Springfield (population 111,454) is located in central Illinois in Sangamon County. It is the State Capitol of Illinois and the County Seat of Sangamon County. Springfield was first settled in 1818. It was named the State Capitol of Illinois in 1837 though it wasn’t officially chartered until 1840. Springfield is located at the intersections of Interstate Highway 72 and Interstate Highway 55. Illinois Routes leading to and from Springfield include 4, 29, 54, 97, and 124. Historic Route 66 passes through Springfield as well. Several railroad lines help make Springfield a transportation hub.
The First Graduation of Converse Grade School
Provided by Phil Shadid
A history of Converse School, as well as ALL of the information on this page, was provided to us by Phil Shadid. Thanks Phil, this entry will likely be the shortest tenure for any high school on the Glory Days site. It is an interesting story. The History of the school, researched and documented by Phil, is as follows:
“Converse Grade school opened at the corner of 8th Street at Eastman and Converse Avenues in the Fall of 1891. The school was named for the Converse family, who had a large residence in the area of 8th and Eastman. Converse Avenue is still in existence and runs eastward from 8th Street for about 1 1/2 miles, ending in the suburb of Grandview.
The school had its actual opening in 1862 when the citizens of the village of North Springfield, with the help of Henry Converse, opened a one-room brick school on the site. Converse had come to Springfield from New Hampshire in 1846 and farmed 200 acres in an area east of 8th Street and north of North Grand Avenue (Read a letter from Henry Converse to his cousin Peter in New Hampshire at the bottom of this page). More than likely, Mr. Converse was aquainted with Abraham Lincoln Converse constructed a house in 1849 on 9th Street between the Alton Railroad (now Union Pacific) underpass and the street which would bear his name. The house was donated to the cityin 1930 to be used as a concession building for the new Memorial Swimming Pool. It was torn down in 1936.
In 1891 the city of Springfield annexed the village of North Springfield and the Springfield Board of Education took over the operation of the one-room “Public School.” The school district built an addition to the school and renamed it in honor of Henry Converse.
The first graduation class for 8th graders took place on June 15, 1892, comprising of seven students; Anne Brinkerhoff, Willie Brinkerhoff, Agnes Dick, Eva Groves, Edward Price, Patrick Sullivan, and Frugal Wilcox. (A copy of the front of the program for this first graduation can be viewed to your right.)
The Brinkerhoff name is prominent because of the family mansion which is now part of Springfield College. Wilcox is the name of an elementary school in northeast Springfield.
In 1897 the school was expanded to 8 class rooms, and in 1915, 10 more class rooms were built.
Converse opened its doors to 9th graders (freshmen) in September of 1930. At that time grades 4 through 8 also attended Converse, making it a version of a junior high school. Freshmen entering Converse in 1930, 1931, and 1932, would then transfer to Feitshans HS (replaced by Southeast in 1967) or Springfield High for their sophomore year. This formula was followed until 1934 when 10th graders were admitted to Converse.
Then, in 1935, 11th grade (Juniors) were added, and finally, in September of 1936, 12th grade (Seniors) became part of the school. This was done in anticipation of the opening of Lanphier High School later in that school year. There were 223 students in grades 4 – 8 and 408 in grades 9 – 12.
The High School students last day at Converse was January 22, 1937, and Lanphier High opened January 25, 1937 (this school is still in existence). Some students and faculty, including beloved principal George E. Stickney, (who remained at Lanphier until 1956 and is pictured below), helped move materials and equipment over the January 23-24 weekend from Converse to Lanphier, a distance of about five blocks. Lanphier was constructed as a depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) project at a cost of $325,000!
