Jessie Thompson Humberty recalls her Staples High School Class of 1952 as “very Ozzie and Harriet.”
There was football, cheerleading, after-school clubs — “a very idyllic 3 years,” she says.
And, she stresses, “it’s not just looking back from a distance. We felt it was a great time even back then.”
There were 130 students in her graduating class. On the weekend of August 24-26, 70 will return for their 60th reunion. (That includes members of the “older” Class of ’51; they’re invited too.)
They were the last Wilton students to attend Staples, before a high school opened there. Jessie remembers Frank, the bus driver, picking up 40 students all over Wilton, then driving down Riverside Avenue to the high school (now Saugatuck Elementary). The original building — dating back to 1884 — was still in use too (where the auditorium now stands).
They remember ski club trips to newly opened Mohawk Mountain. And much more.
And if they’ve forgotten some things — well, here’s my chapter on those years, from my book Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education.
In 1951, 21 students completed Staples’ 1st driver education course. Two classes were held each week; the other 2 periods were used for practice, and group and individual projects. The Department of Motor Vehicles sent an instructor to test the new drivers, using the school’s dual control car.
Meanwhile, Staples adopted a student government and constitution that was among the most far-reaching in the country. Called the Staples Student Organization (SSO), its innovations included an executive branch (with both a Senate and General Assembly) and a judicial branch (student court).
Other school news included an appearance by students Joy Young and Wendy Ayearst on Kate Smith’s television show. Two questions were asked: “Should high school girls smoke?” and “Are cliques undesirable in high school?” The girls answered yes to both, while noting that cliques are unavoidable.
Inklings – Staples’ highly regarded student newspaper – ran a story describing the devastation an atomic bomb could do to Westport.
Yet just as powerful – and as real a threat as an atomic bomb — was the growing realization that the Staples High School the town had known for nearly 70 years was inadequate for the modern era. A tsunami of post-war students would soon wash over Westport. In 1951 the town fathers knew they needed a new high school.
In January 1952, the RTM appointed a building committee to examine construction of what the Westporter-Herald called “the so-called North Avenue school.”
On November 29, 1951, a rap from Chief Justice Hope Collier’s gavel opened the first session of the first Student Court in Staples history. Seventy people – nearly one-sixth of the school – crowded into Harold Allen’s room. Six justices – three seniors, two juniors and a sophomore – sat in a semicircle at the front of the room, with a court clerk on one side and Lyle Hayes, lawyer for the defense, on the other.
The first defendant, Tom Acquino, was accused of violating a new rule prohibiting smoking in Staples from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or on Staples grounds from 8:40 to 2:51.
He pleaded not guilty, but Senate President Tiny Young told the court that several days earlier he had caught Tom smoking in the boys room. When Tiny could not answer Lyle’s question about the exact day in question, Tom blurted out “It was Tuesday you caught me.”
Witness Dick Banner testified that he was in the boys room, and saw smoke inside. After 5 minutes Chief Justice Collins pronounced Tom guilty. He was put on probation, and told he would be severely punished for another offense.
Principal Douglas Young pronounced himself pleased that student proctors had begun policing the no-smoking law. If their watchfulness continued, he said, there was no reason students could not also assume responsibility for corridor and traffic control.