Every school reflects the character of its neighborhood. Few have mirrored this as well, for as long and through as many changes as Western Hills High School.
The school, better known as West Hi, observes the 75th anniversary of its grand opening Wednesday. Since Sept. 10, 1928, this school has come to represent the values Cincinnati's west side holds dear.
The west side relishes family ties and traditions. Working hard to get ahead by getting a good education is revered. Boasting about accomplishments is not. Quiet pride fuels a quiet passion to succeed.
"West Hi is a family place," said Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman (Class of 1970).
"It's where families go, my mom and my sister went there and so did I, to get a good education."
Other schools may grab the glory. Cross-town rival Walnut Hills High School basks in its academic excellence. West-side rival Elder High School can boast about being the state's football champion. And gloat about dominating the west side's Super Bowl, the annual Elder-West Hi football match up.
This reinforces West Hi's underdog status.
Western Hills High School's teams are known as the Mustangs. If those steeds were descended from a real-life race horse, it would be Seabiscuit. They may be a little rough around the edges. But they know how to overcome the odds and find the winner's circle.
Western Hills High School seniors Deanelle Jones, 17, and from left (click for zoom view) Gloria Hatten, 16, and Ericika Guice, 16, talk about their school and its long history.
(Gary Landers photo)
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Let those other fine institutions of learning have their glory. Western Hills High School just keeps on turning out graduates - 30,000-plus since it opened - that make a difference in Cincinnati.
West Hi alumni have made their mark on the city's skyline, contributed to its cuisine and defined its brand of baseball.
Eugene Ruehlmann, class of 1943, occupied the mayor's office the first time Cincinnati rediscovered its riverfront and built a stadium on the Ohio's north shore.
Cincinnati chili's spicy heritage runs through West Hi. Twins Bill and Christie Lambrinides of the family that formerly owned Skyline Chili belong to the class of 1946. Joe Kiradjieff (1949) is the president of Empress Chili. John Johnson (1957) owns Camp Washington Chili, recipient of the James Beard Regional Classic Restaurant Award.
Pete Rose (1960) played for the Mustangs before becoming Major League Baseball's hit king with the Reds. He is one of 12 West Hi graduates to reach the big leagues. The high school's baseball team has won five state championships: 1948, 1951, 1967, 1977 and 1986.
West Hi graduates have worn judges' robes, police chief badges and physicians' stethoscopes.
Stephen McNamee (1960) and Sandra Beckwith (1961) sit on the federal bench.
Myron Leistler (1947) and Michael Snowden (1966) became Cincinnati's police chief, alternating the job with Elder graduates.
Dr. Cornelia Dettmer (1949) founded Hospice of Cincinnati.
West Hi graduates have played jazz with the best - trumpeter Bill Berry (1948) with Duke Ellington, drummer Dee Felice (1949) with Mel Torme, trombonist Eddie Morgan (1956) with Woody Herman. Each musician studied under West Hi's longtime band and orchestra director, Andew Brady. During Brady's 30-year stint, the school's instrumental music program became a training ground for high school band directors.
Another West Hi graduate has dedicated her life to endangered species. Reproductive physiologist Betsy Dresser (1962) has gained an international reputation for her groundbreaking wildlife research.
These graduates have earned their achievements with a sense of pride instilled at West Hi.
This pride sounds the same coming from graduates separated by decades of change.
"I love my school. People are focused here. I'm here to get an education, graduate, go to college and become an attorney."
"This was a loving place. Everyone wanted you to get a good education. Then you could go into the world and succeed."
The first quote belongs to Ericika Guice, student council president, lawyer to be, class of 2004.
The second quote comes from Dr. William Gerhardt, retired pediatrician, Western Hills' historian, class of 1946.
They sound alike. Yet they come from two eras.
Gerhardt grew up in Westwood. The West Hi he attended was predominantly white and classified as a comprehensive neighborhood school. Kids living nearby went there to prepare for blue- and white-collar jobs.
Guice lives in Covedale. The West Hi she attends finds her in the school's predominantly African-American student body.
No longer a neighborhood school, Western Hills still educates students to go to college or to enter the work force. Students attend three separate schools under West Hi's W-shaped roof: Western Hills Traditional, Western Hills Design Technology and Western Hills University.
