The Annual Appeal is on!
Importance, Value and Responsibility- Peoria High School Alumni Association
Com’on Alumni, Let’s Build this Network!
It’s almost been one year since I’ve taken the reigns of the Association. I want to continue to build upon those before me and set the stage for those after me as leaders in this Association. I want to grow this organization. As we continue to push out email newsletters to you, I learn each day that this school is special. The more history I read about the school and its Alumni, the more I am impressed. It has inherent importance in this community from 1856 through today. I thought I knew a lot about the school as I grew up coming over to Peoria High with my father when he coached. I used to run all over school. I actually got in trouble one summer when I rode my bike through the hallways and left a long tire skid mark on the hallway floor the janitors had recently waxed and cleaned for the new school year. You can bet I heard about it from the “Coach”. However, in my travels through those large cavernous hallways, I paid close attention to the memorials, trophies, and artifacts within the school. It fascinated me that we had Alumni that fought in the Spanish American War of 1898. Many more Alumni followed to defend the nation in future conflicts. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s truly an amazing history. The school is still a treasure trove of information that our past alumni have left us. It made an impression on me. I guess Peoria High never left me as I am loyal to the school and what it stands for. She has good days and rough days but she endures. Its value is so understated in the annals of history. The teachers of our past when we attended left an impression on us and taught us how to go forth and be productive in the world. The result was an outstanding legacy not only for Peoria High, but for the community, state and nation. We must continue to build upon the legacy of Peoria High School through our Association. So let’s support the Association so we can continue to keep the legacy alive. I think I would say without a doubt that we have an inherent responsibility to keep the school around and help produce useful citizens in the world. We need them! The Association has different programs honoring Alumni but also supports the school students who are close to graduating by using Scholarships that are endowed and supported by Alumni. We execute these scholarships through the Peoria High School Foundation. This organization is separate but works in conjunction with the Association. To ensure these programs are administered correctly, the Association relies on you to help keep our services healthy. We are so grateful to those Alumni who send us donations either for an Alumni Brick or General Fund. Every dollar helps further our programs. Any amount you send to us can be used for the operations and services. So, thank you to those who contribute each year. The next few months will see us move forward to build upon our programs through business listings on our website. So, if you are the owner and interested in listing your business as an Alumni of Peoria High so others can see what you are up to, let me know. We want to continue to build our network of Alumni so you can all communicate better. Please keep updating those addresses and tell your fellow Lion’s to do the same. It’s easy to do on our website at peoriahighalumni.org. By doing this we can help you communicate with others who may or may not be part of your class. Finally, the Association will begin talking with the trades about setting up programs to help those students graduating to get a start with several different vocations in the area. In conjunction with some training offered at Woodruff, this will help our PHS students have options when nearing graduation and deciding a career. It will require some work over the next few years, but I believe this would be a positive step forward to offer college or vocational scholarships. Any organization, especially a 501c3 organization, has to be prudent with every dollar given to the cause. We appreciate the support of our Alumni. If you are interested in an Endowment or leaving PHSAA in your will please contact the Alumni Office. If you want to support our ongoing programs and especially the administration of those programs, please consider the General fund. For those of you that know how to use a QR code (below) please head over to our faithful giving website (PayPal) and help us out. You can also send a check to the Alumni office or visit peoriahighalumni.org. On the website just go to the “Donation Page”. Thanks again for being the part of the Peoria High School Legacy. Remember it is up to us as Alumni to recognize the importance and value of PHS. It is our responsibility to lead on for the next generation. Thanks for listening! Bill Robertson, Class of ‘78 President Peoria High School Alumni Association
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Here's a great story from Peoria Magazine on an alumnus who made lasting a impression on Peoria. The Oakford family has had a long-standing presence in the Peoria area. I've known the Oakford family since I was born. Many generations have attended Peoria High School. Many great memories. Their impact on Peoria can't be measured in one story. This story written by Steve Tarter and is just a small sample of one of our early PHS graduates, Aaron Oakford, and his impact on Peoria that has lasted for decades.
We talk about the development and disruption that occurs in our daily lives these days as if other generations never had to cope with change.
While Aaron Samuel Oakford grappled with numerous changes during his lifetime, he also developed institutions that have sustained Peoria now for more than a century.
He was born in Limestone Township in 1845, the same year that Peoria — then with a population around 1,600 — was incorporated as a city. When Oakford died in Peoria in 1933 at age 87 — when the city’s population topped 100,000 — he was proclaimed the River City’s “most useful citizen” by the Peoria Journal, saluted not only as a successful businessman but also as a philanthropist, banker and civic leader.
