Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
John Cocores ’46
My parents came from Greece. I was born in Oakland. I lived in West Oakland at 16th and Castro in the same house for 37 years. The house is still there. I could have gone to McClymonds or Tech but a friend of mine was going Tech, so I decided to go there too. I took the streetcar to school with my buddies, Herb Cramer, Carter and Charlie Trimbell. Streetcars stopped right in front of school on Broadway. We bought a pass and conductor would punch a hole in it. My father had a candy store next to the Broadway Theater between 11 and 12th. Both parents worked there. There were lots of theaters on Broadway.
I had a tough time. No one taught me at home, my parents were immigrants. I had a lot of obstacles to overcome. When it came time for the tests, I always cheated a bit to see what other kids were putting down on their exam. Like in math, I was too embarrassed to ask for help. Tell kids today- ask the questions you need to ask to learn. One teacher, Mrs. Crow in junior high in the library, I never forgot her or her name. She had a little sign, “What you are to be, you are now becoming.” That has stayed with me to this day. Teachers never called on me because they knew I was struggling. Once, I thought I was ready to read in front of the class, we had to each have a paragraph prepared. I got up there and I couldn’t do it even though I had volunteered. I froze up there and couldn’t do it.
I was in the machine shop. Mr. Mc Graw, he understood a lot. A teacher at Hoover junior high called Mr. X, he taught sheet metal and we were going to make match boxes, I still have mine. It is still lopsided. I cut the tin too short so he sent me to the cabinet shop to the tin stretcher. The cabinet shop sent me to another shop and that shop sent me back to the metal shop and I said to Mr. D, (he would stand at the podium and dictate to the class from a high chair), I said Mr. D, they said you have the tin stretcher. He looked at me and said, “You simpleton. Don’t you know there’s no tin stretcher.” That has stayed with me all these years. I couldn’t go to my parents. They were out of their element. I felt inferior. My self-esteem was down to a zero.
Machine shop was more comfortable. I was very good at it. Had a lather machine and I did really well at it. Very accurate. I wanted to achieve something and I had the incentive and the will not to give up. I picked it because it didn’t involve the books. There was emphasis on shops during WWI to train kids to go into the war effort-aircraft. Welding classes for shipyard work aircraft mechanics.
I was not in any clubs or sports. Though I was in the High Y Club- a social club. I can’t remember what we did. We were sent up to the YMCA and initiated. There were 5-6 of us, Bobby Carter (he did track). There was a big room and they had us strip and gave us names and broke eggs on our heads and poured flour on top of us but we did it because we wanted to be a part of something. That was a wonderful thing. It meant you were accepted, you belonged. They swam at the Y with no bathing suits. I didn’t know how to swim. I ran home in shock. I left and didn’t stay there.
I didn’t go to my own prom. There was an Italian girl that wanted me to take her. Why? She wasn’t Greek. My parents wouldn’t allow it.
Lunch was on front lawn with those 3 friends. We sat by flagpole watching the girls.
Graduation- My picture was on the table when you came in, mine and a girl’s, just the two of us. That was a big honor. We bought the picture. I was happy to get my diploma. Most of the guys went right into the service.
I saw Mr. McGraw once in Santa Cruz about 15 yrs ago. He was the machine shop teacher. I remember an incident with Charlie Trimble. They had to forge the metal. We were supposed to present it to the teacher so he was holding onto it with prongs. The teacher said, “Is it hot?” And Charlie said, “NO.” so the teacher grabbed it and backed off. Sidney McGraw.
Herbie Cramer and I would go to the bathroom to kill time. We flooded the toilets and that wasn’t a good thing but we did it for fun. When we got back Mr. McGraw asked what took so long and Herbie said, “That’s how long it took.” We flooded the floor.
I was in the service for 2 years right from Tech. I was in Korea before the war. Then I did real estate in Oakland, commercial and homes. I saw that the money wasn’t in sales but in owning something. At one time I owned Alameda Theater for 20 years until the city of Alameda bought it from me. They gave $50,000 to restore the mural. It took me 2-1/2 years to pass the real estate exam. I didn’t give up. I went to college for a week and a half. After WWI with GI bill, lots of people started to go to college. Before that, not that many went.
Life lessons: Don’t give up. Continue on. Keep your incentive high. Get your education if you want to eat.
I am very proud that I went to Tech even though I wasn’t a good student. I feel proud that I finished. They probably saw through me but gave me a diploma anyways.
100- wonderful! Go to school and don’t just carry your lunch.