Gerhardt and Guice may be separated by age and race. But they are united by a love for their school.
They met to talk about West Hi in the school's library. After 75 years, this book-lined, two-story space is still stunning. It lives up to the honor bestowed upon it by the Enquirer. On West Hi's opening day in 1928, the newspaper called it "the most beautiful library" ever built in a Cincinnati school.
The wood trim and bookcases are still as brown as rich, dark chocolate. Ornate plaster work and beams bolster the ceiling. Two stories of leaded glass windows are highlighted by stained glass seals of seven universities.
"This has always been the most beautiful room in the school," said Gerhardt.
"Alumni always try to end up here when they come back."
Robert Howell, class of 1981, and Doris Ostenkamp (1982) came back to West Hi to teach. He's a permanent substitute teacher. She teaches special education.
Ostenkamp and Howell are optimistic about the school's future.
He's seen "morale and discipline increase tremendously over the last two years."
She's seen "school spirit on the rise."
Paul LeBlanc feels that spirit. The senior, and son of a West Hi graduate, helped make the base for the school's Bats Incredible! entry.
The public sculpture titled, "75 years . . . and Still Hittin'," was created by students of Susan Coakley, the school's art teacher.
The artwork includes baseball-card style portraits of the four West Hi grads to manage in the major leagues: Jim Frey and Don Zimmer (1949), Russ Nixon (1953) and Rose.
LeBlanc looked at those faces and saw hope for his future.
"Look what they accomplished," he said. "And they went here.
"That tells me you can go to West Hi and be somebody."
Old West Hi building to get face-lift
Western Hills High School is due for a major makeover. Construction should begin in 2007 as part of Cincinnati Public Schools' 10-year, nearly $1 billion Facilities Master Plan.
Mike Burson, the school system's director of facilities, terms the work at West Hi "a comprehensive renovation."
Walls will be ripped open to replace old drain pipes and to install new wiring. The school will be completely air-conditioned. A new elevator will replace the old one.
The central section of the school's 1928 buff-brick facade will be cleaned. Masonry will be inspected, and faulty areas will be fixed. Plaster and woodwork repairs will also be made in the school's ornate library. Funds in the master plan "do not pay for restoration work," Burson said.
A new gym will be built for Dater High School, which is located in West Hi's former vocational wing.
The school's renovation is slated to cost $43.2 million, including construction at Dater. Replacing the original building would have cost $54.6 million.
West Hi took 21/2 years to build in the 1920s and cost $1.145 million.
Western Hills High School has produced a raft of distinguished graduates in its 75-year history. This abbreviated list includes the grad's name, year graduated and claim to fame.
Bill Berry (1948) - Big band trumpeter for Woody Herman and Duke Ellington.
Sandra Shank Beckwith (1961) - U.S. District Court judge.
Jim Boyle (1979) - National Football League player.
Dr. Cornelia Dettmer (1949) - Founder, Christ Hospital Oncology Department and Hospice of Cincinnati.
William Dickhoner (1939) - CG&E president.
Rupert Doan (1951) - Hamilton County Court of Appeals judge.
Betsy Dresser (1962) - Reproductive physiologist specializing in saving endangered wildlife.
Johnny Fischer (1930) - Golfer, Walker Cup team.
Lewis Foster (1940) - Cincinnati Bible Seminary, dean.
Tom Fox (1967) - Opera singer, baritone.
Jim Frey (1949) - Major League Baseball manager.
Dr. William Gerhardt (1946) - Director, Christ Hospital Department of Pediatrics; Cincinnati Children's Hospital historian.
Jim Hader (1941) - Hader Hardware co-owner.
Milt Hader (1936) - Hader Hardware co-owner.
Carl Heimerdinger Jr. (1932) - Cincinnati Public Schools' clerk-treasurer.
Harvey Hohnecker (1955) - Broadway performer under the stage name Harvey Evans.
Erwin Hoinke (1950) - Hoinke Classic Bowling Tournament founder.
Eddie Jackson (1944) - Hall of Fame bowler.
John Johnson (1957) - Camp Washington Chili owner and recipient of the James Beard Regional Classic Restaurant Award.
