v25-3 Swift School celebrates 100 years in style

Vol. XXV No. 3 - FALL 2014

By: Kathy Gemperle

The celebration was set for May 29th and hundreds of people showed up to see their old teachers and remember the school building where they spent so many years. The festivities began at the corner of Thorndale and Winthrop, with the unveiling of the George B. Swift Way honorary street sign, for this block of Winthrop Avenue, by Alderman Harry Osterman, and Principal Harlee Till. The assembled crowd was directed to go through the school building to the cafeteria for refreshments. It was spectacular, thanks to Lynn Peirce who gathered support from local businesses to provide a meal for 500. Lynn did a lot to create this celebration including creating a history of the school and its activities over 100 years.

An announcement was made to assemble in the auditorium for the celebration program. The Master of Ceremonies introduced the Principal, Harlee Till, who offered some remarks, including thanks to all those who had worked so hard to make this celebration a success. Next was the introduction of the 100 voice choir who sang two songs. The program continued with remarks by some Swift graduates. The first speaker was Edgewater’s own Bob Solomon, who shared some funny recollections about his years at Swift, including the advice of his 8th grade teacher to “just mouth the words” when the class sang their song. So years later, with the microphone in hand, Bob sang the song to the cheers of the assembly.

The second speaker was Gregory Wilson, who is currently on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Champaign. He told the story of how he came to enroll at Swift as it was becoming a multicultural school. He remembered a teacher, Mr. Wassen, who said “Never settle for less” and Mr. Percy Smith who ran the afterschool program in the field house and kept the children involved for hours after school.

Then Shelly Herbst, who had worked for the Board of Ed for 44 years, reminded the audience that there had been eight principals over the 100 years. She spoke of the changes over the years and stated that she believed that “the students impression of their teacher as a person is most important and that this is what has happened today, as the interaction of the students with the teacher is more relaxed and the students get to know their teacher as a person.”

The next speaker was former Principal Emil De Julio, who said “If the walls could talk, they would hear a lot of languages” with the ELS program over 22 years. Many newcomers found a warmth and hospitality at a school that just had so many transfers. The school has a #1 rating because of the teachers who are skilled and flexible.

The next part of the program was not listed, but came as a surprise. The Friends of Swift School presented a check to Principal Harlee Till for $10,000 that they had raised, and hoped it would be put towards refurbishing the school auditorium. As the program ended, many people in the audience began to look for old friends and teachers, waving across the hall and going in many directions. The classrooms were open following the program, and the Principal encouraged visitors to go to the library to see the display of class photos and other historic artifacts. Over the next hour people wandered around, looking at the old classrooms where they had taught or spent many happy days as youngsters.