard run and shot put. Giffin also excelled in the hammer throw, setting school records similar to the ones he set in the shot put and discus. In New York competition in 1906, he set a national high school record and in 1908 set a world record while a student at the University of Illinois.
At JT, Sudakis was a multi-talented athlete who was a three-year All-Conference selection and senior-year All-State pick with the Steelmen. He played eight consecutive seasons in the Major Leagues, being called up by the Dodgers in 1968. He homered in his first major league game and one week later hit his first major league grand slam. Sudakis had the ability to play anywhere – first base, third base, catcher and the outfield. His teams included the Mets, Rangers, Yankees, Angels, and Indians. In 530 career games, Sudakis, a switch hitter, collected 362 hits and 214 runs batted in, while batting .234. While at JT, Sudakis also excelled in basketball where he was a two-time All-Conference choice.
- Billy Boy Thompson – JT ‘64
One of the most dominating amateur boxers of his day, Billy Boy Thompson
took up the sport after graduation in the spring of the year training at the Peter Claver Center. Six months later, he captured his first CYO title. Thompson went on to capture five other CYO crowns, five Illinois Golden Glove titles, and three state heavyweight championships in a career that spanned 10 years. Described as “having the best right hand in America” by the Chicago Tribune, Thompson was voted the No. 1 amateur boxer in America at the heavyweight level by the Amateur Boxing Association in 1970 after claiming the National Gold Glove Championship that year. Two years earlier, Thompson left an equally lasting impression with George Foreman, whom Thompson knocked down in the first round of their 1968 Olympic Trials. Thompson was an All-Conference defensive end in football at JJC. He had numerous opportunities to turn pro as a boxer; however, he hung up his gloves in 1973 after winning 110 of his 125 matches, 95 by knockout. Had he turned pro, it is generally regarded that Thompson would have been a contender for the heavyweight crown.
From player to coach to management, Jim Valek covered the gamut in a football career that spanned more than 50 years. Valek was a two-way starter for the Steelmen earning All-State recognition in 1944. At the University of Illinois, he went to the Rose Bowl with the team in 1947 and beat UCLA 45-14. In 1948, Valek was named the team’s MVP and earned an invitation to the Blue/Gray Game as an end. Spanning 18 years, Valek was an Assistant Coach for Wichita, West Point, Illinois and South Carolina. He was named the head coach at Illinois in 1967 and remained there through 1970. All but two of his final 25 seasons was spent in the professional ranks, starting in personnel with Dallas, where he was part of two Super Bowl teams. He was an assistant coach and general manager with New England ’74-‘80; helped start up the New Jersey Generals of the USFL in ‘83, and then went to the European League in ’88. His last head coaching assignment was with the New York Knights of the Arena Football League in ’89 before retiring in 1995.
Class of 2005 – induction June 23, 2005
Considered a pioneer in the sports of track and cross country, Roger Swank started girls’ cross country at JT West before the IHSA sanctioned it. The same was true for the boys and girls cross country at the elementary school level. As a runner himself, Swank was an All-Stater in the 440-yard dash and the 880-yard relay for JT prior to earning three Big Ten titles in the mile relay at the University of Illinois. As a coach at JT West, Swank’s teams went a combined 318-54 in boys and girls track and cross country with an unprecedented 28 league crowns in 18 years. He also guided 10 individual state champs and one national titlist. At the collegiate level, Swank took two University of St. Francis teams to district titles.
Class of 2008 – Induction August 1 2008
- Mary Jane Sporar – JT ‘38
For more than 56 years, Mary Jane Sporar was vitally involved in the local bowling community. She began her writing career at the Joliet Herald News in the 1950s, the same time bowling popularity took off. Sporar founded two bowling councils (Illinois and Joliet Area) and both the Joliet Area Bowling Hall of Fame and the Awards Dinner. She served in the leadership capacity of numerous organizations and also helped bring Joliet bowling to the airwaves with her radio and cable television coverage of tournaments and news. Sporar earned membership in four halls of fame: Bowling Writers Association of America, Midwest Bowling Association, Illinois and Joliet Area Women’s Bowling Association, and the Will County/Joliet Hall of Pride. In addition to her love for bowling, she was an established swimmer and diver claiming over 70 titles from the YMCA and AAU. She also taught aquatics for the YMCA, the Red Cross and for JT.
