These five men were among the teachers who moved into the new Parker High School 50 years ago this month. Pictured at a recent reunion of Janesville School District retirees, they are, from left, David Soderberg, Ron Cramer, Gary Bersell, Dick Heshelman and Dick Lambrecht.


The move to the new Parker High School was not smooth, but years later, few remember the bumps, and many remember it as a magical time.

The Gazette interviewed teachers and students who were there at the time, as well as the man who managed the construction project.

Dick Schumacher

Schumacher, an engineer, had worked on Janesville High School—now Craig High—in the 1950s and was an experienced project manager for JP Cullen when he was picked to manage the Parker High construction.

He went on to become the Janesville company’s operations manager and the highest-ranking non-Cullen by the time he retired in 1995.

“It was pretty much a farm field, and we had to kind of level the hill off,” Schumacher recalled.

A water-pumping station was being built near Franklin Middle School on Crosby Avenue at the same time. Without it, they couldn’t flush the toilets on Parker’s second floor, he said.

The only pressure Schumacher recalled was “just to get it built so they could have school.”

The project took 24 months. It was supposed to be done the previous fall, but “ordinary construction problems” got in the way, he said.

The company was already operating in southern Wisconsin and parts of Iowa and Illinois, but Parker was one of the bigger buildings it had taken on up to that point, Schumacher said.

Construction differed from today’s methods, which use more studs with drywall, versus concrete blocks, glazed tile and terrazzo floors at Parker.

The exterior was brick and block, versus now, when metal studs take the structural load and are covered only with a brick face, Schumacher said.

Schumacher thinks the old methods make stronger buildings.

“It was a state-of-the-art school when it was built. It’s held up pretty well,” he said.

Roger Douglas

The Douglas family lived about two miles west of Parker on Mineral Point Road, but even Parker was out in the country at that time.

Douglas remembers a wheat field on the land where the school now stands.

He also remembers attending phy ed classes in a tunnel used for track and archery, or outdoors, because the gym floor and pool were not finished until the next year.

Students were excited about the new school, Douglas recalled, and problems were few.

“It was neat back then because you were out in the middle of nowhere,” Douglas said.

Gary Bersell

“It was cold. It was drafty. It shouldn’t have been occupied at that time,” said Bersell, a special-ed teacher who went on to become the school district’s student services department.

It was the baby boom babies growing up.

“The school population just exploded every year we were there,” Bersell said.

Parker and Craig were separated in name only during the first semester in the fall of 1967. Craig students went to school in a morning shift at what had been Janesville High School and today is Craig High School.

Parker students went to school starting around noontime.

The pressure to move probably stemmed from that situation, Bersell said, but staff and students both liked the “double bunking.”

Some staff members were able to get second jobs because of their shortened workdays, Bersell recalled.

Bersell recalls furniture was scarce: “It was just, ‘move in and get going.’ It was hard.”

But many staff members were young, and they had postponed get-togethers at Christmastime because beloved Principal Hugh Horswill had a heart attack, Bersell said.

So they partied in February, and it became an annual tradition: dinner and drinks. The called it February Bust.

Randy Leyes

Leyes remembered Craig students liked the split-shifting more than Parker kids because they were done at noon.

Leyes played football and had to practice in the mornings before school.

“I remember we beat Craig in the first day that we played,” Leyes said.

Students knew each other well: “It was kind of fun, actually, because you could razz each other. We were pretty good friends. We all got along, but we all wanted to win.”

Leyes recalled a spring break trip that year to Daytona Beach, Florida, with friends from both schools.

“I think half of Janesville was down on that beach.”

“It was a brand-new school, and we loved it,” Leyes said, although finding one’s classroom was a challenge.

“It was brand new, so everything was better than what was at Craig at the time.”

Ron Cramer

Cramer was another teacher recruited in 1966. He went on to coach the Parker wrestling team for many decades.

He remembers the academic areas were completed, but his phy ed class areas were blocked off with plywood.

Cramer recalled two Parker students who lived in the middle of town had siblings who stayed at Craig. The district allowed them to choose.

At least some teachers were able to choose their high school. “I chose Parker just because everything was going to be brand new,” Cramer said.

