Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Joan Creque Ormondroyd ’48
I graduated from Oakland Tech in January of 1948. We still had twice a year graduations in those days. I actually graduated early as I had skipped a grade or so in elementary school so think I was a little bit younger than most of my school mates. I still have a copy of our graduation pamphlet and my senior year book. I graduated first in a class of about 200 students. Of course we all promised to keep in touch with each other, but I’m afraid that didn’t happen for me.
I grew up in Oakland, but had actually been born in New York City. My folks moved west a couple of years after the big crash in the hope that my dad could find work out on the coast. (He was a ship’s pipe fitter). When we first arrived we lived in Hayward, which at that time was all small farms and open fields. My brother David was born there in 1932. Eventually, as the depression began to end and the preparations for WWII created more ship building, we moved closer to Berkeley, and by the time I was ten we were living on Boyd Avenue near the Rockridge district. I attended Emerson Elementary School and then Claremont Junior High and ended up going to Tech because it was the closest high school to where we lived. I had actually wanted to go to Berkeley High, but would have had to take a bus every day instead of walking and my parents did not want me doing that.
I actually loved high school. For me it was a great place to be. I had some fine teachers, and almost from my first year I worked on the school newspaper, eventually becoming its editor. My favorite teacher was Jesse Smith in journalism, but I also remember a wonderful history (social studies) teacher, Anga Bjornson , who wasn’t afraid to voice her liberal opinions, and my biology teacher Miss Hawk who taught me not to be afraid of creepy crawly things. My English teacher was Miss Dawson and I think she instilled in me a lifelong love of the classics as well as the English language. I never enjoyed Math, though did well in it by sheer hard work, but it was Dr. Marchus who taught me how to study. I think I heard that he went on to become Supervisor of Schools later on.
I had Mr. Johnson for Spanish and while I remember liking him, I’m glad I didn’t copy his accent when I later majored in that subject.
The best things I remember about Tech: Fridays at Laney print shop downtown…it was the technical school where we set up our newspaper… I can still hear the linotype presses going like mad and can still read upside down and backwards which was what one had to do in setting up the press. I think being in Miss Smith’s journalism class and working with the great crew who put out the Scribe is probably the thing I remember best about those days. Being elected to the Delphian Society, (it consisted of the twelve most outstanding senior girls in the school)–and being so delighted that most of my friends were elected at the same time—Pearl Fong, Cecilia (Peachy) Corioni, Laura Insigne, Dorothy Jui, Theresa Lee… those are the ones I remember. I think, too, that I loved the diversity of our school. There were not many African Americans there at the time, but there were some and there were kids of almost every hue…lots of Chinese students, a small Jewish population and many Italians, as that part of Oakland had a very large Italian population. Oakland felt much less segregated then than it does now.
My one bad memory is being accosted in the hall by a boy I didn’t really know, but who was, I later learned, a member of a secret fraternity. I had just recently learned about these fraternities (which I don’t think were actually legal in our school) and had written a very critical column about them in the Scribe. (I wrote a weekly column called Water Under the Bridge by Creque (which is a good pun if you know that Creque is pronounced Creek). He pushed me up against the wall and threatened me – though I no longer remember what it was he said, nor what I replied. But nothing happened so I guess it all calmed down eventually.
I do have some rather bad memories about the kinds of advice we girls were given by counselors in those days…especially my Chinese friends who, smart at they were, were not encouraged to go on to college (though, thankfully, many of them did). I think the assumption was that no matter how much schooling we might be planning on we would all eventually marry, have children and settle down…or pursue careers in teaching, nursing or librarianship. There weren’t that many alternatives for working class kids in those days.
I’m still in touch with a couple of my high school buddies. William (Jeep) Forester and Pearl Fong got in touch with me some twenty odd years ago and we’ve been in touch every since. One of my best friends was Ruby Poore who graduated a year before I did and went on to Nursing School. I was in touch with her until her death a few years ago.
A few years after graduation I bumped into Willie Mae Bailey, who was not in my class, but was a friend. She had had the most beautiful singing voice, but as an African American from a very poor family, she ended up cleaning houses for a living and not going to school at all. She and I were refused service at a restaurant on College Avenue and when I reported that to my buddies at Berkeley (I was a member of the Committee on Racial Equality) they sat in at the restaurant until they shut it down. I became a political activist during those years.
I’m not sure Tech prepared me for the life I’ve lived since graduation but I really don’t know what it could have done to prepare me any better. I left Berkeley early, marrying in my sophomore year and moving with my husband to Mexico. We lived there a few years and my first child was born there. I graduated from college there and became fluent in Spanish and it’s been part of my working life ever since.(I taught it for a number of years in various places) That marriage broke up early and I remarried, moved to Canada where I ran a free school, raised my four children and sheltered Americans fleeing the Vietnam war. Unfortunately my husband was a rather disturbed person and eventually I left him, returned to the States and went to Library School at Berkeley.
In 1970 I met Edward Ormondroyd, a writer of children’s books and also a librarian. We moved east with our kids (his three, my four)—or at least the ones that weren’t already in college…and have been together ever since. I served for twenty years as a reference librarian at Cornell University while Edward wrote more books and worked in a library in Ithaca. We live on 8 acres of country land, have a huge pond, spend a lot of time reading, birding, doing various sorts of volunteer work, entertaining our friends, and loving retirement. We’ve traveled a good deal–mainly in Europe–and go to CA at least once a year as our kids have little by little settled there.
I don’t really have a lot of advice for kids today, except that I’d like to see them walk away from their
electronic devices once in a while and really get out and enjoy the world of nature. A walk in the woods, a picnic in the park, watching birds at a feeder….those are the kinds of activities that are good for the soul.