On the night of January 25, 1937, the Lanphier Lions (their new nickname, Converse was called the Corsairs) basketball team played its first game against county school Pleasant Plains before a capacity crowd at their new gymnasium. Lanphier won 36 – 20
With the opening of Lanphier, the Converse school reverted back to a full size grade school for all eight grades. Converse was closed in May of 1939, with its students being disbursed to other public schools in the northh end of the city. The Catholic Diocese of Springfield purchased the now vacant school in 1940 and moved Cathedral Boys High School to that location. Cathedral remained in the building until until Griffin High School opened on the city’s west side in 1959. The school building was then taken over by Springfield College and was demolished in 1980, ending its service that included 117 years of education on the north side of the city.
(This writing is based on information at Springfield’s Lincoln Library, consisting of news clippings, photographs, the 1937 and 1954 Lan-Hi yearbooks, and microfilm records of the Springfield, IL, State Journal-Register. Thank you to Jim LaRocca, Class of 1937, for sharing his memories of Converse High School as well.)
Phil Shadid sent us more information regarding Converse High’s only true graduating class of 70 students which reads:
“Converse High School Senior Class 1936-37”
A Little Known Fact of History
“There was no formal graduation of Seniors attending Converse High School during its brief existence. According to a published newspaper report in the Springfield, Illinois State Journal, in January 1937, it was decided by the Board of Education not to have a Mid-Term graduation for Seniors (which was common during that era) because there were so few students eligible to graduate. (The city’s other public schools, Feitshans and Springfield High, had Mid-Term graduations in January of 1937.)
The Converse Mid-Term Seniors were recognized at the May 1937 graduation for Lanphier High School (which replaced Converse in January 1937). A total of 70 graduated at the May1937 commencement.
Therefore, no one formally graduated from Converse High School during the only year that Seniors attended the school.
Note: Mid-Term graduations were eliminated in Springfield public schools after the Senior Mid-Term graduation of January 1954.”
Springfield Converse High School Quick Facts
Year opened as 1-room school: 1862
Year opened as 1-8 grade school: 1891
Year first high school class opened: 1930 (freshmen only)
Year second-year of HS offered: 1934 (freshmen & sophomores)
Year third-year of HS offered: 1935 (freshmen, sophomores, & juniors)
Year four-year HS established: 1936 (seniors added)
Year Converse HS closed: January of 1937
Students moved to: newly opened Lanphier HS (five blocks away)
Converse HS team nickname: the “Corsairs”
Converse HS team colors: Orange & Black
School Fight Song: School Fight Song
Lyrics provided by Phil Shadid
Source: Ken Mitchell, book titled “North-End Pride, The Story of Lanphier High School, Its People and Community,”
CHEER, CHEER FOR CONVERSE
Then, cheer, cheer for Converse as we’re marching along for a vic’try,
All our foes will tremble, when they hear the Corsairs roar, Rah-Rah!
So, fight, fight for Converse, as we strive to uphold her fair name,
For we are invincible, and we’re going to win this game!
For we are invincible, and we’ll win this game, Rah!
Though the Corsairs had a short life as a high school, Converse High did compete in varsity sports from September of 1935 through January of 1937. Baseball and track were offered to the boys in the spring of 1936. The fall of 1935 and 1936 had the Corsairs competing in football, the winter saw a Converse team competing in basketball. In the spring of 1936 the boys also competed in track and baseball. The seasons of football and basketball are well-documented by Phil Shadid and are in turn listed below.
Converse Grid Iron Warriors of 1936
Coutesy of Phil Shadid
The Corsairs time on the athletic scene may have been short, but the boys had two good football seasons to show for their efforts. The team of the fall of 1935 finished the year with 7 wins and 2 losses. Coach Leonard Rake led the charge as Converse High played a mixture of private schools, 3-year high schools (like themselves) and junior varsity teams as well as a couple of four-year high schools. The home games were contested at Lanphier baseball park or Sprinfield HS football field.
