East, South schools celebrate golden anniversary
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/MIKE SWEENEY -- This is what East High School looks like today. This building and South High School were built with identical features and opened 50 years ago.
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/FILE -- Students mingle outside of South High School in this 1990 photograph. South and East high schools were established 50 years ago and have since established strong traditions, including a rivalry in sports.
Once avant-garde, the twin schools are now steeped in tradition.
By GAYLE PEREZ
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
Fifty years ago Tuesday, Pueblo's rich high school heritage changed forever.
For decades, Central and Centennial were the only public high schools in Pueblo, with Centennial claiming all those students living north of the Arkansas River and Central taking those who lived south of the river.
But with the post-World War II boom that hit Pueblo in the 1950s, growth spread to the southwest and to the northeast portions of the city, bringing with it new neighborhoods and a slew of students that crowded into existing schools.
The student population in the city increased from 18,288 in 1950 to 28,914 in 1959.
That increase led to one of the city's most extensive school-building programs that saw 16 new schools built, and a host of others were remodeled during the mid- to late-1950s to accommodate the growth.
On Sept. 1, 1959, South and East high schools opened their doors to a new era
and a fresh rivalry in Pueblo's tradition-steeped high school environment.
Along with South and East, Sunset Park Elementary School also opened in 1959.
The alumni foundations at both South and East have planned celebrations throughout the school year to honor the golden anniversary of their schools.
Plans for building the new high schools began in 1956, but actual construction didn't begin until the summer of 1957.
South and East, named for the locations in the city where they were located, were built to serve the growing Sunset Park and Belmont neighborhoods.
The identical buildings, designed by architect Walter DeMordaunt, were built by local contractors and included state-of-the-art, energy-efficient features for that era.
Whitlock Construction was the general contractor for South, and H.W. Houston Construction was the contractor for East.
The two schools mirror each other in many ways. Each cost approximately $2 million, had 40 classrooms, 500-seat gymnasiums, a cafeteria, an auditorium with seating for 1,200 and several other miscellaneous classrooms. Those miscellaneous rooms included a band and orchestra room, wood and metal shops, graphic arts, a cooking room and a library.
The east and west sides of the buildings were created with a sawtooth design to allow for more natural light, but less direct light, into the building.
Each building also had more than 200 skylights on the roof, which was expected to save an estimated $750 a year in energy costs.
The skylights were later removed because they broke easily and required constant, costly repairs.
Each school also had a unique, enclosed courtyard and a single second-story classroom. Each also had a paved parking lot, a football field and a track, tennis courts, a softball area and a standard baseball field.
To select the schools' mascots, local officials turned to the national sports scene for help. With the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Colts among the top teams in the National Football League at the time, the Eagles and Colts were chosen as mascots.
A coin toss was conducted to determine that East would become the gold-and-white Eagles and South would be the black-and-white Colts.
On the school's opening day, East principal Emil Paripovich welcomed 1,090 students to the new school, including a class of 350 ninth-graders from Risley Middle School.
In an article that appeared in The Pueblo Chieftain, Paripovich said the students and 51 faculty members were proud to be a part of the new school.
"The effect of the new building on school spirit has been remarkable, and there has been no vandalism," Paripovich said. "We remind the pupils this is their building and they should take care of it ... and they are."
Paripovich, 88, died Aug. 19, just weeks shy of East's re-dedication celebration, planned for Sept. 26.
Mel Spence, who taught and coached at East before he succeeded Paripovich as principal in 1968, said it was exciting to be a part of a new school and to help develop new traditions.
"The spirit of the school was tremendous, and I think Emil had a lot to do with that," he said. "Most of the students came from Centennial, but when they got to East, this was their school, and they took a lot of pride in it. Just starting out, we didn't have a lot of material things, but we did have spirit and pride."
Spence, who coached football and wrestling, said it was a challenge but also exciting to be able to build a new program in such a strong high school sports community.
"It was tough, because when the students came from Centennial, we didn't get one letterman for football," he said. "Central had taken second in state, and 19 of their 21 lettermen went to South. South ended up beating us 48-6. We scored in the last minute of the game and you'd have thought we won the game."
Spence said two years later, East beat South in the annual clash between the two hometown rivals.
At South, Principal David Wilkerson welcomed 950 students and 45 new faculty members at an all-school assembly in the auditorium on the first day of classes.
"We had a very enthusiastic bunch of kids who showed up," Wilkerson said in a recent interview from his home in Fort Collins. "The students were excited to be a part of that first class, to be a part of the first student body, the first athletic teams and so on."
Wilkerson said it was "an adventurous year."
"The senior class, particularly, saw themselves as being pioneers in that they were the first graduates of the new school," he said.
Wilkerson said a highlight of that first year was the early success of the Colts football team.
"As luck would have it, there were a lot of the skilled players from Central who ended up coming to South," he said. "After our first five games, we were unbeaten, untied and unscored upon."
Wilkerson said the early success of the football team helped to generate a spirit and camaraderie that resonated throughout the school.
"We started with a great big bang, and it created phenomenal enthusiasm on the part of the students," he said. "Fridays (Spirit Days), there would just be electricity in the air. The students were filled with enthusiasm, that ‘Go Get 'em’ spirit. That was a wonderful way to start out at a new school."
A little more than three weeks after opening, School District 60 hosted a citywide dedication of the two schools and open-house sessions at each building.
U.S. Commissioner of Education Lawrence Derthick was the keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony held at Pueblo Public Schools Stadium, now Dutch Clark Stadium.
At the dedication ceremony, Derthick praised Pueblo officials for their support and dedication to public schools as the city continued to grow.
"Here in Pueblo, you had the vision to look and plan ahead to keep your schools in pace with expansion in your city," he said. "As I know more about your wonderful new buildings, it is difficult to find words which adequately express the admiration I feel as a lifelong teacher.
"Your plan to take care of classroom needs over the next decade is a shining example of what can be done when citizens in a community really care about their schools."
With all the pomp and celebrations surrounding the schools' openings completed in the first month, students and faculty at South and East began to focus on building clubs and organizations, programs and traditions, many of which remain today.
FLASHBACK TO 1959
EAST HIGH SCHOOL
Colors: Gold and white
School motto: "Pueblo's Pride School"
Enrollment: 1,090 students
Principal: Emil Paripovich, 1959-1968
Student body president: Pete Keppler
First graduating class: 290 students
SOUTH HIGH SCHOOL
Colors: Black and white
School motto: "Something Extra for South"
Enrollment: 950 students
Principal: David Wilkerson, 1959-1970
Student body president: Alan Takaki
First graduating class: 270 students