Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Leslie Edward Smith ’37
I lived on Colby and chose Tech because my brothers had gone there. Frank graduated in 1930 and Melvin in 1932. I already felt a connection to Tech when I started. I didn’t socialize that much at Tech because I had an after school job in a grocery store. I hopped on my bike at 3:15 and worked until 9:00 at night. I didn’t have close friends in high school and I didn’t have time for girls. I did my homework at the store and on the weekends. I always had books with me. I was in the college prep track. My older brother did auto mechanics at Tech, got a job after graduation, and stayed in that one job his whole career. I remember many of my teachers. I had Miss Raab for German and Mrs. Pillsbury was my counselor. Mr. Hamilton was a coach at Tech and he lived near the grocery store and used to come in to check on me. My favorite classes were German, social studies, physics, and chemistry. I remember Mrs. Bjornson well. She was very interested in politics and was a strong advocate for FDR. She talked a lot about him and his policies. We all felt at the time that he was going a good job. She made us feel more connected with him and his policies. It wasn’t traditional then in classes to talk about the real world. I liked her very much. She used to talk with me as an individual after class too. She ran for state assembly. Miss Raab was the one I was most fond of. The way she conducted the class and her personality stand out. I am not German, but I enjoyed learning the language. That stood me in good stead when I went to Europe after the war with my wife. I could get around without any problem. We didn’t have language labs or tapes then, just the teacher and she didn’t even speak with us in German. We learned vocabulary and verb tenses, that sort of thing. I used to go with my friend and eat a bag lunch on the bleachers because we couldn’t afford lunch in the cafeteria.
As I said, my life centered more around my job after school. I was always on my bike in junior high and had noticed a store on Hudson and Claremont. There was a man always out on the sidewalk and we go to talking. He offered me a job delivering groceries in the neighborhood. Then I started restocking and sweeping and then waiting on trade. The upshot is that after I was there about a year, he approached me and asked if I would be willing to take care of the store for an hour so he could go to the doctor. I went in the next day. He opened at 7 to get the produce delivery and never came back to work really. He was a Russian who’d worked in the mines in Argentina and had Miners’ silicosis. I stayed there all summer long. Then my middle brother who’d wanted to go to sea and had gotten a job on a ship during a longshoreman strike, had to come back home. He’d been involved in grocery stores too and had worked for an Italian green grocer where Piedmont Market is now. Since my brother was free and had experience, he came into the store and both of us took care of the store until the end for my employer who eventually died. As a result of that experience, when store closed down, the detail man who’d taken my order every week (he worked for Haas Brothers, a wholesale grocers) came to me and asked me whether I’d be willing to go to business school at Cal if they’d pay the tuition an I’d come to work for them afterwards. But I turned it down to go to dental school. One of my friends told me before I started at Cal that they were hiring at Safeway, but my father wouldn’t let me drive his car and the Safeway was out on 150th Ave. They interviewed ninety candidates and took five, including me. I worked weekends at Safeway and caught the eye of one of the men there and he took me into his Safeway store where I worked for a long time. It was a modern supermarket on 40th and Telegraph. I worked there on weekends. This was during my undergraduate years at Cal. I worked for him summers and weekends whenever I could.
Then when it was time to go to dental school in San Francisco, the timing didn’t work, but he said I could come at 1:00 and eat in the storeroom. So I cut the last hour of anatomy lab so that I could get over to the store in time. I worked with him until I was called into the military in 1943. Dental school is usually four years, but it was accelerated because of the war. I had to go all summer with no time off. I worked my way through the university. Dentistry was expensive. We had to buy all our own materials. We made all our own crowns and bridges and dentures. As freshmen, we had to boy our own lab equipment. That was the equipment we’d be using in our practices. All of my savings disappeared in these purchases. I borrowed $100 from my father to pay for my tuition. I paid that off at $20/month and never borrowed from my parents again.
I also graded blue books for 1 class of juniors and one of seniors and professor asked me if I wanted to take over his lecture class! So I started giving lectures. I knew his class because I’d been reading the same lecture for two year. Then I served in the military. I tried the Navy, but I had problems with one eye and have high arches and the Navy refused me. The Army refused me too, but if I signed waivers, they said they would take me. I did and entered the Army as a volunteer and became a captain. When I entered military I gave my parents an allotment every month for three years and then I got married and we needed the money. We never had children. My wife got a tropical illness in the Pacific. She spent nineteen moths in barracks taking care of the boys coming in from the South Pacific. All the casualties from Iwo Jima went to Ann’s hospital.
After the war, I taught 35 yrs at the UC in School of Dentistry and had my own practice in Berkeley across from Alta Bates Hospital.
I am amazed that Tech is still there and that I am still here! Tech was a good school, one of the best around at that time. Wonderful teachers. Great people.
My advice to current Tech students is to stay away from drugs and cigarettes. And apply yourselves! Not with girls, but with your studies.