Neighbors in the St. Cloud Tech High School area are hoping the school board decides to refurbish that venerable old building and keep it as a school. Tech, they argue, gives a vibrancy to that entire area it just wouldn’t have without it.
And I couldn’t agree more. Tech High School is the heart of an area that includes Clark Field, Lake George and nearby downtown, most especially the Paramount Theater and St. Mary’s Cathedral. That area has long been one of my favorite places in the world. To yank the heart out of it, Tech High School, would be a shame. Closing the old municipal pool near Lake George was bad enough; closing Tech would be even worse.
As “Southsiders” of the college area, my three brothers and two sisters all attended Tech, grades 10-12. I went to school there from 1963-66. It was a wonderful old school, its classrooms, hallways and gymnasium exuding the friendly ghosts of the past. It always felt good, knowing that generations had learned there before us. In memory, I can still smell the old wood-and-wax aromas of Tech; I can still see the rows of lockers lined up along the shiny granite-floor hallways; I can still hear the energetic scurry of students as the clanging bell announced the end of class times; and I can still feel spring breezes blowing through the windows of Mr. Laumb’s history classroom on the southeast corner of the second floor. Those were such good days.
Tech stood like a tall friendly sentinel overlooking what was a virtual playground for us kids. Summers, we’d spend just about every afternoon at the municipal swimming pool, swimming like frisky minnows in that aqua-blue chlorine-scented paradise. Between bouts of swimming, we’d rest, sprawling on the cement perimeter to dry in the hot sun as the lifeguards, like suntanned gods on high chairs, blew their whistles and shouted: “No running on the deck!” Part of our pool ritual every time was to stop at the concession stand where, draped with damp towels and clutching slippery nickels and dimes in our wrinkled hands, we’d step up slightly shivering to the counter to order frozen Snickers and Orange Crush pop.
Winters, no matter how cold the nights, we neighborhood buddies would trek like fearless Eskimos, carrying our skates over our shoulders, to frozen Lake George. There, our faces and hands pinched from the cold, we’d skate happily for hours as the rinky-tinky organ music blared from the decrepit warming house. It was always such a relief to take a break from the aching cold by going back into the warming house, with its blazing wood stove and battered, skate-nicked wooden resting benches.
On weekends, in every weather, my brothers and our pals loved to “go to the show” at the Paramount Theater. We’d spend entire Sundays in that glorious old theater, watching the same movie over and over – usually rip-roaring shoot-‘em-up westerns or CinemaScope Biblical spectacles full of Technicolor pageantry and battles brimming with blood-and-guts.
Going to the movies was our weekly treat from our parents for being good boys, for going to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral and afterward attending catechism next door, where we had to squirm through classes conducted by poker-faced nuns in their spooky habits. Fairly often, however, we’d skip church and catechism and go have ice-cream treats at the TeePee restaurant until it was time for the movie to start. Our parents, sometimes, got wise to our delinquent behavior. Hiding their smiles, they’d scold us – mildly – but they’d fork over movie-money week after week, probably just to get us little savages out of the house so they could have some peace and quiet.
Right after the Paramount shows, in the warmer months, we’d play “Cowboys and Indians” or “Swordfighters” around the Tech-Lake George area, action images from the movie still galloping vividly in our heads.
On some chilly autumn nights, with the air smelling like pencil shavings and wood smoke, we’d put on our sweaters and walk on sidewalks covered with skittering dead leaves to Clark Field where we’d hang around with school chums during the football games under the very bright lights.
Perched commandingly on its hill, Tech was always the secure anchor to all of those good times.
There must be tens of thousands of Tech alumni who feel as I do – that, yes, those were the days, those “Tech” days, those happy days.