Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Evelyn Avidano Clevenger ’48
We used to say, “Once a Technite, always a Technite.” It was just something that we said. We loved our school. Tech was our second home.
I grew up above my grandparents’ store on the corner of 51st and Broadway, where the empty car lot is today. When they widened 51st Street in the 60’s, they took our store. 51st used to be just a regular street. My grandfather came from Italy to work in the quarry on 51st. He built a store with an apartment upstairs and then went back to Italy to the rest of the family. He was one of the founders of the Columbo Club. I remember dancing with my grandfather there on New Year’s Eve. When I was a student at Tech, some of my teachers used to come and eat in Mama’s grocery store at lunchtime. She made great sandwiches. Since my teachers knew my mother, I couldn’t get away with anything!
I went to a Catholic elementary school, but then my parents wanted me to go to public schools where I’d meet all kinds of people so I went to Claremont Junior High and then Tech High. There were all kinds of people at Tech– Irish, Italian, some African-Americans, Chinese, Japanese. The Japanese kids came to Tech right out of internment camps. I had friends who’d been in camps during the war, but they had no animosity to us. We were all there to learn and we respected each other and enjoyed each other’s company.
Our teachers were ladies and gentlemen. We really respected them. In our day, we were afraid of the teachers. They were strict and powerful, but fair. I remember Mr. Ferdinand Diel. There wasn’t a girl in the school who wasn’t in love with him. Miss Rosabelle Scott was the girls’ counselor. She was very strict, a bit overboard sometimes, but I never got in trouble. The boys all liked Miss Alice Skinner because she was so pretty. I remember our English teacher old Mrs. Hollis, bless her heart. I remember she once talked to the doorknob. She was a great English teacher and never lost her ability to teach. She just wanted to get our attention. She wore almost Victorian clothing. I remember she taught us lots of grammar. We did sentence diagramming. We got a really excellent outlook on life and everything else from our teachers. They taught us etiquette too, like Emily Post, so we knew how to behave properly. Girls sat with their ankles crossed and their feet on the floor. We were very modest. We didn’t use vulgarity.
But honestly, history wasn’t taught the way it should have been taught. We learned it from books, except with one teacher, Mrs. Bjornson, who was born in Scandinavia and who taught us things not in the books. We learned about African Americans who made inventions like Eli Whitney making the first cotton gin. She taught us that it wasn’t just white people who did things for our city. She even ran for city council, but I think she was too forward thinking to make it. She told us about what was happening in the world. We had to read the newspaper.
The war was still on when I started high school. Everyone was involved in the war. Lots of Italian boys fought in the Pacific. The Japanese boys fought in Europe. There’s a plaque to Tech boys who died in World War II in the front lobby. Some boys went to the war and came back to Tech. And some Japanese came to Tech right form the internment camps.
In my day, the girls wore skirts, just below the knee, with a blouse or a sweater. We wore short sox, any color, with saddle shoes. The boys wore Levi’s with the bottom rolled up or ordinary slacks like what a workingman would wear, not too tight, with white shirts or T-shirts and sweaters. We looked like ladies and gentlemen.
I didn’t socialize a lot. I studied real hard. I wanted to go to medical school. I was given the “Golden T” for straight A’s three years in a row. We were called “nerds,” but we didn’t care. We stuck to our books. My parents, especially my mother, were very proud of me. I was on the “Maintenance Board” which picked up litter after lunch. We all did our share in keeping the school immaculate. And I was in the Girls Glee Club and the Acapella Choir. Mrs. Garrison taught the Acapella Choir and Mrs. Martin, an ex-Marine, taught Girls’ Glee and boy, was she tough! We performed a lot at churches and at schools especially around the holidays. I was in the Music Club too, which some of us formed ourselves because we were asked to perform so much that we needed time to practice. I was also in the Senior Chorus and we performed at graduation and before school plays. I was in the Italian Club too which was for outings to museums, the zoo, libraries. And I was on the Senior Day Committee. We would get together to talk about how we’d miss our school! We were all sad about leaving and we knew we would miss each other.
Most of us went our own way after graduation. A lot got married and moved out of town. I also enjoyed ice-skating at Iceland in Berkeley (I trained with Jack LaLanne when he had his first gym in Oakland) and horseback riding. On the weekends, I liked to go ballroom dancing at Lynn’s on Broadway above Woolworth’s, at Sweet’s Ballroom on Franklin St., and at Alibaba on Grand Ave.
We weren’t prejudiced. I had a varied group of friends whom I had lunch with and sometimes would take them home with me to eat. My folks were from Italy and they knew what hardship was. Our history teacher Mrs. Bjornson taught us that there are two sides to everything and you have to look at everything with an open mind. My mother taught me the same lessons. One day some of us girls were studying together¬ black, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican¬ and my mother came in and said, “I’d like to do a study today.” She handed each of us a needle and told us to prick out fingers. Then she asked, “What color is your blood?” We said, “Red, of course,” and she said, “Remember that as you get older.” She also used to say, “Remember, Africa is one of the oldest continents.” The things my mother and Mrs. Bjornson said have stayed with me. I still have two sweaters she gave me from Norway. She really liked my mother. They were both Democrats. They used to talk politics and discuss the problems of the world.
I have so many happy memories of Tech High School. I remember the ROTC. Tech had the best ROTC marching band and the best jazz band. They practiced out on the field. They’d patrol the grounds and police the place. Tech had lots of things other schools didn’t have. We had a tumbling team that did fancy legwork. We had a jazz band that was invited to play in clubs. And Tech had marvelous woodworking and automotive shops.
We used to hang out at Chris’s Hot Dogs across the street from Tech. They had the best hot dogs in town, foot long ones. It was where the donut shop is now. And there was The Bulldog on the corner of 45th and Broadway where the Human Resources is now, the welfare office for Alameda County. We went there for candy and soda. We also went to Fenton’s. It used to be on 41st and Broadway in my day.
Our graduation was in the auditorium. The girls wore gold and the boys, purple. I remember throwing my hat up in the air.
I married right out of high school instead of going to medical school as I had planned. That didn’t last long. Then I went to work for Ma Bell and made enough to go to Healds Business College for 4 years. I worked at Ma Bell nights. After graduation, I worked in hospitals as a medical transcriptionist. I knew a lot of Latin from being Catholic so it wasn’t too hard for me. During the Korean War, I volunteered and ended up at the Yokuska Naval Hospital in Japan. I married a serviceman, but that ended in divorce too. After the war, I worked at Oak Knoll on MacArthur and married James Clevenger, who graduated from Hollister High School in 1941. He was a journeyman plumber. That marriage lasted¬ 50 years, 4 months, and 27 days!
I was very upset that they destroyed so much of the old school. They said it wasn’t safe for earthquakes, but it is built on blue rock. It never would have been hurt in an earthquake. We all wrote nasty letters to the superintendent when they wanted to destroy the school in the 1980’s. There was nothing wrong with that school! There were two huge trees on the front lawn¬ huge, with low branches. They were very popular at night. People used to call them “the necking trees.” A lot of us got so upset when they took them down in that remodel. They had no right to take them down!
We were all proud of Tech. She went through some bad times, but we knew that she’d straighten out.
I think it is wonderful that Tech is turning 100. I hope it turns 200!
To today’s students I would say, Keep up the good work. Study hard. And always be loyal to your school.