“Flip flops, bad boyfriends, Steak ‘N’ Shake” and other parts of West Ottawa’s history

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Halle Pratt and Kate Roudebush

Flipping through the pages of old West Ottawa yearbooks proves just how much has really changed over the years. Whether it be the flowery Speedos worn by the swim team in the 1960s or the dramatic hairstyles in the 1980s, it’s clear that a lot is different. Through a bit of research, we learned that swimsuits and big hair were just a few small altercations in the grand scheme of West Ottawa.

   Travel back in time to West Ottawa’s past. From entirely different educational approaches to the various ways seniors have left their mark at school, West Ottawa has experienced an abundance of modifications over the years.

Faith Club:

In West Ottawa’s first yearbook, published in 1961, a photograph titled “Faith Club” shows a group of students gathering to discuss religious beliefs. Students both shared their religious viewpoints and learned about the viewpoints of others. “The purpose of the Faith Club is to discuss different religions. It is an over-all study of all religions. Various speakers talk to the club about their beliefs,” the yearbook said. This club gave students an opportunity to meet in a safe and respectful setting to enrich their knowledge about different beliefs. In today’s world, full of so much hostility and turmoil toward a difference in opinion, a Faith Club may be a beautiful way to unify the West Ottawa community.

Varsity Club:

Athletics have always been a major part of West Ottawa’s dynamic. In the 1960s, West Ottawa had a school Varsity Club, a collection of students who had earned their varsity letter in a major sport. “The purpose of the club is to have a good time and establish an organized relationship among the athletes of different sports,” the 1961 yearbook said. Athletically gifted students, each with their own strengths, were able to come together and form bonds that they may have otherwise missed the opportunity to create. Today, West Ottawa still has a strong athletic department full of talented student athletes, providing students with lifelong friendships.

Synchronized Swimming:

In 1969, West Ottawa was home to a synchronized swimming team. “‘Sign of Our Times was presented by the synchronized swimmers on April 17, 18, and 19,” the 1969 yearbook said. This group had 65 members: 11 boys and 54 girls. Along with the traditional swimming and diving team that is still known and loved at the school today, the athletes on the synchronized swimming team performed their coordinated routines in the water. 

Stick Stadium: 

Talk of West Ottawa’s upcoming new and improved football field has been quite the buzz around the community for a few years now. As time passes and standards change, it’s only expected that the ideals of a high school football stadium will transition as well. Before the school’s current field, former West Ottawa Instructor Karl VonIns recalls details of where West Ottawa football players practiced and played many years ago. “The football team practiced in a field where the buses now park. It was nicknamed “Stick Stadium” since it was covered with briars,” VonIns said. 

The Original Middle School: 

Opening in the 1970’s, West Ottawa’s original middle school had an interesting “pod” concept instead of normal classrooms. Former West Ottawa student and current teacher at Lakewood elementary school, Nicolette Dunn, recalls the interesting layout of the school she once attended. “There were 4 pods – West 1, West 2, East 1, and East 2. Within the pods students were assigned to a color group. I remember being East 2 orange in 7th grade,” Dunn said.

“Students rotated to classes but stayed with their color groups.” Still, the idea of “pods” and students being grouped by color were not the only different aspects of the middle school. “The classrooms were all open (no walls) with the “pit” in the middle of them used for whole group activities,” Dunn said. The foundation of the “pit” is still there today, however, it now consists of classrooms.

Broken Roads: 

Over time, the expansion of West Ottawa’s school district had led to the construction of many new roads. VonIns remembers a time when the construction was not completely sound. “When the middle school was opened in 1972, 140th had just been paved. That worked well until spring when the frost left the ground and the buses broke through the asphalt and sank to their bodies. Straw was laid across the field from the north parking lot at the high school and the kids walked across the field until the road was repaired,” VonIns said. Thankfully, this part of West Ottawa has transformed over time to the sturdy roads we are now familiar with. 

Homecoming Floats:

West Ottawa is familiar with many elaborate homecoming festivities: spirit week, homecoming court, and a widely celebrated football game, all followed by the homecoming dance. In the past, the fun didn’t stop there. At one point in time, West Ottawa students had the opportunity to decorate floats based on whatever the theme was for the year for the students on homecoming court. Former student, now Instructor, Michelle Stoel remembers these floats fondly. “You’d have to find somebody with a barn and someone whose dad was handy with tools,” Stoel said. She recalls the weeks worth of planning, preparing, and decorating the floats before they were displayed to the student body, “The decorations depended on what the theme was and how crafty and creative the parents and students were.” Students on the court would parade around the track on their floats while the other students gathered to cheer as their friends passed in their homecoming attire. Eventually, these floats were replaced with hallway decorations, which were easier for everyone to manage, but the excitement of seeing fellow classmates on floats is challenging to recreate.

“Beater of the Month:”

The West Ottawan has created dozens of publications, ranging from important news to satire, and throughout it all students have managed to include articles and columns that are genuinely entertaining to readers. One of these former engaging columns titled “Beater of the Month” showcases student’s cars that have seen their fair share of miles. This column, written by former student Louise Stauffer, shares the car’s owner, model, color, miles, gas mileage, number of accidents, and occasionally the car’s name and comments from the owner or his or her friends. This playful series was a great way for students to get involved and show off their cherished vehicles.

Teacher Superlatives:

The March 10, 2000 issue of The West Ottawan has a column of “teacher superlatives.” This list of teachers awards staff members for a variety of reasons. Some of these superlatives include, “Most likely to take in a stranded hamster,” awarded to Mr. Jaeger; “Most likely to engage in a roll chair race down the hall,” awarded to Mrs. Perry; and “Most likely to get an overload of female transfers in seminar,” awarded to Mr. Milobinski and Mr. DeLeon. This fun take on a common high school trend was a great way for West Ottawa students and journalists to add a lighthearted, humorous touch to our beloved school newspaper.

Senior Wills:

Previous publications of The West Ottawan included a feature called “senior wills.” These wills were a way for West Ottawa seniors to share what they hoped to leave behind as they left West Ottawa. “They were fun, people loved them,” Instructor Ken Strobel said. In the June 2, 2000 edition of the school paper, seniors left a multitude of various memories behind. “Cherry coke, no ice, and a long line of nice guys,” Kelly Babock left her friend Christen. “Hanging out in the garage at Noah’s grandmas. Fire, parties at your house, spring break,” Jeff Naber left his friend Steve. These remembrances left by West Ottawa seniors were a way for students to leave their final goodbyes to the school and their friends who they had dedicated so much of their lives to over their last four years. 

   Despite all of the changes the school has endured, it remains true that West Ottawa is a great place to be, full of bright students, loving teachers, and a phenomenal atmosphere for learning. 

   In West Ottawa’s 1975 yearbook, teachers stated what West Ottawa High School meant to them. “A place to grow,” Instructor James Brinkham said; “It’s my home away from home,” Coach Barbara Nyland said.

   West Ottawa is undoubtedly still a positive and safe environment for many. Regardless of the changes in time or practice, this school continues to shine a light on its students and faculty and transform the lives of many.