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Friday, September 11, 2015

Chapter 6- Galesburg High School Years

The Teacher

“I think of you people often, and how much you did to make my months in Galesburg among the happiest of my life. I’ll be back again some day....”
Bill Allen describing his teaching days at Galesburg High School in a letter.

After graduating from Knox College in 1939, he got a job teaching in Fairview, Illinois. He was to teach English, coach contest dramatics, and direct three plays per year. Bill taught at Fairview for three years. In the fall of 1942, Bill went back to Galesburg, to teach at Galesburg High School. GHS was located in downtown Galesburg. The school was across the street from Knox’s Whiting Hall (girls dorm), and a block from Seymour Hall where he resided during college. So in moving back to Galesburg, he was in pretty familiar territory.

As director of the plays at Galesburg, he would have had many more potential students than he had in Fairview. By all accounts in The Budget (GHS newspaper) and The Reflector (GHS yearbook), Bill was a popular teacher who attracted many students to participate in drama. The Budget on November 18, 1943 in an article announcing Bill was leaving wrote the following, “Under Mr. Allen’s capable direction, the Senior High theatre has become one of the most popular extracurricular activities with the students.”

Bill obviously had an impact on his students. In the cast list of the GHS plays is a young man named Jack Brooking. Brooking in 1952 would write an article in the Galesburg Register-Mail about Jack’s memories of Bill.

Bill directed his last play in the winter of 1943. The play was Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. He originally was going to enter the Navy, but he wanted to stay to direct this last play. Because of this decision to wait, he instead had to go into the Army.

In his eulogy of Bill in 1945, Supt. of Schools in Galesburg said the following of Bill’s decision to leave teaching to join the Army. “Bill Allen, the teacher and dramatic coach, loved his chosen field of work. He was an artist, creative, and imaginative. He enjoyed working with high school youth and with his colleagues. The War in all of its horrible aspects came as an awful shock to Bill’s finer nature and how could it be otherwise? He believed in the true and the beautiful. There was nothing in the world of the military that appealed to anything in his sensitive nature. Yet an inner voice would not let Bill rest and many times, when visiting in my office, he would reveal the conviction that he must enter the fight.”

After Bill joined the Army, in one of his first letters home, he described the importance of the teaching profession. He wrote the following on Christmas Day in 1943 from Georgia, “I, personally and selfishly, can’t help be a little excited about what is ahead of me; but, even if I didn’t realize it in civilian life, I know now that this is not the place where I could serve my country best. It breaks my heart to discover the misguided and warped attitudes of a majority of the men here. I know that this is the only way to get the immediate job done, but somewhere in civilian life these boys should have been indoctrinated with the fundamental truths upon which the institutions that we are defending are based. In this respect, the teacher is the important cog and somewhere along the line, it appears to me that a great many of us have failed. What I can now accomplish with my trigger finger is as nothing compared with the work that people like Paul and John are doing. And that is a very sincere statement on my part!”

After graduating from Knox College, Bill had begun taking some courses in summers at Northwestern University. His employment records from Galesburg High School indicate he had earned close to a master’s degree in speech. In his letters to his Aunt Mabel, he indicates he may have switched studies at Northwestern and have been studying law. We will never what direction Bill’s career would have taken had he returned after World War II.
In a letter to his Aunt Mabel on November 12, 1944, Bill expresses how war has changed him. He expresses his doubts about returning to teaching.  “We all do a lot of planning for the future and I’ve done a lot of thinking along that line myself. I fear that I’ll never be able to go back to the classroom and earn my living there again. I might even like to pick up my law career where it left me, if too much time does not elapse before I can put on a red necktie and go bareheaded again.”              

The following is a letter written in the summer of 1939. Bill had graduated from Knox College and was living at home in Alta before starting his first teaching job in Fairview in the fall of 1939. This letter is to an old college friend.

(From Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Illinois.)