Oakford’s story started simply. His family left the farm for Peoria when he was just a child. The first of four generations of Oakfords to attend Peoria High School, Oakford spent only a single year there before going to work as a clerk at the grocery of H.H. Potter (later Potter & White), then the largest retail store in the city.
With the high school still under construction at the time, Oakford’s classes were held in the basement of the old Methodist Church at Madison and Fulton streets.
“There was no playground, no gymnasium, no stately auditorium, no library … but there were brainy teachers and, notwithstanding the meager equipment, I count that one year of high school work a very important factor in my life,” Oakford recalled years later.
As a grocery clerk, Oakford worked 12 hours a day, making $15 a month. He delivered groceries by horse and wagon, relating to customers while learning the many operations of the grocery trade.
Oakford noted that the horses he favored for delivery work were those that had been “retired” from the fire department, said Dick Oakford, the 89-year-old grandson who has compiled an extensive record of his grandfather’s many accomplishments.
In 1868, at the age of 23, Oakford bought the business along with two other clerks. In 1872, H.H. Fahnestock became a partner and the company of Oakford and Fahnestock dropped the retail business to focus entirely on being a food wholesaler.
“The business took on an ever-increasing part in the economic development of central Illinois,” noted Dick Oakford, suggesting that his grandfather showed a “lifelong readiness to readjust business methods to evolving conditions.”
Oakford and Fahnestock became the largest food wholesaler in the Midwest, serving more than 460 stores with revenue of $1.5 million, stated his grandson.
“The company roasted their own coffee under the brand ‘America’s Cup,’ processed their own pickles and milled their own spices under the ‘Blue Ribbon’ label,” he said.
The robust buildings that Oakford and Fahnestock constructed in Downtown Peoria remain in service today. Goods and seasonings were packaged at 311 Water Street, now the home of RC Outfitters, while the nearby Maxam Building, at 316 SW Washington St., housed the company offices as well as storage areas for frozen foods, said Art Oakford, 92, another of Aaron’s grandsons.
But business success was only part of what his grandfather accomplished in Peoria. “Aaron S. Oakford was an influence in Peoria, not simply a merchant,” said Dick.
That influence powered institutions that remain vital in this community to this day. Oakford helped organize and sustain Neighborhood House, the Peoria YWCA, the development of Grandview Drive and the Creve Coeur Club. In addition, he was among the founders of the Illinois National Bank (now PNC Bank) and served as president of both the Proctor Endowment Home and Proctor Hospital.
Oakford served as president of the Peoria County Board as well as a director on the Peoria Association of Commerce. He played a role in the formation of the United Way campaign in town as well as the building of the Cedar Street Bridge. Oakford was also part of a group that built a sugar factory in Pekin in 1898, its product derived from sugar beets. When that proved unprofitable, the plant was sold to Corn Products Refining Co. (now Alto Ingredients).
Oakford and wife Elizabeth raised five children, four sons and a daughter, and their actions and offspring would go on to benefit the Peoria community in myriad ways. Elizabeth died in 1890. Ten years later, Oakford married Mary Lines, the flower girl from that first marriage. Aaron and Mary became known as the patron saints of Neighborhood House, Dick Oakford stated.
In 1927, the president of Boston University sought Oakford’s opinion on the qualities a college student should possess. Oakford’s response cited the need for “open-mindedness — not only a willingness but a desire and a purpose to weigh carefully both sides of every controversy and to recognize the fact that we are living in a constantly changing world.”
Good advice from a man whose 70-year business career in Peoria saw the transition from covered wagons to airplane travel.
A Day Many PHS Students Will Not Forget
A Look Back at May 1, 1973
It was towards the end of another school year when chaos broke out behind Peoria High School, at the corner of Ellis and Richmond St right outside the gates from Herke Field. I've had a few Alumnus ask me about that story. I remember it well as my father was Principal at Peoria High. I have vivid memories of him coming home that day. All he wanted was every student and teacher in both schools not get hurt that day. The kids at St Cecilia were terrified as these three gunman had broken into the school after robbing Brown's Sporting Goods downtown. The Police arrived quickly and the scenario played out. I can remember as a Freshman at Peoria High a year after the shootout the bullet holes had not been repaired on the buildings. I can imagine all who were there still have a vivid memories of that day.
Attached are some links back to a few stories from Peoria Magazine, You Gotta See This! (video) and the Peoria Journal Star.
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A special thanks to our local vendor "Fully Promoted" located here in Peoria!