The team of 1936, pictured to your right, did not fair as well. The overall record was 2 – 5 – 1 giving the program an overall winning record of 9 – 7 – 1. Members of the 1936 team in the photo include:
Front Row: HeadCoach Don Anderson, Francis Sponsky, Louis Flaminio, James Wilkinson, (Captain) John Fults, Woodrow Emmons, Harold Smith, George Albers, Manager Harold Hayes
2nd Row: Jim LaRocca, Jim Whitllock, George Kovaly, Leno Petrilli, Jim Suttie, Louis Gibbs, Ed Sponsky, Ralee Walton, Gene McCarthy, Manager Bob Serra
3rd Row: Assistant Coach Cleo Dopp, Charles Daniels, Brownie Shaudis, Joe Allison, Ray Stevenson, Walter Conavay, Bill Gabriel, Mario Iocca, Gene Constantine, Darwin Conavay, Wally Groesch, Manager James Peters
Results of Converse High’s two football seasons are listed below:
1935 7 – 2 Coach Leonard Rake
1936 2 – 5 – 1 Coach Don Anderson
The Hardwood Courtmen of 1936-37 – Converse High
Courtesy of Phil Shadid
For one season and a half the Converse Corsairs played basketball around the Springfield area. Home games were contested on their own home court at Converse High School. The 1935-36 round-ballers were led by Coach Leonard Rake, finishing the season with a record of 7 – 9. The school was a three-year school only and was taking on a miriad of four-year schools. Don;t forget, the teams of this era returned to center court for a jump ball after every made basket.
The team of 1936-37 played as the Converse High School Corsairs through their final game at the school on January 15, 1937. The team let the grand old school go out in style, winning the final game played at the Converse gym 29 – 20 over a tough Divernon squad. They would finish their record that season as the Corsairs at 6 – 4. The team would finish their season as the Lanphier Lions in the newly built school five blocks away. After winning their first game at Lanphier the boys would finish the season at 9 – 12.
Members of the Converse Corsairs of 1936-37 pictured above to your right included:
Front/Kneeling: Gene Constantino, John Patrick, John Fults, Jim LaRocca, Ray Stevenson, Bill Gabriel, Darwin Conavay, Woodrow Emmons, Louis Gibbs, Tom O’Reilly
Back/Standing: Manager Walter Mikelonis, Assistant Coach Leonard Rake, John Hayes, John Williamson, Ray Ramsey, Lyle Coy, Head Coach Hugo Lindquist, Thomas Watson, Wally Groesch, Bob Gates, Manager Harold Hayes
The season and a half of of Converse High School basketball is listed below:
1935-36 7 – 9 Coach Leonard Rake
1936 – January 15, 1937 6 – 4 Coach Hugo Lindquist
Converse High School finished 13 – 13 overall in varsity basketrball competition.
Principal George Stickney
From the Lan-Hi yearbook of 1954, courtesy of Phil Shadid:
“Principal George E. Stickney began his stint with Springfield Converse High School in September of 1930, when the ninth grade work was first offered in addition to the eighth grade course. The teaching staff consisted of Leonard Rake, physical education; Lee Goby, industrial arts; Robert Cain, general science; Jessie Springstead, mathematics; Jean Thomas Anderson, community civics; Helen Graves, english.
The enrollment was 74. September 1931, enrollment was 86; in 1932, 103; in 1933, 87. During this time the school was under the administration of Samuel H. Heidler, as principal. At the june of 1934 meeting, the Board of Education voted to add the tenth grade to the school and appointed George E. Stickney as principal. When this school became too crowded, the citizens of the northside community urged the Board to provide a separate building for housing the rapidly growing high school (by September 1936, there were 408 students in the high school section of Converse).
The new building was located on the grounds of what was formerly known as Reservoir Park. The many trees and shrubs whcih filled the park at that time still lend their rich beauty to the campus. Finally the day came, January 25, 1937, the building was completed! Everything that could be moved from the old Converse was carried over to the new structure by the students, faculty, and principal, the weekend of January 23-24, 1937.