Albert "Hal" Kattus (1935) - Cardiologist specializing in exercise of cardiac patients.
Joe Kiradjieff (1949) - Empress Chili owner.
Robert Klosterman (1964) - Commander of aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
Myron Leistler (1947) - Cincinnati police chief.
Stephen McNamee (1960) - U.S. District Court judge.
Eddie Morgan (1956) - Trombonist, Woody Herman's big band, Frank Sinatra's touring orchestra.
Wes Neal (1956) - Roger Bacon High School band director.
Bill Nimmo (1935) - Network TV and radio announcer, Johnny Carson's first TV sidekick.
Russ Nixon (1953) - Major League Baseball manager.
Don Poynter (1942) - Inventor of such novelties as whiskey-flavored toothpaste, "The Thing" plastic coin-grabbing hand in a box and the wastebasket basketball backboard.
Will Radcliff (1958) - Slush Puppie Corp. founder.
Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds (1966) - National Football League player.
Pete Rose (1960) - Major League Baseball's career hits king.
Mel Rueger (1935) - Hamilton County prosecutor and judge.
Robert Ruehlman (1970) - Youngest judge to serve on Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
Eugene Ruehlmann (1943) - Mayor of Cincinnati.
John J. Schiff (1934) - Founder Cincinnati Financial.
John J. Schiff Jr. (1961) - Cincinnati Financial chairman and CEO.
Glenn Sample (1949) - Cincinnati Reds, official scorer since 1980.
Bill Seitz (1972) - Ohio Representative.
Judy Kulstad Van Slyke Turk (1966) - Director, School of Mass Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Clyde Vollmer (1938) - Only Cincinnati-born Cincinnati Reds rookie to hit a home run in his first big-league at bat.
Cheryl Traub Winkler (1956) - Ohio Representative.
Don Zimmer (1949) - Major League Baseball player, coach and manager.
As this west-side icon turns 75, here are some essential facts about Western Hills High School:
Opened: Sept. 10, 1928; first full day of classes Sept. 11, 1928.
School colors: Maroon and cream.
Motto: Lux et Veritas (Light and truth.)
Student newspaper: The Breeze.
Student body 1928: 1,500 students, grades 7-12.
Student body 2003: 1,700 students, grades 9-12.
Largest student body: 3,400 in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 school years.
First graduating class: 25 students in 1929.
Campus: 28.5 acres; purchase price in 1924 - $43,860.
Construction: Buff-brick central structure - in modified Classical and Renaissance styles - took 21/2 years to build and cost $1.145 million; two wings added in 1938 gave building its W shape; vocational annex added in 1973 is present-day site of Dater High School.
Web sites: www.westernhillshigh.com and www.whills.cpsboe.k12.oh.us
If you go
Western Hills High School's 75th anniversary celebration concludes with two events this weekend.
"Friday Food and Football" includes a "Taste of West Hi" in the lunchroom, 5:30-6:30 p.m. The menu includes items with West Hi and west-side connections: Empress Chili (president Joe Kiradjieff belongs to the class of 1949); LaRosa's pizza (Buddy LaRosa is a longtime West Hi booster); Graeter's ice cream (executive vice-president Richard Graeter's wife and daughter graduated from West Hi); Slush Puppie frozen drinks (founder Will Radcliff, class of 1958); Hilvers Catering charcoal-grilled, marinated chicken breast (owner Earl Hilver, class of 1960); Maury's Tiny Cove ribs (owner Paul Yamaguchi is a 1985 alumnus).
West Hi's Mustangs meet Dayton Meadowdale at 7:30 p.m. in McCartney Stadium on the school campus. Alumni are invited onto the field before the game to form a human tunnel for the school's team to run through. The alumni choir will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Admission to each event is $10 per person.
75th Anniversary Banquet and Celebration Grand Finale, Sharonville Convention Center, 11355 Chester Road, 6-11 p.m. Dinner at 7 p.m. Cost: $37.50 per person.
Make checks payable to: WHHS 75th Celebration.
Mail to: WHHS 75th Celebration Reservations, c/o Shirley Cates Bachman, 3235 Northgate Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45248.
Information: Gail Suiter, (513) 829-5786, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native and West Hi alumnus, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown. E-mail: email@example.com.
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