By Ken Bradbury
So Mr. Barlow of the Illinois College education department came to me and said, “There’s a student teacher opening at Jacksonville High School.” Sounded good to me. All I would have would be a short drive down College and State. I think that student teaching lasted eight weeks back in the ‘70s and the college had assigned me to teach under a lady named Emma Savage. Despite her scary last name I thought this was pretty cool as I’d heard that she had a real sense of humor and liked creativity. I had always used “creativity” as an excuse for not getting things exactly right.
Then just a few days before I was to begin my stint in the old Jacksonville High School (JHS) building on State Street I got a phone call telling me that I would not have Mrs. Savage as a critic teacher and I would instead be assigned to a lady named Louise Norris. When I asked the professor the reason for the change, he said, “Because we think that you and Mrs. Savage are too much alike.” Wait a minute! What’s wrong with that?
That was my real introduction to Jacksonville High School, 1970. I taught Jr. English with Mrs. Norris (now Louise Bone) and was assigned to cafeteria duty with Henry Jackson Jr. Those of you who knew Henry know what an experience that was. I think he may have been carrying a gun, but I’m not sure.
So when Amy Albers approached me about writing a play for the JSD #117 birthday bash I honestly wondered if I had enough knowledge to put a script together. Were it not for the research of Jewel Mann and Dr. Bob Crowe, I’d have been in trouble; and when I sent a mass email to loads and loads of JHS grads, the show began to write itself. So many great stories poured in and many went into great detail thus needing a good bit of editing.
The play required some sort of hook on which to hang these great tales so I invented a fictional ghost janitor named Eddie who leads a quartet of girls through the school’s flamboyant history. Actually, Eddie’s name came from Ed Bartholomew, a former student of mine who was a custodian at JHS. But as is so often the case, the best humor comes from the real life tales rather than fiction and thanks to the help of many respondents, we gathered plenty.
Funny rehearsal anecdote: The cast had a sit down read-through of the show and a young man was reading a story about former JHS principal Ed Wainscott. He didn’t realize that Ed was sitting right beside him. The kid said, “Is this guy real?” Ed assured him that he was.
Postscript: When I finished my student teaching, Mrs. Norris gave me a gentle piece of advice. “Perhaps teaching may not be for you. You might think about a career in sales.”
The play written by Ken Bradbury was the culmination of nearly an entire year of planned events focused on celebrating Jacksonville School District #117’s sesquicentennial. Bradbury assembled shared memories and moments reminisced by past students into his play, “Hotrods, Ghosts & Hatchet Heads.” Featuring characters portrayed by actual students, faculty and staff of the school district, the play was performed each day, June 22 to June 24. Proceeds from the play’s ticket sales will benefit the Jacksonville High School music and theater programming. Please see photos from the production throughout this edition.