Alumni strive to keep Libbey’s ‘Cowboy spirit’ aliveWritten by Kristen Criswell | | email@example.com
For Gayle Schaber, going to work at Libbey High School has been like “going to the same funeral every day for four months.”
Schaber, who is the former director of Libbey, has been completing inventory, moving student records and maintaining the building for one last alumni visit since the school closed in June.
The floor is gathering dust as boxes of books wait to be placed in storage and other usable items are sent to Scott, Waite and Bowsher high schools — schools former Libbey students now attend. Metal bars lock doors and trophy cases are being emptied.
Items that remain in the building, such as student artwork, desks and storage units, will be sold at an auction; that date has not been set.
As for the fate of Libbey’s structure, it has not yet been determined. The building will remain standing until the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education votes on what to do with it.
Edward Drummond Libbey High School, named for the founder of Libbey Glass, opened in 1923.
During its 87 years, approximately 35,000 students graduated from Libbey, Schaber said.
In May, when the TPS board voted to close Libbey 3-2, the school had roughly 500 students enrolled. Libbey was built with a capacity for 2,000 students, but during its peak enrollment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the high school had 3,000 students, Schaber said. During that time, split sessions were necessary to relieve overcrowding. Some students attended early while others later, she said.
Cowboy, Cowgirl spirit
For many Libbey alumni, memories of their time in high school live on.
“If there are four years I could live over again, my time at Libbey would be it,” said Orris Tabner, former sports director for WTOL-11 and 1950 graduate.
During his time at Libbey, Tabner was on the football team and ran track, but said what he enjoyed and remembers most are the people.
“It was such a unique group of people, and that included the teachers,” he said.
Larrie Baccus, president of the Libbey Alumni Association and 1973 graduate, remembers a large sense of school pride during his years as a Cowboy.
“When I got here, the spirit was such you could strike a match and it would explode. The excitement was so high,” he said.
Baccus attributes much of the spirit to the success of the basketball team at the time.
“We had one of the greatest in [former head basketball coach] Burt Spice. He worked so well with the program it propelled us into state prominence. Everyone wanted to come here and many wanted to play basketball,” he said.
To date, Libbey has won the most City League titles of any Toledo Public School, Baccus said.
Some of the many titles won by the school through the years include back-to-back state football championships in 1941 and 1942, a girls basketball state championship in 1981, a state championship for track in 1972 and two boys basketball state runners-up in 1966 and 2008.
Many alumni remember teachers who influenced them during their time at Libbey.
“We’re working class here. School was a place to not just get ahead but also see the world in a different way. Maybe you’re not getting the support from your family or even your neck of the woods, but at least the teachers are giving you inspiration or aspiration,” said Susan Terrill, a Libbey activist and 1966 graduate.
Terrill said the teachers at Libbey taught students the skills they needed for the next step.
Robert LaClair, regional president of Fifth Third Bank, said he had a number of great mentors at Libbey and still stays in touch with one of them.
“Libbey gave me a great foundation for dealing with diversity. I found great, caring teachers and have great memories of Libbey,” he said.
Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins also remembers the role his teachers played in his education.
“My memories of Libbey High School are indelible in terms of the quality of the faculty and the commitment of principal Russie and vice principal Osgood. The teacher who had the greatest impact on me was Mrs. Snow. Her wise words for future challenges have remained with me,” wrote Collins, a 1962 graduate, in an e-mail to Toledo Free Press.
Bobbie John, a former writer who helped manage Johnny Cash’s career, credits her success to the “dedication of the excellent staff and teachers at Libbey who made learning exciting.”
The 1944 graduate can only remember one negative experience at Libbey — missing her Freshman Roundup because she was ill with the chicken pox.
Decision to close
The board of education’s decision to close Libbey was met by mixed responses from alumni. Some alumni understood the need for the closure, while other were — and are — upset.
“I feel that the Toledo Public Schools have given those who live in the Libbey district a great disservice,” Collins said. “To divide neighborhoods, such as the neighborhood I grew up in, and expect the students to go to Waite is unacceptable. This is not a reflection of the ability of education provided at Waite; it is an issue of geography. I doubt very much that there will be a homogenization within the student body. I believe the loss of Edward Drummond Libbey High School and the history that it has brought will leave a huge void in the City of Toledo and specifically the south end.”
Alumni have been fighting the board for more than 10 years to keep Libbey open, Tabner said. Tabner attended a number of board meetings and argued for the school, but in the end he understood the board’s decision.
“They didn’t do a lot of things they should have done, but when I finally looked at it I could see there weren’t enough people to keep the school open. They needed more activity, more children,” Tabner said.
Despite being upset about the school closing, Baccus said Libbey will live on.
“I’m not happy, but what I believe is, Libbey is what Libbey continues to do. And that’s beyond a building,” he said. “[The alumni] will have a presence in the community. We’ll be doing good things in the community. We have projects we’ll be doing in the community to continue to honor the Libbey name and make sure the name continues to be associated with good.”
The decision to close Libbey will save the district $1.2 million annually, Schaber said.
Trophies and other memorabilia from Libbey will be moved to TPS administrative offices, Schaber said. Two original trophy cases, one donated in 1926 by Irving B. Hiett and the other in 1931 by that year’s senior class, will house the items.
In addition, sets of Libbey yearbooks, The Edelian, have been donated to four area Toledo-Lucas County libraries. The non-circulating volumes are available at the Main library, the South branch, Heatherdowns branch and Toledo Heights branch. Eventually, a fifth set will be delivered to the Mott branch.
Libbey High School alumni have one last chance to say goodbye to their school Sept. 25. The school will be open from noon to 5 p.m. for one final Cowboy and Cowgirl roundup.
Individuals in attendance will be able to tour the school and mingle with old classmates. Food, music, raffles and gifts will also be available throughout the evening.
Items that have been removed for safekeeping, such as state trophies, will be on display that evening for alumni to enjoy.
In addition, old Edelian yearbooks will be on sale in the main office during the event for $10 cash; not all years will be available.
Some areas of the building, such as the balcony in the auditorium, won’t be open during the tour because of safety issues, Schaber said.
“We know it can’t be perfect, if it was perfect then we wouldn’t be where we are,” Schaber said. “I’ve been working with various departments to get [the building] in as good of shape as we can so the alumni can have one good last visit. I want it to be respectful.”