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Roncalli High School celebrates 60th anniversary

Roncalli High School celebrates 60th anniversary

By Todd Travis

Before Roncalli was Roncalli, there were two Catholic schools which were actually rivals at the time. Sacred Heart, which later became Kennedy High School and Chartrand High School, which opened in 1962. As fate would have it, the two schools would actually end up merging together and becoming one. “At the time, schools were consolidating over the state. That time period was very tough. This particular consolidation resulted in a really storied history of a school. We have a lot of people to thank for the school being as successful as it is,” said Aaron Hommell, director of Alumni Services and Corporate Relations at Roncalli.

On Sept. 30, the alumni will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the dedication of the original building, which was Chartrand High School at the time. Since the original dedication in 1962 the building has been added onto many times, but the original building still stands. “What the alumni decided to do was to invite everyone out for a whole weekend of events. Thursday they’re having a dinner, Friday night a tailgate and presentation honoring the alumni and Saturday an alumni golf outing,” said Hommell.

One of the cool things about having such a rich history as an organization is being able to hear some of the stories from the people who were part of that history. Three alumni share some of memories from their time at Chartrand/Roncalli.

Roncalli High School’s first graduating class in 1970. (Submitted photo)

Alumnus Donna Woodman

“Since this is now football season, my story will be about the Chartrand/Roncalli football field. You have to think back 61 years ago when the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was building the Bishop Joseph Chartrand High School building in 1961, that would open to 180 freshmen students in 1962.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction was digging the building foundations and Fr. Robert Kitchin was at the site almost daily. It was Kitchin who saw this empty field to the south and told Wilhelm, ‘Don’t take that dirt away, dump those foundation dirt loads over there (pointing to the south).’ He was told that wasn’t in the building contract, but Father convinced them it would save Wilhelm money. So after back and forth, Wilhelm dumped the dirt over there and told Father they will not smooth it out. Father had the visionary of seeing a football field ‘over there.’ Father was building the pad, the foundation of a Chartrand Rams’ football stadium.

When the Chartrand building opened to students and after the original dedication in 1962, Kitchin obtained a tractor, which I understood was donated. In those hot, dry autumn days during classes and looking out the open windows to the south, all of us students saw dusty dirt flying for hours and days and days. Father drove that tractor back and forth, smoothing out the dirt piles. In our physical education classes, we were handed big restaurant-size empty tin cans to walk the dirt and pick up the loose rocks.

Varsity football coaches Jim MacGregor and Phil Richart. (Photos provided by Donna Woodman)

The pad was being formed for the football field. The Father’s Club helped with the cinder track and shop class along with parents made high hurdles. We held reserve football games there as the field started growing grass. Then The Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965 brought us our first set of bleachers. Father contacted Russiaville (near Kokomo) and asked if he could have any salvaged bleachers. After negotiations with Russiaville High School, Father assembled volunteers and trucks to bring the first set of bleachers home. This was a huge job, all done by volunteers, faculty, parents and students to re-build the bleachers and assemble some new bleachers in time for the fall of 1965 football game. Then followed by sales profits from, of all things toothbrushes, bought the original scoreboard that was installed by volunteers. Donations from Indianapolis Power & Light (now AES Indiana) made lighting possible with poles and lights. We had our field ready for our first night game on Sept. 3, 1965. Chartrand Rams football was now reality.

The rumor always was that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would probably sell that property to a housing builder/developer. When Chartrand graduated their first class in 1966, the Archbishop of Indianapolis was greeted at the Circle by Fr. Kitchin. The Archbishop said teasingly to Fr. Kitchin looking and pointing south, ‘Is that a football field I see over there, Father Kitchin?’

Alumnus Gary Armbruster

“I’ve been coming to this campus since 1965. Our building was built in ’62 and on the front of the building there was a cornerstone. It had a cross on it and said 1962. I had a connection with this stone, which sounds crazy. But I always thought it was cool because ’62 was my birth year. Fast forward 50 years and Roncalli does an addition to the front of the school, and they took the cornerstone out and made a nice addition to the front which included a chapel and the administration wing. They put it all back together, except they didn’t put the cornerstone back in. I always wondered why they didn’t put the cornerstone back in because I thought that was odd.

Volunteers helped to set up bleachers on the field.

Last June, I took over the job of director of Campus Grounds. Lo and behold, I come out to the maintenance building and there she is – the cornerstone of 1962 laying on a skid behind the facility. So I said, ‘This has to be changed!’ So we put it in the ground in the front of the school and decorated it and put flowers around it. For as long as I am here and forevermore as long as I’m concerned, that cornerstone will be there in the front of the school.

One other interesting thing is that there was a time machine that was left in the cornerstone with all kinds of memories and interesting items. Aaron Hommell will be sharing some of the contents of the cornerstone in the alumni magazine as well as on Roncalli alumni social media.”

Alumnus Janie Killian

“When we started as freshman, we had one floor available for classes. The middle floor was the only floor we could go besides down the cafeteria or the gym. The bottom and top floors were not finished at the time. We didn’t have any upperclassmen at the time. We were all pretty scared as freshmen because we didn’t really know anybody at the time and didn’t have upperclassmen to show us the ropes. So it took a while for us to gel, but once we did, it has become a group of people that still talk to each other all the time. A group of the gals go to lunch every month and play cards and the guys go play golf all the time.

Fr. Kitchen and his tractor.

When we were sophomores, the bottom floor was done, but the top floor was not done yet. Two of our teachers actually lived in a classroom on the top floor. They had beds up there and a TV. They used the locker rooms to take showers.

Like I said, we’re a pretty close-knit group. What’s most amazing to me is how many people from my class (1966 – the first graduating class) whose kids and grandkids have gone and are going to Roncalli. If you go anywhere with a Roncalli shirt on someone will start talking to you and all the sudden you know everybody and find all these connections with people and their families.”

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