On November 22, 1953, the friends of Lanphier met to honor Principal Stickney, who had served so faithfully for twenty years at Converse and Lanphier. Faculty, students, patrons, and friends participated in the program, followed by a reception. We, the people in this District, and all of those affiliated with this man, know his constant care and attention shown by his untiring help and work. To this man we owe much more than can ever be expressed by mere words. He is a principal, friend, helper, and teacher. Without Mr. Stickney, Converse could not have prospered as a high school, and Lanphier would not be what it is today.”
Great Athletes of Converse High School
Jim LaRocca and Ray Ramsey
Jim LaRocca (Class of 1937) – played football and basketball for three years at Converse and Lanphier, was in the school choir, student council, and the Monogram Club. He had a long career with the Springfield post office, retiring in 1979.
Jim recalls his playing days at Springfield Converse HS:
“I remember one particular football game against Springfield St. James in 1936. I played three positions: quarterback, linebacker and returned punts. It seemed like I made 20-25 tackles in that game. I know I was worn out when that game ended.” St. James won 7-0. “During my time at Converse, I played football and basketball, and considered football to be my best sport.”
(Editor’s note: Jim was All-City in football. He was in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1946, and married Converse/Lanphier graduate Betty Keagle; they celebrated their 65th anniversary in 2006.)
From Phil Shadid:
“Sadly, Jim LaRocca passed away on Feb. 15, 2015, age 96.
He and his wife Betty celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in October 2014. They have three children, nine grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
Jim was a member of the first graduating class of Lanphier High School in 1937, where he was an all-city football player, and was also on the basketball team. He was a World War II veteran as an Army combat medic. He received the Purple Heart, Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star. Jim worked at the Springfield Post Office from 1946 until retiring in 1979. He was an avid golfer, bowler, fisherman, traveler and a craftsman who could build anything, and was known as a very likeable and pleasant gentleman.
Burial was at Camp Butler National Cemetery, with full military honors.”
Ray Ramsey (Converse Freshmen in 1936-37) – A multi-sport star (2-years of football, 4 years each of basketball and track), beginning as a Freshmen in 1936. He was also in the Monogram Club for three years. Ray graduated from Lanphier in January of 1940, and attended Bradley University where he was also a multi-sport star. He is considered one of the greatest all-around athletes in the long history of high school sports in Springfield. Ray is a charter member of the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame, being inducted at the group’s first annual banquet in 1991. Ray played professional basketball and football, before becoming a teacher, assistant basketball coach, and Head Track Coach at his high school Alma Mater, Lanphier, for 29 years. He retired in the 1980s.
As reported in the State Journal-Register, by sports editor Jim Ruppert, Ray Ramsey passed away Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. He entered Converse as a Freshman in 1936. He was regarded as the most versatile athlete Springfield has ever produced: Standout in football, basketball and track. One of original 24 inductees into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, as well as three other halls of fame (including Bradley University).
Ray attended Bradley until serving 4 years in the Navy during World War II. He returned to Bradley after the war and won 13 varsity letters, earning All-America honors in all three sports. He played 10 seasons of professional football in three different leagues, with his best years with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League. He also played football with the Chicago Cardinals (1950-53), and two seasons in the National Basketball Association (Tri-City Blackhawks and Baltimore Bullets).
Ray taught nearly 29 years at Lanphier, was a track coach and assistant in basketball and football, before retiring in 1986. His children described him as a very humble man, one of whom said: “I didn’t even know until I was high school age what my father had accomplished.” Ray and his wife Elsie (who died in 2002) had five children. He was 88 years old.”
Coach Leonard Rake
Leonard J. Rake:
The following tribute to Coach Rake was provided by our good friend, Phil Shadid:
“The Physical Education teacher for Converse High School (and later Lanphier HS), Leonard J. Rake, came to Converse in 1930 and retired at Lanphier in 1952.