Like many teachers, Cramer loved the new principal, Horswill, who had been vice principal at Janesville High.

“The best principal I ever had,” Cramer said. “A real hands-on guy for teachers. He was just super.”

Administrators were often going “downtown” for staff meetings, “but Horswill said, ‘I’m principal at Parker. I’m staying at Parker. I’ll go to your meetings downtown before school or after school, but my job is at Parker,’” Cramer recalled.

Dick Lambrecht

Finding out where to go for class in the new building was the biggest problem, earth science/physics teacher Lambrecht recalled.

“It was a new experience for everybody. We rolled with the punches, and everybody kind of worked together, the kids as well as the teachers and administration,” Lambrecht said.

“We were very lenient as far as being tardy,” Lambrecht recalled.

“I had a nice room. I had a southwest corner, and I had a breeze at all times.”

There was no air conditioning, of course, and some of the no-window inside rooms got extra hot. Fans were the only way to get the air moving.

“I would assume that school spirit picked up because a bluebird is not something you can get very excited about,” Lambrecht said, referring to Janesville High’s mascot, which was retired until it was revived in recent years with the co-op hockey team.

The staff worked well together at school and elsewhere, Lambrecht recalled. Wives set up a baby-sitting cooperative, as baby sitters were too expensive, so couples could have a night on the town.

Different teachers had skills as electricians, in concrete work, roofing, car repair, etc. “We just kind of shared,” he said.

Lambrecht, too, loved Principal Horswill: “I never won an argument with him. But he was fair. When you screwed up, he chewed your butt for it, and when you did well, he praised you for it.”

Dick Heshelman

Heshelman taught auto mechanics.

“My shop had nothing but some drop cords and lights hanging from the ceiling,” he said.

But he got new equipment and tools. “I didn’t have to try to repair stuff and keep things going. A greenhorn out of college, and I get a brand-new shop.”

He spent nights and Saturdays painting tool panels and getting the classroom ready. “My dad even came up and helped me do some stuff on Saturdays once in a while.”

Heshelman retired in 2001, but back then, “I had something called a textbook. Now you have every kid walking around with a computer. That didn’t even exist,” he said. “I would lecture to kids and letter my outlines on the board and expect them to write that down in a notebook.”

David Soderberg

“Cow-pie high education was wonderful. Teachers called it that. We loved it,” guidance counselor Soderberg recalled.

The term has been used disparagingly over the years.

Soderberg said teachers were like family. “We were so closely knitted and understood each other.”

Soderberg was 29. He came from Beaver Dam High School. He’s 80 now. He still runs into students at restaurants and hears their thank-yous, he said.

One paid for his meal before he knew what was happening.

“Parker meant so much to me,” he said.

Ken Burkhamer

Burkhamer, Class of ’69, remembers 1968 started as a time of high hopes for the future for idealistic students such as him.

“The thing I remember about the ‘move’ year was the emotional yo-yo that year. I was a junior, just starting to get political. There was music in the air. When we moved to the new school, there was a feeling of confidence. The world was a better place. The girls were prettier, and, by God, we can fix what’s wrong with it,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“This was out of town and sat up there on that hill, and you had that beautiful view to the south, just on top of the world.”

“There was an ambiance in that school after going to the 1950s model. There was light. It was airy. I think we all waited so long to get there that it was like a party. ...

“We were like in a golden age of sports at that time. If they’d left the two schools together, in my mind without a doubt, we would’ve won state championships in the three main sports.”

He recalled a lot of smart students, too, in the Class of ’69: “We all started getting political ... until the disillusionment.”

The My Lai massacre by American troops in Vietnam happened that spring, as did the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Those events were big deals for students such as Burkhamer.

“That four months we spent at the new school, I think I grew up more than in any other period of my life,” he said.

“Kids paid attention to the country,” he said. “... It was the peak of drug experimentation. There was so much that was happening. A few of us were on the edge. I got to know SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) guys in Madison while still in high school.”

And the music of the era filled hearts and minds.

“It’s the reason why classic radio is so popular because that music just doesn’t die,” Burkhamer said.

“I went in there walking high on the clouds, and world events just kicked the lights out,” he said. “But the feeling of moving into that school is probably what I’ll remember about 1968 more than all that other stuff.”

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