Goshen’s C.J. Hooker Middle School Celebrates 75th Birthday

Beloved school hosts exhibit about its past
By Holly Kellum, Epoch Times
April 3, 2016 9:46 am Last Updated: April 6, 2016 7:00 pm

GOSHEN—For the 75th anniversary of the C.J. Hooker middle school, art teacher Christina Pahucki enlisted her students, friends, and colleagues to put on an exhibit that showed the school’s history dating back to the 1930’s.

She, along with seventh grade English teacher Elena Jordan, had their students pick through artifacts they found in the building, research them, and create description cards for a historical exhibit that opened to the community on April 2.

A switchboard on display at the 75th birthday celebration of C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
A switchboard on display at the 75th birthday celebration of C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

While the school was built in 1940, Pahucki said they are still in the 2015 school year so it was still appropriate to celebrate.

The school, which was then being built as the high school, was funded in part through the New Deal, a series of domestic programs enacted during the Great Depression to stimulate the economy. The government gave the school $310,500 dollars in grants towards the roughly $690,000 project, which adjusted for inflation would be $11,686,185 in today’s currency.

Think about what a symbol this building must have been.
— Paul Bennis, seventh grade social studies teacher

“[Imagine] you’re still in the Great Depression. People are hurting. Think about what a symbol this building must have been,” said Paul Bennis, a seventh grade social studies teacher at the school who gave a tour and informational talk about the impact the New Deal had on the building’s construction.

But even with the government’s help, the Board of Education balked at the initial proposal that included pitched roofs over the gym and auditorium and two more cupolas to the tune of $780,000, according to a newspaper article in the exhibit.

While it may not have as many bells and whistles as was initially proposed, the building is still a testament to an era where beauty was not sacrificed for budgets.

A bronze plaque from the federal government in the foyer to the auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
A bronze plaque from the federal government in the foyer to the auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

The auditorium’s foyer boasts marble floors that travel half way up the wall with carved marble around a bronze plaque that memorializes the people who were in office when the school was built.

Carved wooden detail around the doors, chandeliers, and intricate plaster moulding in the auditorium itself bespeak of a different era, and the green glazed block wainscoting, the terrazzo floors, the built-in wooden cabinets that can be found in old parts of the school show how much care and money went into the building.

The auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. Except for changing the seat cushions, most of the auditorium has stayed the same since it was constructed in 1940. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
The auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. Except for changing the seat cushions, most of the auditorium has stayed the same since it was constructed in 1940. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

But possibly the most interesting remnant of that era are the attitudes that are encapsulated in some of the building’s details.

Two doors that now lead to offices have “Women Teachers” and “Men Teachers” painted on them to indicate the gender-segregated teacher lounges.

The door to the psychologist's office at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
The door to the psychologist’s office at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

There is still a bomb shelter under the gymnasium and a smoking room in the basement that was created in 1949 for teenage students to use.

Letters displayed in the exhibit both congratulating and chiding the principle for creating such a room show the difference in attitudes towards smoking, both at the time and now.

“Unspeakable crime and sex looseness are the fruitage of our cigarette addiction,” wrote Emma T. Watts, the director of Washington, D.C.’s then only private cooking school, in a typed letter to the principal.

There is still a bomb shelter under the gymnasium and a smoking room in the basement.

“Smoking tobacco is a mild sedative for nervous students who will find that moderate smoking is conducive to study,” wrote Roy C. Crosby from Orange Farm in Goshen in a calligraphed letter. “Did you ever know chronic cigarette smokers to have tuberculosis? … If used moderately it can do no harm and its beneficial effects will help prevent hypocrisy and consequent juvenile delinquency.”

Accompanying his letter was a donated a picture for the smoking room that he said represented “the elation of the smokers of the student body on learning of the recognition of their needs.”

The front of C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
The front of C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

Charles J. Hooker, Sr.

The school was named after the building principle at the time, Charles J. Hooker, Sr. and although he has long passed, his son, Charles Hooker, Jr., a 10-year-old when the building was constructed, is still alive.

He lives in Maine now and was not able to attend the celebration, but he wrote a letter that was read as part of the commemorative ceremony.

Hooker, Jr. said in his letter he would not recommend being the principal’s son “to have the fullest educational experiences,” but he did look back fondly on what his father tried to accomplish.

“The entire community was as responsible for the education of its children as was the administrative and teaching staff,” he wrote of his father’s educational philosophy. “It was almost an unwritten condition of employment that each person connected with the school, in any way, lived and participated in the greater Goshen community.”

A bronze plaque from the federal government in the foyer to the auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
A bronze plaque from the federal government in the foyer to the auditorium at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

With the availability of state and federal grants, and the nouveau idea in the 1930’s of creating a centralized school district (there was just a collection of small school houses up until then), he said his father’s desire for the new school and a centralized district was was to expand the community’s diversity by bringing together the outlying rural communities.

Although 85, he still remembers most of his elementary and high school teachers “who shaped the direction that I was to follow,” and said it is they, along with the students, that have made the school go “far beyond its bricks and mortar.”

“In that sense I believe both my fathers’ wishes and resolve still reside there,” he wrote.

The New with the Old

Seventh graders at the middle school gave tours to former students, some just a few generations removed from them, and it was apparent from their comments that, while a lot was still the same, a lot has changed.

In 1961 and 2001 additions were added to the building that made way for the present-day library, another art room, a science room, another gym, the cafeteria and much more.

Bill Standish, who graduated in 1966, remarked about the band room that he remembered it as a “closet” where he kept his saxophone. At that time they only had a marching band, and he was surprised to learn that the room now serves a concert band, a symphonic band, and a jazz band.

In 1961 and 2001 additions were added to the building.

“You guys have a jazz band at this age?” he asked the seventh graders. “We didn’t [even] have one at the high school age.”

With the heightened security in schools now, the doors are locked during the day and visitors have to check in at the attendance room before being admitted.

“When we went to school, all the doors were open. None of them were locked,” said Jim Torcivia, who also graduated in 1966. “You could get in in any exit or entrance you wanted.”

The Academic Intervention Services (AIS) room at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. The two wooden chairs and the built-in shelves at the back of the room are remnants of when the building was built. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)
The Academic Intervention Services (AIS) room at C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen on April 2, 2016. The two wooden chairs and the built-in shelves at the back of the room are remnants of when the building was built. (Holly Kellum/Epoch Times)

Computers, security cameras, and Wi-Fi routers can be seen throughout the building, and computer rooms are equipped with iPads, overhead projectors, SMART boards, and Chromebooks to teach students “twenty first century digital skills,” said Madilyn Bunzey, one of the seventh grade tour guides.

Commenting on the signs warning kids of the consequences of cyber bullying, Betty Pollack, who graduated in 1965, said that was not something they had to deal with in her day.

One positive development she noted, however: kids today don’t have to wear one-piece gym suits.

To contact this reporter, email [email protected]