Five New Teachers Join Faculty 
of Galesburg High School This Year

In September of 1942, The Budget (GHS newspaper) reports there are five new teachers at GHS.

From the 1943 Reflector (GHS Yearbook).

From the 1943 Reflector (GHS Yearbook).

Review of Tons of Money as it appreared in the GHS Budget (student newspaper)

From the 1943 GHS Reflector.

Bill’s 1942 Christmas card, sent to friends, students, and family

From the 1943 GHS Reflector.

The following was a review of the Galesburg Register-Mail (date unknown). It should be noted this was for a play conducted by GHS students in the summer of 1943.

GHS Players in Fine Performance Thursday Night
The Senior High School Theater Summer Stock company under the direction of William G. Allen attempted an ambitious piece on Thursday evening in the high school auditorium with “Kind Lady” and came off with a very credible performance. The audience was given a fore-warning of the sinister angle of the plot in the prologue which showed Helen Barrow as Mary Herries, pleading with Jack Brooking, as Mr. Foster, to save her from the results of her misplaced kindness.
The play started to build from the very beginning. Uncommonly enough, the first lines of the first act were uninterrupted by noisy late comers in the audience and therefore the youthful performers got off to an excellent start.
The play is the product of Edward Chodorov and although now in its years it still is a must in the repertory of every mature actress. The audience was therefore much impressed by the performance Helen Barrow who takes the part of the forty—or fifty—odd year old woman who finds herself through her kindness a prisoner in her own home. Miss Barrow, while giving the part every bit of drama it could take, nevertheless played with an intelligent restraint that is remarkable in so young an actress. It showed a very sympathetic feeling for the part and at no time was the audience aware of the youth of the player.
The other players in the cast were entirely adequate. Except for the too-hurried action in the moving the fake-sick “Ada” to upstairs, the performance was convincing and the comedy, well-handled. Audrey DeBois was the half-wit accomplice of the conspirators afforded the comedy in the second and third acts. Errolene Clark was excellent as the maid, rose. Bob Simmen, as Henry Abbott, leader of the plot to get controlof Miss Herries’ fortune, had the ability to get himself thoroughly disliked by the audience as he directed Ada (Ethel Rogers), the doctor (Bill Leibovitz), Mr. Edwards (Richard Mawby), Mrs. Edwards (Joan Middaugh) and Aggie (Audrey DeBois) in their nefarious work. Carrie McLaughlin who was Lucy Weston opens the first act, and Barbara Bullis and Ronald Carlson as Phyllis Gelenning and her American gance constituted the relatives of Miss Herries. Gustav Rosenberg was portrayed by Rodney Harris.
As with all of Mr. Allen’s plays the action was fast and at no time was there the ghastly lull which so often labels the amateur performance. A very audible sigh was registered by the audience when Mr. Foster failed to afll in with the conspirators in the last act, indicating the audience was completely out of the war-torn world for two hours last night.
Miss Barrow’s excellent character work puts a new high on Galesburg High School’s theater work and this evening’s performance naturally will take on the veterans’ status for other performances.

From the 1944 Reflector.

November 18, 1943 in the GHS Budget.

December 2, 1943- The Budget review of Bill’s last play at GHS.

Bill’s last play, description from 1944 Reflector.

The following are his employments records at Galesburg High School, which believe it or not are still on file with the school district. Records indicate he started teaching in 1939-40 at Fairview for $1100, and his salary increased to $1500 by his third year at Fairview. Moving to Galesburg, his salary for 1942-3 jumped up to $1700.
The records show his first year he lived at 1062 N. Cherry St. in Galesburg. It is believed he roomed in the house with the family of a Knox professor. For the 1943-4 school year, he moved to duplex at 117 Maple St. An irony is that the duplex was in sight within sight of the location his brother, Ben, had his vet practice in Galesburg. The duplex was torn down in 2015.
At the bottom of the card is scribbled, “Resigned to enter the service, killed in action April 1945.”

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