JOHN Quick’s office in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Administration Building is spacious enough to be a museum. It is, in more ways than one.
There are photographs lining the office’s vestibule walls. Most are class or group pictures of children with a couple of adults thrown into the background of each.
Dozens of artifacts are scattered about the main office — a couple of autographed basketballs (IU’s Tom Crean and Butler’s Brad Stevens); a pair of small, sculptured horses; more photos; and a landscape painting by Will Vawter, a member of the early 20th-century Brown County art colony.
As art goes, the value in the eclectic collection isn’t much, except of course for the Vawter painting. Although it could probably bring several thousand dollars in a good auction of art lovers, its value is brought to earth by the fact that Quick discovered it in a basement storage area of Northside Middle School.
“I just came across it by accident,” the superintendent of BCSC said last week. “No one knew how it got there or where it had been.”
The real value of his collection is in the reaction a lot of people in this community would have in seeing individual items that are very close to home for them.
One of the photos in that vestibule is particularly meaningful to 85-year-old Dearl Sweeney, a Columbus retiree. The framed black-and-white photo is of a group of children dressed in capes, their heads covered either by berets or bellboy caps. Anyone too young to know what a bellboy is, ask a grandparent.
“It was Garfield’s toy band,” Dearl said last week. “We were all in the first or second grade, and Hazel Fodrea formed us up into a group, and we all played either tambourines or triangles. I remember one song in particular, ‘I Washed My Hands This Morning.’”
Hazel Fodrea (Fodrea School was named in honor of the teaching Fodrea sisters) must have done a pretty good job with that toy band, because it was once invited to perform on an Indianapolis radio station.
There is one figure who is featured in most of the class photos on the vestibule walls — former Garfield Principal W.D. Richards. He, too, would one day have an elementary school named in his honor, but he was much more of a real person than an institution to the Garfield students.
“I always recall him as a wonderful storyteller,” the former Garfield student said.
There’s also a shot of a former Garfield basketball team back in the early 1940s. Dale Bubby Wright, barely a high school student himself, was pictured as the coach. Two of the players were instantly recognizable, Ron Hooker and J.C. Gosnell, both of whom looked in elementary school as they would look in adulthood.
Mixed in with the photos was an index card that noted that fabled vaudeville entertainer Rudy Vallee had sung before a gathering of Garfield students in 1937.
The dominance of Garfield pictures is no accident. The headquarters with its rich woodwork and comfortable furniture was Garfield School in an earlier and much smaller life.
Thousands of children were educated in its classrooms from the opening in 1896 to closing as a school in 1969. When it was a school, it was less than a third of its size today, but it was a sturdy building designed by legendary Columbus architect Charles Sparrell (he also designed the old Columbus City Hall, a number of other schools in Bartholomew County and several downtown buildings) and built by the local construction company of Caldwell and Drake (one of the major contractors involved in construction of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair).
Its size and use were changed dramatically in the 1980s after it was acquired by Arvin Industries. Arvin CEO Jim Baker led an effort to convert it into a corporate office headquarters. Its size was quadrupled, and millions were spent not only on modernizing it but to give it an appearance in which the new portion was an almost identical image of the original.
For Baker, the renovation had a personal touch. He selected for his office a classroom in which his wife, Bev, once taught.
It had a short life as Arvin’s corporate headquarters. It ceased to house the company’s top administrative staff following a merger with Meritor Inc., and in 2005 ArvinMeritor offered it to the school corporation for $2 million.
“It was one heck of a bargain,” Quick said. “They not only gave us the building, but they also threw in almost all of the furnishings and some artwork.”
Although Arvin’s time in the building was relatively short, individuals in the leadership left their history.
A desk in the office of Assistant Superintendent Linda DeClue was once used by the company CEOs. “I made a neat discovery when I first sat down at that desk,” Quick said. “I opened the main drawer and found the signatures of Jim Baker and Bill Hunt (his successor). I even put my own signature in there.”
Not all of the history on display in the building relates to Arvin or the old Garfield school. One of those horses, colored a bright red, was part of an artificial herd that encircled an old tree at Richards Elementary School.
“We had to remove them because of vandalism,” Quick said. “In addition, the tree had to be removed because it had rotted.”
Main floor display cases that once held Arvin products now house artifacts from individual schools, such as a school jacket from the old Central Junior High School.
There is still about the 116-year-old building a feeling of newness created by the restoration a quarter of a century ago. But mixed in with that newness are a lot of ties to the past.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.
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