Mr. Rake not only instructed in Phys-Ed, but was also head coach in ALL four varsity sports in 1935 and 1936. He coached football, basketball, baseball, and track, with a small or nonexistent assistant coaching staff.
His baskeball team in the Spring of 1936 played a limited schedule. The Corsairs played two games each against couty school RIverton High, Springfield’s St. James Trade School and Springfield Feitshans High. The Feitshans games were the very first intra-city baseball contests between Springfield public schools. (The reason they are the first is because Feitshans, which opened in 1929, did not field a baseball team until 1936),
Converse defeated Feitshans in their first game, 9 – 3, while the Flyers won the second game on May 20, 1936, by the score of 14 – 10. A third game had been planned if the two teams split, but it was called off because the school year ended on May 22! Converse completed its only varsitybaseball season with five wins and one loss. In those days there was no state baseball tournament (the IHSA did not conduct baseball playoffs until 1940).
In Track, Coach Rake’s underclassmen (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors), took part in the first ever city public high school track meet with Feitshans and Springfield High in early May of 1936. Converse placed third in the 15 event meet with 27 points. Springfield High won with 96.5 points and Feitshans finished second with 35.5 points. The Corsairs did not win ahy firstsbut they had 6 seconds, 3 thirds, and 6 fourth place awards. Converse did not participate in the IHSA’s District Track Meet in 1936.
Coach Rake’s football team in 1935 had a record of 7 wins and 2 losses; basketball in 1935-36 finished with 7 wins and 9 losses (both listed in more detail above).
Leonard J. Rake, a very special educator, and truly, aman for all seasons!”
Special Educator #2
Stephen French – Civil War Veteran – Converse School Principal and Teacher, late 1800s.
“Stephen French (23 May 1844 – 1929) was an American educator, lawyerand Civil War veteran. He was known for being captured by the Confederate army during the American Civil War, imprisoned at Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp, having escaped captivity for five days in the forests of Georgia, and being re-captured and re-imprisoned at Andersonville. His personal account, titled “Recollections of Five Days in the Forest of Georgia 1864. Escape from Andersonville Prison. Recapture and Final Release” was published in The National Tribune as a serial in 1926 under the title “Experiences of a Prisoner in Dixieland.”[
Following the end of the Civil War, Stephen French took up residence in Greenville, Illinois. There, he was an active member of the Odd Fellows Good Templar and of a debating club composed of the youngest business and professional men.Upon leaving Greenville in the 1870s, he began teaching, for several years serving the principal of the Converse School in Springfield, Illinois.”
A LETTER FROM HENRY CONVERSE
This letter is re-written word-for-word as it was sent from Henry Converse to his cousin Peter in 1852. Thank you to Birchall Smith for sharing it with us:
“Springfield Feb. 9th 1852”
As I promised to write you when I lived in Ohio and have often thought of it but have as often neglected it. But I am sure you would like to hear from an old friend & cousin &c. We have been somewhat afflicted the last year, my wife had the cholera last May. She was very sick for several weeks and I don’t think she will ever be as healthy as before, but she enjoys tolerable health now. That is not all. Henry, our oldest son wanted I should let him go to & spend the winter of ’49 in New Orleans. I wrote brother Ephriam to see if he could give him some employment through the winter. He sd(said) he could and we consented to let him go. He met with men that had returned from California. Many of them brought back large quantities of gold dust which inflamed his ambition & he got the fever & wrote us to know if we were willing he should go to California. We wrote him we were not and thought he had better come home at once. But he had persuaded his Uncle