SPOTLIGHT ON JTHS ALUMNI
’08 Merritt Giffin* Olympic Silver Medalist discus throw /
London 1908 games
’18 Edwin Way Teale* Author of more than 30 books / literary
naturalist / photographer / received the Pulitzer Prize in ’65 for ‘Wandering through Winter” (first nature writing to have been so honored)
’22 Vera C. Stellwagen Smith* Former JTHS & JJC English teacher /
Registrar at Joliet Junior College / community philanthropist and JTHS benefactor
’24 Arthur G. Smith* Philanthropist and community benefactor along
with his wife,Vera, for whom the Central campus educational annex was named.
’26 Katherine Dunham* Renowned dancer/choreographer/educator
Known as the “mother of modern dance /
Recognized internationally for her contri-
bution to dance and to the arts
’27 Andrew Barber* Founder of the Union National Bank (First
Midwest Bank)/ Noted philanthropist and
’27 Warren Wood* Composed JT loyalty song / Illinois Speaker
of the House
’29 Vivian McMaster* Crowned Miss Joliet and Miss Illinois in 1928
while a senior in high school
’30 Lois Delander* 1st “Miss Joliet” (1927) / 1st “Miss Illinois”
(1927) / 1st “Miss America”from Illinois / Longest reigning Miss America ’27-‘33
’31 Clayton “Toots” Schorie* Professional musician with a career that spanned
more than 80 years performing with countless entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Bobby Vinton / taught private lessons for 69 years to over 2,000 students
’31 Charles S. Peters* Distinguished Director of the Joliet Grade School
’31 Jack Sonntag* Prolific film & television producer/director working with major stars and producing major
TV shows and movies throughout his long career
’32 Larry Parks* Actor / Academy Award-nominated as Best
Actor for his role in the 1946 film “The Al Jolson Story”/ His leading ladies included Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Ellen Drew /
Married to actress, Betty Garrett
’33 Billie Butler Renowned sharpshooter & grandniece of
famous sharpshooters and performers, Frank Butler and his wife, Annie Oakley
’35 Frank Perconte Member of the 506th Regiment’s Easy Company
of the 101st Airborne Division / member of the famous “Band of Brothers”(first paratroopers to descend onto the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day the 6th of June 1944)
’35 Ensign Edward Webb “On Eternal Patrol” aboard the USS Arizona /
Gosselin* Ship went down at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941
’35 John Hudak* Artist / Known nationally for his watercolors
‘36 Dr. John Houbolt NASA scientist / Developer of the lunar land-
ing module enabling the U.S. astronauts of Apollo 11 to reach the moon for man’s first walk on July 20, 1969.
’36 Audrey Totter Actress / radio, television and film star
appearing in over 40 films / guests appearances on television shows such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Wagon Train,” “Medical Center”
’36 Vivian Ziech As a junior in 1935, gave JTHS the Steelman
name in a winning essay.
’38 Robert A. Crombie* Owner & operator of Crombie Dairy / Inventor
of testing device for the pasteurization of milk /
Recipient of many awards for his contributions
and service to the food industry
’39 Bob Cary* Author and illustrator of six books / Senior
Editor of the Ely, MN newspaper, the “Ely
Echo” / former outdoor writer for the Herald
News, Chicago Daily News and WJOL
’39 Dorothy Mavrich Community activist credited with saving Joliet’s
Rialto Square Theatre from demolition in the 70’s / concert pianist / piano teacher / author
’39 George Munroe Rhodes Scholar / noted New York Attorney
present at the Nuremberg Trials / Former CEO & President of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation /
Former Chairman of the board Dartmouth University / Trustee of New York Metropolitan
Museum of Art
’41 Paul Lambrecht Co-founder with partner of Brown & Lambrecht
Earthmovers / community benefactor
’42 Laverne “Bitz” Brown Entrepreneur / co-founder of Brown &
Lambrecht Earthmovers / Married to Dorothy
Maxwell Brown ’41 / together they are major community benefactors and models of generosity
’43 D. LeRoy Shepherd* President of Joliet Federal Savings / retiring
as CEO of Amerifed Bank / professional musician with area bands including the American Legion Band, JJC Community Band, JJC Jazz Band, JTHS Alumni Band
’44 Honorable John Cirricione Noted Will County Attorney / Retired Judge /
’45 The Rev. Roger Kaffer* Auxiliary Bishop of the Joliet Diocese / Former
Principal of Providence High School
’45 Beverly Long Feehan Miss Illinois of 1945
’45 Juliet King Internationally known vocalist
