Walter Victor (83) and Maryann Victor (77) walked slowly through the doors of the North gymnasium of West Ottawa High School. It had been nearly 60 years since they graduated from their own high schools.
They stopped and gazed at the bleachers spanning the vast, open space. It was eerily quiet for such an open area. Turning her head every which way, Maryann was stunned. Walter, walking against the bleachers, looked up toward the weight room and could not believe that a school could have so much space, especially in just a gym. With the bleachers pushed back they could see the entirety of the cavernous gymnasium, yet they could still picture the space packed with basketball fans and hear the echoes of the Black Hole’s chants. Even the smaller auxiliary gym was impressive, and larger than the gym Walter grew up with at Holland High School.
“I was completely impressed by it,” Walter said. Being able to experience the building for themselves and truly seeing the difference between their time in high school and now was a moving experience. The dozens of trophies lining the walls of the North Building left an equally powerful impression as the art displayed in the South Building. They were blown away by the equipment in the metal and wood shops. Walter, a contractor, was familiar with the equipment in the metal and wood shops, but could not believe that they had those kind of machines inside of a school.
The Victors struggled to understand the scale of the pathways offered at West Ottawa: “There’s so many opportunities to try different things,” Maryann said. The variety of classes that West Ottawa offers may seem intimidating, but they effectively prepare students for the variety of career choices they may encounter.
Even though the Chromebooks that are all around the school may seem mundane to the students, they were incredible to the Victors: “The equipment that they have to work with is unbelievable; it’s night and day differences from what we had,” Walter said.
In the 1950’s they had no internet, no cell phones, no snapchat, no computer. Instead the Victors had access to typewriters and black and white television. After running his finger across the keyboard of a Chromebook, Walter said: “I don’t know what we could’ve learned if we had these kind of things to work with.” Instead of the internet, they had encyclopedias and dictionaries in the school library, resources that barely compare to the scale of the modern internet’s wealth of knowledge.
The Victors were required to take the four core classes to graduate: history, math, science, and English. But outside of these requirements, they had little choice in electives. Their high schools offered woodshop, typing, printing, and a few other electives. West Ottawa boasts over 60 elective classes that the Victors never had access to, such as Intro to Broadcasting, Journalistic Writing, and French. “Really, a good education there is to be had in just about anything that you can think of,” Walter said.
When the Victors were in high school, their schools had no busing system in place. They either had to walk to and from school, which could be very tough during a harsh Michigan winter, or find a ride from a friend or parent. As students, the Victors never had access to a school lunch. A packed lunch from home would have to sustain them for the full day if they wanted to eat at all.
After the tour, Walter described West Ottawa as “a relaxed atmosphere.” Seeing that the students were very comfortable in their classrooms, Walter was impressed to see how flexible the teachers were with their students: “They seemed like they were there for the kids.” Most of Walter’s teachers were very mellow but equally strict.
The biggest impression that the building had on Maryann was its silence: “It was the noise level, there wasn’t any,” Maryann said. “It was almost like walking into an empty school.”
Walter liked how spacious the school was. “You didn’t feel squished in. Like our schools, we were pretty squished in.” Walter had a graduating class size of 280 students. In 2017 West Ottawa graduated over 540.
Walter and Maryann come from a generation where they had to flip through pages and pages to find an answer to a history question. There weren’t many shortcuts in the world at their time, and they saw first hand that WO students are very fortunate.