Eph. to fit him out for a voyage to California & while he was waiting the vessel got ready to sail & so he went. He sailed around Cape Horn. He left New Orleans 19 March & arrived San Francisco the 1st of Oct. following. He went to mine in Nev. & continued mining until Feb. Then a company hired him to take a train of mules loaded with provisions high up in California to the Klammoth River and concluded to stay, work in the mines. He continued until May, the He in company with others went to hunt new mines and in the excursion he lay down his rifle to drink at a spring. It seems that an Indian had way laid him caught up his rifle & shot him through & killed him at a blow. His companion was fired on by another Indian & missed him. He ran for the other part of the company & was downed in trying to reach them. Thus two young men lost their lives almost at a blow. Henry is buried on the bank of the Klammoth River in California. It seems we could not have it
so but we must submit to the desires of the almighty God who does all things right however hard they may seem to us. Therefore, we must & will not complain. We (we’ve) but children now both boy(s), the oldest William Otis 11 years old last June. Albert Luther was 9 yrs. last June. We are living by ourselves at this time. The boys go to school & are pretty good scholars. We live on a farm 1 1/4 mile(s) north of Springfield, the capitol of the state. The city of Springfield numbers over 6000 inhabitants. The state house stands in the center which is a large stone ediface which would do credit to any state. Churches 3 Presbyterian 2 Methodist 1 Baptist 1 Carmelite 1 Episcopal1 Lutheran Universalist & catholic each all in the city of Springfield. One R. Road (railroad) now complete another will be before another Christmas & there is to be a college built in sight of our house the coming summer &c. We can stand in our door & see the state house & all the
spires to the different churches.
My brothers all live in New Orleans & are doing well although I have not seen but one of (them?) in 3 years. Broth Thomas paid us a visit last fall. Phebe lives in New Orleans, Clarisa lives in this state 200 miles north of us. You see we are pretty scattered over the wide domain. Broth Albert wrote me you’re broth Amisa was in New Orleans. Tell me all about him, what he is doing & the rest of your broth & sisters uncles aunts cousins & all. Tell me where Uncle Sam Bixby boys are, all of them. Now, Peter, tell me what you are doing & how you are getting along. If you get tired get you mother to help. How I should like to (see) Aunt Eleeta(?), yes, & all of you. Have you got that dutch wife you wrote me you intended to get? Don’t forget to tell me all the particulars. Tell me where she that was Lydia & D. Aso & Wells Tainten (???) live, if living, & the rest of the children of that family & all my cousins &c. Is Grandma Converse living? Where are
all of the Portors (Porters)–
Well Peter, you might like to know how we farm out here in the (Sucker?) state. I am farming on a rather small scale. I sowed last fall 25. acres of wheat & shall sow as many of oats. I pasture about 80 acres & shall mow 40. & expect to plant over 100 acres of corn (if we are all well). I have not much stock. We have 6 cows 2 pr. work cattle & three pair of horses this spring & a few head of other cattle and colts. I have it in my mind to sow 3 acres onions for the town market &c. So you see Peter hard (as) we try to get rich & for what? I hope in fact to help some as need help. I hope I am not so selfish that I dis(regard) the golden rule altogether. I hope I strive in some (way) to do unto others as I would that others would do unto me..
Peter, be kind to your mother in her declining years. You will not regret it. I was somewhat versed in managing a family before I had some of my own. I tried to do my duty & I believe I have been blessed for it &c.
Is Uncle John at Burlington Vt.? Is he preading(?) Aunt Sarah & Betsy?
Now Peter, remember in love to all our kin folks & others should inquire after me. My family join with me in sending love to you all, not forgetting yourself, & now P. don’t forget to give me a general history of all I have requested above & you will much oblige this from your friend & cousin.
Tell your mother & sisters to write us.
Postage is cheap.”
From Phil Shadid:
“I remember actually attending Converse in 1949 when it was known as Cathedral Boys High School. I was entering the 5th grade at St. Joseph’s Grade School in September, 1949, but a fire in our school during the summer forced relocation of several grade school classes! Our class took the 5th grade courses at Cathedral for about 6 weeks until our school was ready for occupancy. We felt like big shots because we went to a HIGH SCHOOL and ate lunch in their cafeteria!”
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Converse Freshmen Football Player Jim Burns – 1931