‘45 Honorable William Penn Noted Will County Circuit Judge / Attorney /
’46 Florine Klatt Cain Senior Test Engineer for Lockheed Missile
Space Program / aeronautical engineer
responsible for the full-scale mock up of a X7A3 “flying cell” test missile
’47 Don Ladas Career spanning over 50 years in sports
reporting broadcasting over 5,000 games in a variety of sports activities and events / enshrined in seven halls of fame
’47 Ron Nelson Foremost composer of original band literature /
Retired professor at Brown University / Former
Chairman of Brown Department of Music
’47 Brenton Wadsworth Founder of Wadsworth Golf Construction
Companies / builder of championship golf
courses worldwide / philanthropist / major
benefactor to his alma mater and to the JTHS Foundation
‘48 Jack Goeken Entrepreneur / pioneer in the telecommunica-
tions industry / inventor / founder of MCI
which challenged the AT&T monopoly / developed Airfone / founder of FTD
Mercury Network in the floral industry / Goeken
Group creates health, safety and security products
’48 Robert Novak Nationally-known columnist and television
journalist / contributing editor for major
publications / political expert / major benefactor to his alma mater
’49 Honorable George E. Distinguished career in public service / Will
Sangmeister* County State’s Attorney / Illinois State Senator /
United States Congressman
’49 Dr. Thomas Streitz Joliet dentist / volunteer on medical missions
providing dental services in third world countries / recipient of numerous awards and honors in the dental profession and in the community / member Board of Education District 204
’51 Honorable Ray Bolden Retired Judge of the 12th Judicial Court
’51 John Leach Business leader / Joliet home builder (5,000
homes in 17 subdivisions)/Will County historian & preservationist / community benefactor
’51 Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Author / “Walker’s Crossing was her 100th book/
Winner of the highly prestigious Newberry Award / her “Shiloh trilogy series is ranked No. 7 National Education Association’s Children’s Top 100 book list
’52 Kay Gottlieb Stage name Kathryn Hays. Over 35 years in the
role of Kim Hughes on “As The World Turns”/Guest starring roles on more than 50 television shows /Soloist with several light opera companies /Former wife of actor, Glenn Ford
’52 David Bennett “On Eternal Patrol” aboard the USS Scorpion /
Lloyd* Nuclear submarine “presumed lost at sea” June
’55 Klint DeGeus Business leader/prominent community
philanthropist and benefactor to his alma mater
’55 Morton Kondracke Award-winning columnist / journalist / political
pundit / television commentator / Executive
Editor of the Washington D.C. Capitol Hill newspaper, “Roll Call” / best selling author
’55 Honorable Harry D. Attorney / Senior Federal Judge United States
Leinenweber District Court for Northern District Illinois
’55 Hon. Martin Rudman Former Will County States Attorney / Judge Illinois Supreme Court 5th District
’55 Joseph Shetina Joliet City Councilman / real estate appraiser
’55 Dr. James Stukel Retired President of the University of Illinois
’55 Dr. Andrew Sorenson Retired President of the University of South
Carolina and former President of the University
’56 Russell Dagon Principal clarinetist with the Milwaukee
Symphony Orchestra ’69-’99 /Professor of Clarinet at Northwestern University from 1988 until 2005 retirement
’56 Dr. Daniel Gutierrez Joliet physician specializing in internal medicine/
Founding Director of the Will County
Community Health Center / Chairman of the Board Silver Cross Hospital
’58 James Agazzi Television production designer / Art Director for
series “Hart to Hart” and “Moonlighting” / Set designer for television game shows / Film producer / Emmy winning art director
’60 Robert Sterling Joliet and Will County historian without peer /
JJC history teaching career of over 33 years /
Author of several pictorial history books of
Will County and Joliet
’60 Leonard Altieri Founder of Altieri & Associates Entertainment
Services of Atlanta auditioning and contracting
musicians for Broadway shows, symphony
orchestras, recording studios / professional
violist playing with the Atlanta Symphony
and Atlanta Pops orchestras
’62 Ted Lega Director of Bands JTCentral ’69-’02 / His
symphonic, swing and marching bands were
recipients of countless awards and honors / Recognized in ’87 as the Outstanding Chicagoland Music Educator and in ’95 elected to the American Bandmasters Association joining his predecessors Mr. McAllister and Mr. Houseknecht.
