I have just returned from a wonderful fall trip back home to Indiana. I love living down here on the Gulf Coast, but I really miss Indiana at this time of year. Fall is just the best season that Indiana has to offer. This trip north was not only to visit my family but to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my high school homecoming football game and reunion.
I had an incredible conversation with Gary Armbruster the day before the game. He is director of Corporate Relations and Alumni Services at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. It's the new high school that was formed by merging my high school, Sacred Heart-Kennedy Memorial and Bishop Chartrand.
Gary told me that even after 50 years there is still a rivalry between the alumni of those merged schools and that caused a rocky beginning for then newly formed Roncalli. But now with the leadership of Joe Hallowell, president, and Chuck Wisenbach, principal for 25 years, Roncalli has been propelled forward to an enrollment of 1,200 students. In a recent poll, 78 percent of the school's graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree.
Incredible statistics because my high school barely had 200 students at the time of the merger. Roncalli also boasts of an unprecedented new program, Life Academy Stars, for special-needs students that is the only one of its kind in a private Catholic school setting.
Gary, a Roncalli graduate, gave me and my daughter-in-law, Laura, herself a Roncalli graduate, a tour of the school campus, which was expanded in 1997 by 18 acres with a new media center and ball fields. The Capital Campaign this year hopes to double the size of thet gym, which is referred to as the "family room."
What a pleasure it was for me to be in the stands on homecoming night and once again cheer for the Roncalli Rebels football team, who won the game handily. I hadn't seen them play since my son, Brian, played for the team. I love how the name Rebels goes with school name of Roncalli, named for Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, Pope John XXIII. He indeed was a rebel Pope with his progressive Vatican II, which brought the Catholic Church into the 20th century.
At the tailgating event and dance that homecoming night, I saw many of my schoolmates and asked most of them how they thought attending Sacred Heart-Kennedy Memorial had affected their lives in the last 50 years.
George, one of my schoolmates, said he thought the education was higher quality because of the smaller student-to-teacher ratio. He also stated that middle-class values and morals were reinforced strongly there and that he still has friends he keeps in touch with even after 50 years.
Carol, a wonderful friend who married Otto, another classmate, told me that with the smaller school, she thought there was a greater sense of family and belonging. Her children went to Roncalli, and now her grandchildren are attending.
Paula, who lived close to me, said she made good friends who she has kept in touch with for 50 years. Actually, I can still remember Paula teaching me how to jump rope when I was around 8 years old.
I also want to thank classmates Ron and Drew for asking me to dance once again, proving to the world that old fogies can still boogie to that great classic rock 'n' roll music of our day.
How did attending this school change my life? I don't think I would be the person I am today without that incredible parish and school shaping my early and teen years. How I loved living in that little white house on Palmer Street and spending every day with my friends and family there in what I felt was a loving village. Each and every one of these people and more have shaped my life in some way and it has always been for the better. I have been so grateful over the years for my hardworking parents, Wilma and Don Belviy, who had such a large family but still ensured that all of their many children received the best education they could provide.
Now that Sacred Heart-Kennedy Memorial is only a 50-year memory, it is one of the best and one I revisit almost every day of my life.
-- Donna Knight is a freelance writer and artist in Houma.