LOIS DELANDER - CLASS OF 1930
JOLIET’S ONLY “MISS AMERICA”
Lois Delander was a junior at Joliet Township High School when Maurice Rubens, one of the Joliet Rubens Brothers who built and owned the Rialto Square Theatre, went to the Castle Dancing School to seek possible contestants to vie for the “Miss Joliet” title at the theater. Several young ladies from the school entered the Joliet pageant and, with her parents’ permission, Lois also became one of the entrants. Described as a very lovely, soft-spoken and studious girl, she was a talented member of the high school glee club and a student of the piano and classical ballet. In May of 1927, Lois was named “Miss Joliet.” As Miss Joliet she went on to the Miss Illinois pageant and was selected as the very first Miss Illinois on August 7 at the Oriental Theater in Chicago.
As Miss Illinois, Lois was awarded a complete wardrobe for her trip to Atlantic City and a five-week vaudeville contract valued at $500.00. When Lois was then crowned Miss America of 1927, she became the first Miss Illinois to be named Miss America. In addition, to this day she is noted as the longest reigning Miss America in pageant history. Due to the financial panic and economic depression of the late 20s, the Miss America pageant did not resume until 1933.
Following her crowning as Miss America by Bob Hope, Lois received a scepter, four trophies, a Bulova watch, an Oldsmobile, and a screen test. She was deluged with offers from motion picture and stage producers. Lois and her family were nearly overcome with all the attention she received. It was reported that theatrical concerns offered her $1,000 per week to make personal appearances. However, after meeting President Calvin Coolidge, Red Grange, Charles Lindbergh, Fred Waring, and Amelita Gali-Curci, Lois was concerned about “catching up” with her studies and returned to JT to compete her schooling and graduate in 1930.
Following college, Lois married Ralph Lang, a prominent Chicago stockbroker. The couple, who lived in Evanston, were the parents of three daughters and the grandparents of seven. Lois once stated that "she has lived happily ever after." She was 74 when she passed away in 1985.
Note: When Lois became Miss Illinois in 1927 and went on to become Miss America, another JT senior, Vivian McMaster, was crowned Miss Joliet and Miss Illinois in 1928. However, Vivian was unable to compete for the title of Miss America as the pageant was discontinued that year because of the Depression.
JTHS can boast that three of its former students wore the crown of Miss Illinois: Lois and Vivian followed by Beverly Long in 1945.
***JTHS & THE JJC PARTNERSHIP***
Not long after he began his tenure as the first President of the University of Chicago in 1892, William Rainey Harper wanted a way to give high school graduates the beginnings of a college education with a smoother transition from high school to a major university.
He found a partner in his mission. The university supported a decision made in 1901 by the Superintendent of Joliet Township High School, Dr. J. Stanley Brown, to begin offering two years of college level courses at JT. With six students, Brown began Joliet’s tuition free junior college as a two-year extension of JTHS. This event is regarded as the birth of the community colleges. For many years, JTHS and Joliet Junior College shared a building, classrooms, faculty and administrators.
The JJC students also shared the same stage with the students of JT on graduation night up until 1960. On June 9, 1961, diplomas were awarded for the first time to just the JT graduates. It was also the first graduation ceremony held outdoors at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
In 1969, Joliet Junior College moved to its new campus located on Houbolt Road. In 2001, JJC celebrated its centennial along with JTHS.
THE NEXT HISTORY TO WRITE….In the spring of 1964, the classmates of ‘64 walked the halls as graduates of JTHS for the final time. A new era began that fall when the campus became known as JT Central. The classes, the administrators, the faculty, the staff, the additions to the buildings, the events and the accomplishments that have occurred since that time 45 years ago are now part of the history of Joliet Central High School.
ONE FINAL NOTE…Whether our graduates have risen to national prominence or serve the people in their hometown, whether they drive trucks or drive nails – District 204 is proud of all its JT graduates. And, thousands of JTHS alumni still feel a debt of gratitude to their alma mater. They attribute a portion of their success in life to their deserving teachers and to the years they spent as JT Steelmen.